Philosophies, Speeches, Thoughts, Ideas
A Talk by Myself on the One Hundred Year Festival Celebration of the Norwegian Church at Norseland
I shall confine my remarks to the first fifty years of our congregation.
Today we have with us up to the seventh generation of our charter members present.
I wish that we could have a picture of the memorable meeting at the Odegaard home of those families that met to organize this congregation one hundred years ago. I joined this congregation sixteen years after that meetingand I had the pleasure to learn to know many of those men that were at that meeting. I got acquainted with them in their daily lives, watched them live and die.
Conditions were different here one hundred years ago. There were no railroads in Minnesota. There was no bridge across the Minnesota River at that time. Farming, too, was different. My father threshed out his first crop of wheat on the frozen ground, treading it out with oxen. Others used flails and pounded theirs out. When it came to seeding, they did not have fanning mills. They took a tub of water along out in the field, put the wheat in, skimmed off the top and seeded the wheat by hand. When it came to harvest they used a cradle. The bundles were tied with straw, shocked, stacked, and in later years they had a threshing machine powered by horses.
I got a picture in my mind that stands out clear. A picture of six old gray men with rather long hair, all bearded, most of them full bearded. They were seated in the front pew of the old church paying the last respect to one of their departed comrades. The number of those old pioneers gradually thinned out and those few remaining became too weak to perform that duty. It fell upon the second generation to carry the remaining few to their final resting place. And now very few of that second generation remain.
The old pioneers had their trials. Hardly had they gotten started, the Civil War broken out, followed by the Indian Massacre. Then came the grasshoppers. Next the diptheria epidemic where as many as seven children in one family in Nicollet County died within one week.
Rev. Thomas Johnson served this congregation most of those first fifty years. Rev. Johnson was a strong, well-built man. It was said that in his younger days, he could pick up a sack of wheat which is 150 pounds—pick it up from the ground, throw it on his shoulders. A feat very few of the sturdy homesteaders could do. This strong constitution came in handy for him in his struggles against conditions and elements. Rev. Johnson had a good memory. He was not a fast speaker. He was patient and cool. It was said that you could throw abuse at him and he would shed it like a duck sheds water.
Every minister has his tense moments, and Rev. Johnson was no exception. Perhaps his most tense moment was on that day he was called down to St. Peter to be along hanging a farmer that was convicted of murder, the one person ever hung in Nicollet County. Rev. Johnson tried to make that man confess to the crime before he died, but the man professed his innocence to the last. To the best conviction of the homesteaders, this man was innocent.
Another tense moment for Rev. Johnson was perhaps at the diptheria outbreak when he went from house to house, not only in our congregation but to outsiders as well, where he was administering to those dying children risking his own life and health as well as that of his own children. There was no remedy for the disease at that time and there was no quarantine.
I can remember so many happy occasions where we met in the old church and many sad ones. I have time to mention just one. I was very little at that time. A mother was buried, a large brood of little children surrounding the coffin. I remember how the sympathy of the congregation went out to those motherless children. I remember how my little heart just bled for those motherless children. It seems that by coming together and sharing our sorrows we cut them in two. And by sharing our joys we double them, contrary to the rules of mathematics.
Looking back upon the years of sin and death, we sometimes get discouraged at the slow progress. We see people live for a short time and die and we are tempted to say:
Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?
Like a swift fleeting meteor, a fast flying cloud,
A flash of lightening, a break of the wave,
He passes from life to his rest in the grave.
And what is the use? But no doubt on that great and glorious Resurrection Morn we shall see that the labors and the prayer of this congregation have not been in vain.