Thursday, June 6, 2013

Those Places Thursday -- Bergthal Mennonite Church, a final visit

A few weeks ago I posted about this church as a “SentimentalSunday” post and mentioned that I would be attending the memorial service for the church on May 26. I did attend that service and want to share some of that with you.

Sunday morning I arrived early and was able to walk around the church admiring the beautiful woodwork and windows but also noting that the building was suffering from mold damage.  There were two rooms full of things being auctioned off in a silent auction. Shelves, pictures, offering plates, windows, dishes.  Great photos can be found on a blog called Life in Claremont.

There were also quite a few books that were free for the taking. I was excited to find a German hymnal and also a shape-note hymnal.  I bid on several things but at the end of the day, I ended up with a small box and one of 7 large stained glass windows! I must say I am very excited to get it later in the summer.

Published by:
Mennoniten von Nord-Amerika 1893
The church filled up quickly and even to overflowing.  The Bergthal Facebook page says about 350 people were there. The service began with singing.  Beautiful harmonies of familiar hymns.  But it was hard not to feel the pain in knowing that it had been sometime since this many voices rang in these walls. And it will not ever be so again.

Charlotte (Life in Claremont blog) also made a great video that includes singing and put it on YouTube

But one of the most beautiful moments of the day was the message that Pastor Lynn Schlosser gave. I have spent many hours trying to write about her sermon and find myself quoting nearly the entire sermon.  Her words seem to echo all our feelings and answer all our questions.  Lynn seemed to know the questions everyone was asking themselves.

If it feels like you’ve come to a funeral today, well you have, kind of. People often talk about how given the choice they hope their loved ones might come to see them one more time while they’re still living rather than wait and come for the funeral. That’s what we’re doing here today. I am thankful so many of you have come home, one more time, to tell this people, this place, this church how much you have loved her and what she has meant to you. . . .

And as is often the case at funerals, I want to talk about resurrection this morning. . . .  Resurrection is woven into the very structure of who we are and how we are. Resurrection is the very essence of life. . . .

Look around you and see evidence of resurrection. . . . And know this. We represent but a drop in the ocean of lives Bergthal Mennonite Church has reached out and touched in her 138 years. Our brothers and sisters circle this globe. Bergthal’s influence ripples out, with a never-ending gentle touch that shapes and nurtures.”

She goes on to give a touching recount of the final events of the movie “Les Miserables” and how the story impacted her as she thought about her beloved church, Bergthal Mennonite. She reads the lyrics of the triumphant song “When Tomorrow Comes” and then comments:

“In a similar way, I can hear those original founding ancestors from 1875, their children and grandchildren, your parents and grandparents, I can hear them singing.

We’ve dealt with such a mix of emotions these last few years - grief, anger, shame, disappointment, relief, confusion. In the book of Philippians Paul says, “ I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” This sounds like truth. We take it on faith. But sometimes it’s hard to really believe it. How can a church’s death be a victory? How do we celebrate the loss of someone so dear. Surely we’ve let all those good people who labored hard to build this church, surely we’ve let them down. We see through a mirror but dimly.

But if we listen closely, we might just hear their voices raised in a song of triumph. I believe they stand together this day singing a song of hope and faith. They see what we can only intuit. They are enfolded by a resurrection we long for, their vision unhindered. I believe they see Bergthal’s good, long life, the many ways in which God’s Kingdom has been revealed in our midst. They see also the many ways in which Bergthal will continue to move and live, there in the realm of resurrection.”

Yes, I realize I quoted almost her entire message. But not quite. I am putting it all on a page "Pastor Schlosser's Message." It is worth reading in it's entirety. She gave me permission to use it "however you see fit."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday -- Cemetery Marker for Bergthal Mennonite Church 1875-2013

This isn't really a tombstone but at first glance in the cemetery, it looks like one. It is a memorial marker to commemorate the Bergthal Mennonite Church that will soon be torn down as I wrote in a previous post. After it is torn down, they will use the cornerstone and some of the bricks to build a base for this marker.

This is what it says:


In 1874, Mennonite immigrants from Karlswalde, Russia, seeking religious freedom and military exemption from service, settled on land in the Dundee area which was obtained through the Homestead Act and from the Sante Fe Railroad. The only shelters available to the immigrants that first winter were railroad box cars. The first buildings, including a church, were erected in 1875. This first church, a limestone building, was used as a school. Education was afforded a high value throughout the lifetime of the congregation. A larger wooden church was built in 1897. The final building, a brick church dedicated in 1915, was situated one mile north of this cemetery. Like thousands of rural churches across the country, the membership declined rapidly in its later years. Bergthal Mennonite was known for its emphasis on peace and service and was an active member of the Western District Conference until it officially disbanded in 2013.

*Hill and Valley

Bergthal Mennonite Church, Pawnee Rock, Barton County, Kansas