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Honorable Mention

The Birth Of A Church


Leslie Turner

The newly printed posters read "Free Land: Make YourClaim!" The adventurer, the businessman, the farmer, and the rancherin the eastern states and in Canada read these signs and decided to cometo North Dakota. Naturally, many of these pioneers settled near the presentsite of Pembina, North Dakota. With the coming of these people, the PioneerMethodist Church of Pembina had its beginning, although not in terms ofwood and concrete. For, before a church can be built, it must have loyaland responsible members!

Naturally, the reports of free land in North Dakota broughtthe comparatively poor. Although these poor had little financial security,they had an over-abundance of courage and will power. This they needed forthe struggle against the terrible winters with wind, blowing snow, and lowtemperatures. Not to mention the dust, hail, and thunder storms that plaguedthis part of the nation. But, luckily, these people were willing to sacrificein order to provide for their families and build up security in a home whichthey hoped to establish in the stubborn wilderness.

When the first settlers came, the native Indians were stillhere. The Ojibwa Indians were in possession of the Pembina area of the stateand their ownership extended continuously to the Great Lakes. Although notfrequent, many people feared the danger of attacks on their farms and settlements.

The area near the present site of Pembina grew up firstbecause it is beside the Red River. As it usually is, people in that daygenerally settled near the river. It gave the settlers a ready source ofpower and sanitation facilities.

Pioneers came by boat, up the Red River to settle nearthe present site of Pembina, especially where they could find sufficienttimber to provide shelter for the stock in stormy weather. Another reasonfor the fast development of the Pembina area is the great amount of fertileland that is located along the Red River.

These determined and belligerent pioneers that came tofile claims near Pembina were of strong stock. The greatest percentage ofpioneers that settled here were of Scotch, Irish, and English descent. Thesepeople had a very strong faith and religious belief. This belief was putto the test in the rugged life that those pioneers led.

But, there were people who gave of their time and energyto help the settlers in their belief and faith in God. These were the "unnamedmissionaries". They were the people who were willing to go out on theirown, on foot or horseback, across the plains, the rivers, the mountains,looking for the first widely scattered settlers to whom they brought a wordof the outside world and a strengthening of faith. These people of smallnumber and usually forgotten names, the "unnamed missionaries",would share a meal or two, a night's lodging, a short sermon, a prayer,a lot of eager conversation, and they would be on their way, not knowingwhere they were going, but trusting in God, and knowing that they were doingtheir best to help the pioneers.

From the year 1792, when a party of trappers for the CadetteTrading Company of Montreal spent the winter at a point now known as Pembina,and sixty-six years later started a trading post, until the organizing ofthe Pembina Pioneer Memorial Methodist Church, the settlers of Methodistheritage had no organized church. They relied on the traveling preacheror "unnamed missionary" to bring them their infrequent acquaintanceswith formal worship. However, it must not be forgotten that a majority ofthose people held regular family worships and each read a great deal ofthe Scriptures.

Between the years 1860 and 1886, the territory of NorthDakota was recognized as missionary territory and the General Conferenceof the Methodist Church attached it to the Iowa Conference. In the year1878, the territory of North Dakota was turned over to the charge of theMinnesota Conference of the Methodist Church. On October 14, 1886, the territoryorganized its own North Dakota Mission Conference of the Methodist Church.My this time, beginnings had been made in thirty-eight communities in NorthDakota for the erection of churches or meeting places.

The Pioneer Memorial Methodist Church of Pembina was erectedin 1880. The perseverance and loyalty of the pioneers made the erectionof this church possible. Men, worn out from a full week's work at home,somehow found the time and energy to travel long tiresome distances andhelp build the church. They contributed their money, their horses to supplythe power needed to erect the sturdy walls, and their own labor to erect,paint, and furnish the church. The newly organized Ladies Aid and the youngpeople pitched in and helped by supplying food and drink for the laborers.

It is hard to imagine a people who valued their worshipof God so much that they would travel long distances to and from churchevery Sunday. We, the people of the automated age of 1968, find it difficultto hop in a car and drive for ten minutes to reach the church of our choice.The pioneers of yesterday left before the sun rose in the morning in orderto reach the church they had built, and would not reach home until verylate at night.

The erecting of the first Methodist Church in Pembina inthe year 1880 not only gave the Methodists in the area a chance to worshipformally, but also served as a meeting place. After Sunday services, themen, women, and children would have a picnic in the church yard or a bazaarin the church basement. The men would go off into one corner and talk abouttheir crops, cattle, and "who had visited them just last week".The women would usually end up in the shade of a big tree in the churchyard. There they exchanged a combination of recipes, sewing hints, and "Grand-children"stories. The children of the congregation would have the time of their livesromping among the bushes and trees, playing "Hide and Seek", and"Drop the Handkerchief".

On October 15, 1886, the original Mission Conference ofNorth Dakota changed its name to the Annual Methodist Conference of NorthDakota. The presiding Bishop was Bishop William L. Harris. With this beginning,the Methodist church in North Dakota started its growth pattern that sooncame to include almost 400 communities in the state.

The fifty year period from the organization of the churchunder the ministry of Rev. Coleman Bristol in 1880, until the year 1937,when Rev. J. Palmer Sorlein was minister, was a period of development andgrowth for the Pioneer Methodist Church in Pembina. Improvements in thebuilding and church property and growth in the number of members encouragedthe people of Pembina to strive all the harder and to be proud of theirchurch.

But, in 1937, disaster stuck! One crisp Sunday morning,on the 21st of February, the children of the community of Pembina were ontheir way to Sunday School. When they neared the church they found it tobe on fire. The building was wholly destroyed. This was indeed a great lossfor the congregation as they had just previously spent $300 and donatedconsiderable labor in the modernization of the church building.

The church soon made arrangements to hold Sunday Schooland church services in the Episcopal Church while the Ladies Aid met inthe new City Hall of Pembina. Plans were immediately begun for the erectionof a new building about a block south of the previous site.

This new building is the present building in which servicesare held every Sunday morning. The present Methodist Church in Pembina isthe oldest Methodist Church still in use in the state of North Dakota!

During the years after the building of the new church untilthe present time, the church has continued to serve the community of Pembinaas an important landmark and religious center. However, like most smalltown churches, it has not enjoyed the steady growth and expansion that urbanchurches encounter.

Perhaps it is the fact that the Pembina Methodist Churchhas enjoyed a colorful past that enables a person to sense history whenhe visits this church. A visitor doesn't naturally sense this feeling throughhis five senses, but through a "special" "sixth" sense.One doesn't hear history in the slight cracking of the floor as he walksup the aisle. He doesn't smell history in the dusty record books that holdso many memories. He doesn't feel history as he runs his hand over the smoothwooden pews. And he doesn't see history as he raises his eyes to the glassstained windows. No, a person senses history in a more acute and importantway.

It is this feeling of history, the feeling that you havesomething in common with every person who has gone to worship here thatmakes the Pioneer Methodist Church such an important and memorable landmarkin Pembina.

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here thatmakes the Pioneer Methodist Church such an important and memorable landmarkin Pembina.

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