02 October 2011

Immigrant Churches

I'm enjoying what is very likely the last hurrah of summer.  Here in Grand Forks, the temperature today reached the low 80s.  There is hardly a cloud in the sky.  However, I'm sure this weather will change in very short order.

My current research on a church in town is still on-going.  I've found that immigrants originally had the building built for their services.  This Hague Synod Lutheran congregation merged with two other Lutheran congregations, and sold the building to a Church of God (Anderson) that had been in operation in Grand Forks for several years at the time.

The Church of God left the building, as the city bought the building shortly after the Grand Forks flood of 1997.  For several years, there were nine churches within three blocks in any direction--quite literally averaging a church per block.  Immigrants tended to build or purchase small wood-framed structures, and the build larger churches in a few years.

I'm reading a bit on late 19th- and early 20th-century immigration to get a feel for this field.  I just finished reading a book titled Magnificent Churches on the Prairie (co-authored by James Coomber and Sheldon Green) that looked at several Catholic congregations that built very large buildings.  Most of them started in the same way.  The congregations mentioned in this book tended to have small wood-framed structures and then moved into larger buildings as the funds became available.  These buildings, as it appears some of those in early Grand Forks did, served to tie the community together in this new land thousands of miles from home.  The Lutheran congregations in Grand Forks spoke Norwegian for a generation, while these Catholic churches in rural areas used German (except, of course for the mass, which was in Latin). 

This work is serving to fill out some of my understanding of the religious make-up of the early days of Red River Valley towns, especially that of Grand Forks.  I will share more as I get further into the process.

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