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Methodists to observe 125th anniversary

The Dickinson United Methodist Church is preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary with activities on Saturday and Sunday, May 31-June 1. The celebration has special significance to everyone in the congregation. "The word that comes to my mind...

The Dickinson United Methodist Church is preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary with activities on Saturday and Sunday, May 31-June 1.

The celebration has special significance to everyone in the congregation.

"The word that comes to my mind, it's the importance of remembering the past, while simultaneously preparing for the future," said the Rev. Scott McKirdy, pastor of the church.

The celebration

The activities begin with a picnic at noon on Saturday at the Dickinson Recreation Center. Inflatable games for children and an afternoon of socialization are scheduled from 1-4 p.m.

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The day continues with a worship service at 5 p.m. at the church located at 75 Third St. W., and a concert by Christian guitarist and vocalist Ken Verheecke of Piedmont, S.D.

"After the concert, there's hot dogs and smores in the parking lot. It's campfire night, but how we are going to cook them, a committee is figuring out," he said.

The celebration continues with a 10 a.m. worship service on Sunday at the church, followed by a potluck dinner and fellowship.

"I love to refer to it as the sacrament of coffee," said McKirdy.

The afternoon concludes with a mission auction. The auction serves to raise funds for a scheduled mission trip to Spirit Lake Reservation in July. The projects depend on the requests of the residents. Last year, the team did painting, repairs to the community center and offered sidewalk Sunday school.

"We simply serve where we're needed," he said.

A second mission project involves the painting of the exterior of the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center in Dickinson in June.

Sunday concludes with an anniversary celebration at 2 p.m. at the church.

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"It's a time of remembrance. We're doing a historical PowerPoint. We're going back to the founders of this ministry -- the Rev. Cooke and his wife," said McKirdy.

Looking to the past

The Rev. William Cooke and his wife Susanna are credited with founding the church in 1883.

One of their great-grandsons, Douglas Candee, lives on his grandmother's homestead near Dickinson.

Referring to a family tribute booklet published in 1911, Candee read words written about his great-grandparents: "Ours was a Christian home. Father was a minister of the Gospel; but he was more than that, he was a godly man."

Candee said his great-grandparents immigrated to America from Ireland.

"They were missionaries for the Methodist Church," he said.

They had a ministry in Wisconsin until seeking a homestead in North Dakota.

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Susanna wrote in her memoirs, "My husband desired to go to North Dakota to take up a homestead as we had a growing family of boys. He was sent to Mandan, N.D., in October 1882. The following spring the family went to Gladstone where he had taken some government land."

Candee said his great-grandfather established a Methodist Church at Mandan and Gladstone before starting the Methodist Society in Dickinson.

Starting with a small membership, worship services were held in Dickinson's Baptist and Presbyterian churches and the Stark County Courthouse. The Methodist Society was incorporated as St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church in 1886.

The congregation rented the old Presbyterian Church from 1898 to 1902, when the property was purchased. In 1917, the building was sold and moved off the lots and a new church was built in its place. The Warren A. Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church was dedicated Oct. 7, 1917.

Reflections

McKirdy grew up as a Methodist preacher's kid, living in communities throughout North and South Dakota. He and his wife Colleen have two daughters, Grace and Emma. They came to Dickinson in 2000 to serve the congregation of some 125 families.

"It's really a unique congregation, even among the Methodists. The people's backgrounds are very diverse with many different church histories...we have wound up as the home that fits for them," said McKirdy. "This church has always been a powerfully welcoming congregation. It's really fun to go back into history and to see the DNA of this church. It always was a welcoming church."

McKirdy is frustrated by the lack of early records of the church, but he does know the Episcopal church held the first worship services in Dickinson and the Methodist church came a few months later.

McKirdy has a favorite story about the congregation.

"When I go into a church and I start to pastor, I want to know the history of the church, because who they were tells you who they are," he said.

He said, "In the 1930s, back when the parsonage was next to the church in town, Dickinson was much smaller. We were the closest church to the railroad station. What that means is we constantly had hobos during the heart of the Great Depression. The pastor's wife always had a pot of soup on for the hobos. They knew it was safe to come to the back door of the parsonage and find food there -- fresh bread, sandwiches, soup -- and we always kept the back door of the church open. One of the rooms was set aside for the hobos to sleep."

Longtime members of the church also have their memories.

Joyce Greenwood came to Dickinson in 1952 with her husband Larry. She has been a member for 56 years.

"The church is your extended family," she said.

All of their children, except Mark, were baptized in the church. She taught Sunday school and Bible school.

Florence Bergman and her husband Arthur moved to Dickinson in 1943.

She described the church congregation as friendly and helpful. She's served as a member of all the circles and plans to help with the celebration potluck at the church.

Longtime pastor, the Rev. Ralph Sjursen and his wife, Harriet, of Arthur, N.D., are looking forward to attending the celebration.

They anticipate meeting old friends and reflecting on their years of service in Dickinson.

Sjursen was pastor of the church from 1965 to 1982. It was a time of prosperity as the result of the local oil boom.

"The church was growing because Dickinson was growing. We decided we had to do something -- should we relocate or should we build on to the present church building. There was quite a discussion back and forth and we finally decided to build an addition that we have now," he said.

The remainder of the church was painted and repaired. New carpeting was installed.

"When we did all of that, everybody fell in love with the old building, and everybody said this building was too beautiful to tear down," he said.

He said another interesting point is why the south wall of the foyer is completely blank. The members allowed the space for expansion or to put in a solar heating plant.

"Of course, the oil prices went down and it never materialized," he said.

"I think its pretty awesome that the church has been there for 125 years before the North Dakota even state," said church member Fayette Heidecker. "We've been pretty much in the same location and our focus has always been serving the community and being an open door where everybody is welcome."

One of those activities is the United Methodist Church Bible School from June 8-12.

"It's open to the community at no charge, just come on in -- that's preschool through high school," said McKirdy.

He added the two-day celebration is open to the public. Everyone is welcome.

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