The Northwest Mission Area History: Part 2

The Rev. Steve Schaitberger]

The Northwest Mission Area History: Part 2

The strategy of the next 40 years was consolidation.  Towns consolidated, schools consolidated, farms consolidated and so did churches both on and off the reservations.  The goal was to be able to support a seminary trained professional priest to provide service and build up the church.  The reservations reduced congregations to four churches on the White Earth reservation, two churches on Red Lake reservation, and three churches on the Leech Lake Reservation.  This left many isolated Episcopalians who either joined other churches or attended church services infrequently.  Summer visitors and residents greatly supported our churches as denominational loyalty was an important value. 

Throughout this time the small farmers were under great pressure to modernize and expand their property.  There was an exodus of younger persons from our rural area into the urban area. The decline in the population resulted in the perceived need to yolk congregations together to provide enough economic base to afford a full time clergy position.  This was a dreadful strategy.  Usually one congregation grew and the other declined.  Then the congregations yoked again with congregations further apart.  The closures of churches became a yearly event causing great resentments.  There was some diocesan funding but the competition for these funds divided our region and led to deep resentments of the diocese.  Clergy and their families were under great stress.  It was not a good way to reunite with the diocese of Minnesota.

 Clergy tenures were short during this period. Very few held long term pastorates. Many clergy seemed to be biding their time hoping for a call to the urban area. There were exceptions of course; Fr. Fred Smyithe deserves to be mentioned as a lover of rural congregations along with all of the Native American clergy.  There were also many retired clergy who supported these fragile congregations.  Finally there were a few bi-vocational clergy who provided regular supply for Sunday Services and pastoral emergencies.

Ojibwe Hymn Singers became a source of inspiration to our Northwest Region Area reservations and beyond.  The Ojibwe sang hymns in their traditional language in Church services beginning in 1852 at St. Columba’s.  In the 1930’s the singers became a support group in times of death and illness.  The Ojibwe hymnal was translated and compiled by the Rev. Edward C. Kah-O-Sed in 1910.  This group continues to sing to this day to provide comfort and testimony to grieving families. During Lent the group gathers on Sunday night at a different church each week. People from all congregations are invited to attend and sing and share spiritual witness.  A feast follows each of these Lenten gathering as Sundays are exempt from fasting during Lent!!  On a clear night the northern lights are spectacular.