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Bethesda Celebrates Its Centennial Next Saturday


Bethesda Lutheran Church

Step inside Bethesda Lutheran Church in Skime, and it's a reflection of small town America with good neighbors, good intentions and occasionally scratching by with the grace of God.

They have seen some hard times over the past 100 years.

Even into the early 1980s, it was quite rustic with the aroma of lutefisk drifting up from the old basement kitchen.

It's never been a spit and polish church where they are dressed to the nines. They arrive in jeans and casual wear, and the front pews aren't reserved for the elite.

Out in Skime Country, which has been the home of Bethesda Lutheran Church for a century this month, everyone is equal.

"It's relaxed, and it's like a family to me," said Linda Anderson, a member since 1973. "When Milton passed away, they all gathered around me and kept me going."

Janice Dole, who originally hails from Badger and a member since 1975, loves the atmosphere.

"It's very inclusive and very friendly, and it's like a family. And like a family, we have spats too," she said, and laughed heartily.

"I'm an import, too," said Sheila Solberg, a member since 1970.

The oldest active member isn't some old relic. Palmer Norberg is only 83, and he's a Roseau import too. He married a local girl, Glenda Solberg.

"We probably have 33 active members, said Sheila Solberg, sitting at a round table one Wednesday evening with Linda Anderson and Janice Dole.

This is their church at the century mark and one fact is obvious. The parishioners are aging.

If you see a blonde lass or lad, it's most likely at Christmas when the grandkids are home for a visit.

If it's a graying membership, they're still plenty young at heart.

"We built the new church in 1987. Jeff Fevold got the old church for a house," said Janice."

The old church still has its special memories.

"We had lutefisk suppers in our basement," said Sheila.

"There was no running water," said Janice. "We had to haul our water from Jewell Aasen's place."The late Mr. Aasen donated the property for the new building near the old church.

"We had a fundraiser, and we raised $25,000 and borrowed the rest," said Sheila, as the two other gals provided a long list of former pastors.

One who stands tall in the second half of the 20th Century was Pastor Erling Huglen, who officiated at two of these ladies' weddings and also baptized their babies.

Janice Dole mentioned that Rev. Huglen baptized both of her kids.

"Brett was born in...(come on, Mrs. Dole) 1970," she laughed, adding that he was born on March 22.

While the date of Brett's baptism escapes her, which is understandable, Shawna Norberg was also baptized on the same day by Rev. Huglen at Bethesda, which means the House of Grace.

Bethesda is completely modern now with a beautiful kitchen, running water, ovens and microwaves.

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The girls laughed and then mentioned their biggest events of the year.

"We have a fancy works auction in September," said Mrs. Dole. "We make quilts and all that kind of stuff and auction them off."

They finish off each other's thoughts.

"It's a big money maker for the Ladies Aid," said Linda. "We also do a lot of quilting for World Relief. I think we did 153 quilts this year."

Many of their quilts also go to the Violence Intervention Center, the Veterans Hospital, and the Rescue Mission in Grand Forks.

"We also have a hunters supper in November as a fundraiser," said Sheila. "That used to be our lutefisk supper, but now we went away from lutefisk to other meats."

It was at that moment that the lone interloper said, "Praise the Lord!"

The gals laughed.

"We served 500 people when we had the lutefisk supper in the old church basement," said Sheila.

Those days are long gone as are the Sunday School classes and vacation Bible camps.

Possibly, they're praying for a population explosion out in Skime Country.

"At times, we didn't know how we could pay the bills for the month or pay the minister," said Sheila, who's been the church treasurer for almost forever.

"We had big Sunday schools. At times, we had 40 kids in Sunday school," said Janice.

That was when there were families with lots of kids. Now, there aren't many kids out in the Skime area, and it's the graying of Bethesda.

"About the youngest one in confirmation class is Cody Otto, who is 14 or 15," said Linda.

While there is no Sunday school or Luther League at Bethesda, the Ladies Aid is rock solid.

"It's very strong with 20 active members," said Sheila.

There are special memories like the church service in October 1990 when Pastor Ron Becklund, assisted by Pastor Michelle Rowell, burned the $25,000 mortgage in front of the 100-year-old altar to celebrate the congregation being debt free.

The fundraising began in 1982 and before the new church was constructed in 1987, the Ladies Aid held bake sales, sold quilts, held raffles and auctions, and possibly hosted more meals than the Salvation Army.

The Bethesda ladies baked constantly and had ingrained in their kids and husbands to ask a very important question before raiding the freshly baked cookies or bars just out of the oven.

"Is this to eat or is it for the church?" was the common refrain.

The Celebration

On Saturday July 20, they're marking the century mark at little Bethesda with the program at 11 and the noon meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, salads, cake, and beverages.

If you happen to be hungry or would like to mingle with some very fine folks and you don't mind driving on Highway 9, which is under road construction, you're definitely most welcome.

Pastor Ron Becklund, who served the congregation from 1978 to 1988, is driving up from Superior, Wisconsin, for the big event.

Sorry, there will be no lutefisk!


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