Celebrating a legacy of faith: Celebrations planned for churches at Dickinson and New EnglandRev. Janel Kolar is preparing her message, the musicians are rehearsing and the women are baking, all in preparation for the 125th anniversary celebrations of two Congregational churches.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
By Linda Sailer
The pastor of two Congregational churches is preparing her messages, the musicians are rehearsing and the women are baking, all in preparation for the congregations’ 125th anniversary celebrations.
The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Dickinson and the First Congregational Church in New England, call Rev. Janel Kolar as their pastor, but they started in different ways and by different people.
“Back then, 25 miles was awfully far away — they were not even connected,” Kolar said.
Dickinson’s UCC church plans a worship service at 11 a.m., with dinner to follow, on Sunday, Sept. 23, at the church.
“Dinner is potluck — I think it’s always been a church tradition. It’s more fun that way,” Kolar said.
As another old-fashioned event, the church is hosting a pickle, pie and preserve judging contest — an activity that was popular 100 years ago at county fairs.
“I’m a little nervous, not knowing what to expect,” Kolar said. “We’ll have some tables set up and people will be able to taste and see different things.”
The afternoon will be a social time — going through the church’s scrapbooks or playing games. Later in the afternoon, a Disney movie titled “Holes” will be shown.
New England’s church has its worship service at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 16, at the church. Dinner will follow the services, with the afternoon reserved for social activities.
The public is welcome to join in the celebrations, especially anyone who has ever had ties to the churches, Kolar said.
When the New England church was founded, it was the only Congregational church south of the railroad and west of the Missouri — all the way to Rapid City, S.D.
“It seems incredible to me,” Kolar said. “It was organized by people from the New England states who settled there and were homesick for their church.”
The church organized as the Union Congregational Church, under sponsorship of the New England colony and friends from Boston, she said.
Services were held in the community hall until a church was constructed. After a fire destroyed the building, the members met in the Asa Gardner store until 1914 when a second church was constructed.
Kolar described the congregation as a close-knit church family.
“They are very committed to keeping the church growing, vital and active,” she said.
The congregation claims 40 members, who recently installed a handicapped ramp, along with carpets and roof, she said.
Pat Rafferty, who cares for her mother, Alice Rafferty, at New England, traces one of her family lines to the original New England colonists.
“They were the Griswold family, who came from Vermont,” she said.
Pat Rafferty remembers growing up in the church, looking forward to the Easter services and brunch.
She moved to Colorado, but returned home during summers. She has since retired into New England.
While the church is small, she said it’s a group of families who pitch in to help with activities. She is looking forward to the anniversary as a time to renew friendships from a time long ago.
The United Church of Christ at Dickinson started as a group of families who worshipped in various buildings in Dickinson and Gladstone. Dickinson was known as Pleasant Valley Siding and Gladstone was larger in population at the time, she said.
The first church was built at a cost of $1,100 and dedicated in 1888. It served needs of the congregation until 1920 when it was sold because of growth. Fundraisers continued while the congregation met at the First National Bank.
The basement to the existing church was dug in 1924 and the church was dedicated in 1942. The stained glass windows followed in 1964.
“The United Church of Christ is a very socially active group of people who are aware of what’s going on in the larger community,” Kolar said.
Last year, the congregation hosted a “Discover Your Community” event for newcomers. This year, the church hosted a Festival of Talents, including a carnival, luncheon and vendor show.
Looking to the future, the congregation is holding fundraisers to construct a wheelchair ramp.
One of the oldest members, Elsie Huether, 94, hopes the ramp will be constructed soon.
“I need something or else I can’t go to church,” she said.
She reared her family in the church and taught Sunday school.
The musical ministry is led by Jackie Hope.
Several years ago, the ministry made an effort to transition from being a choir to being a music team, she said.
“We no longer have a director, nor do we sit in the choir loft,” Hope said. “Instead we sit in the pews with the congregants, we employ various instruments and perform both classical literature as well as contemporary arrangements — which we score ourselves. This new format was our effort to be more approachable, more 21st century.”
The Dickinson church may be the only UCC church in the Northern Plains Conference that has a YouTube channel. The channel, dickinsonucc, is a public access account, she said.
Kolar started her fulltime ministry in August 2002 at New England. Since then, she has completed studies toward a degree in theology and was ordained Aug 5.
“Although you’re never finished learning it was nice to end this particular part of the journey,” she said.
Kolar is looking forward to the celebrations and invites the public to join them.