St. James Church Celebrates 100 Years of Worship
Tandberg, Kathy. "St. James Church Celebrates 100 Years of Worship." Hazen Star, 20 September 2007, 7.
Along Mercer County Highway 5, nestled over the hill in southeast
Golden Valley, a small, white church faces to the east where it greets
the rising sun each morning.
St. James Lutheran Church, moved in 1946
from the country into Golden Valley where services have continued,
will celebrate 100 years of worship Sept. 23.
This Sunday morning, Sept. 23, the sun will rise for a celebration
of worship as the congregation of St. James Lutheran Church gathers
to celebrate 100 years of worship.
The public is invited to join in the celebration of this House
of Worship. The festivities begin at 10:30 a.m. with a mission fest.
Special guests, the Rev. Scott Kuntz, now of Pennsylvania, St. James
pastor 1995-1997, and the Rev. Robert Rowan, Lincoln, interim pastor
at the church in the late 1990s, will officiate.
Following morning worship, the celebration will move to the Golden
Valley City Hall for a noon potluck meal, with the meat provided
by the church. At 1:30 p.m. back at the church, there will be a
100th birthday celebration service. Officiating will be special
guest, the Rev. Larry Harvala, North Dakota District Lutheran Church
Missouri Synod President.
Also officiating at the afternoon service will be St. James pastor,
the Rev. David Suelzle. Suelzle has served St. James since April
1998, first jointly with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Halliday,
with the assistance of a lay worker through the November 2000 when
St. Paul’s closed its doors, then solely at St. James to the
present time. He has also been the pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran
Church in Hazen for the past 21 years.
Following the afternoon service, the celebration will continue
back at city hall for birthday cake and a sing-a-long with Suelzle,
in both English and German.
No milestone of 100 years is complete without history. History
and faith is what lies deep in the core of the St. James congregation,
past and present.
A Missouri Synod Lutheran Church founded by Germans from Russia
immigrants who first gathered together to worship in 1900, the history
of St. James runs deep in Mercer County.
Though the church structure sets comfortably in Golden Valley,
the location is not where the heart of the church began. Tracing
its roots back in time, St. James Lutheran began as a country church
approximately 9 miles northeast of Golden Valley. Sometime around
1900 in the area of Sofia, a congregation of neighbors who shared
a common bond of heritage and faith began to gather in their homes
and in the sheep shed on the Adolph Schlender homestead.
The faith of these neighbors ran deep and they began a plan to
go forth and share this faith with an official church. It was seven
years before St. James, at the time called by its original German
name, “St. Jacobus,” was chartered.
St. James became an official congregation on Feb. 18, 1907, in
a parish that also included St. Paul, Defiance (13 miles northeast
of Halliday); St. John, Halliday (seven miles northeast of Halliday);
and St. Matthew, Neusatz (13 miles north of Golden Valley). As these
churches have closed their doors over the years, some of their members
have become a part of the St. James congregation.
The names of the St. James charter members are unclear as the original
church records are written in old German, making it difficult to
translate. In the memoirs of an early interim vicar, Enno Budde,
a Nebraskan native who taught school in Sofia and also filled in
as occasional pastor for St. James in 1914, spoke of the worshipers
of Sofia as the (Adolph) Schlender congregation.
Budde was a student at the Missouri Synod Theological College in
Springfield, Ill., in September 1914 when he was approached by the
college’s president who told him of a “call” or
summons from a church. The call had come from North Dakota in effort
to find a seminary student who could act as vicar to serve one of
many congregations in the field.
The call was to Sofia and had come from the Rev. F.W. Kaul, who
was serving St. James and two other congregations, as well as several
mission places in the region of the Killdeer Mountains.
Budde interrupted his studies to accept the call and within the
week was on his way to Golden Valley where he was to connect with
Adolph Schlender. The vicar remained in the area for seven months
teaching the area children and serving the congregation when Kaul
could not be present.
Adolph’s grandson, Melvin Schlender, continues to live on
his grandfather’s homestead with his family. From what Melvin
can recall of early family stories, charter members include many
neighbors: his grandfather Adolph Schlender Jr.; Adam Miller, father
of Esther Miller and grandfather of Dorothy Dschaak; Henry Wagner,
Henry Meyer and John Richau. Additional charter members, recalled
today only by family surnames, include Schulz, Weigum and Meyer.
“My father Henry was one of the first recorded baptisms in
the 1900 church records when services were held in the old sheep
shed,” Melvin said.
In 1910, the congregation built the church structure on land donated
by the Schlender family. There the church remained until 1946 when
it was moved into Golden Valley where worship has continued.
A congregation, whether large or small, is important to a church.
Suelzle said though the congregation of St. James is small with
around 40 members, some who now live out of the area, they remain
faithful as a congregation.
“We have 17-25 in attendance at services, very committed.
In working with them in the past nine years, never have they talked
about closing the doors. Where God’s people are, there’s
Christ and the Word,” Suelzle said.
The longest remaining member of the St. James congregation is Esther
Miller, Dodge. Miller, whose father Adam was one of the original charter
members, was born and raised in the church where she was baptized,
confirmed and then later married from to her husband, Edwin Miller.
The St. Jacobus (James) Lutheran
Church, then located northeast of Golden Valley, celebrated
its 25 anniversary in 1932.
“I think it’s very special to have St. James going
this long,” Esther said.
Edwin became a member of the church in 1938 at the age of 12 when
his family moved to the Golden Valley area from Halliday. He and
Esther raised their three children in the St. James congregation.
“The church was full every Sunday and they even had to set
up chairs many Sundays. There were at least 40 families in the congregation
and they were all big families,” Edwin recalled.
Dorothy Dschaak, granddaughter of charter member Adam Miller and
Esther’s niece, was raised in the church with her four siblings.
Her parents, Bill and Ernestine Raab, were members who continued
the tradition of faith in the church.
Dorothy and her siblings were baptized in the church; all were
confirmed in the church except Dorothy because that was the one
year in 100 that the church didn’t have a pastor. Dorothy
and her husband Delmar were married from the church.
Clergy are also an important part of a church. Like all small country
churches, calling in clergy is not always easy so instead, circuit
riders, where one pastor would serve many congregations, traveling
from church to church Sunday after Sunday, were usual.
Suelzle has enjoyed his relationship serving the St. James congregation.
He sees the church as a vital part of any community, especially
small communities where people often leave the smaller churches
for larger churches in nearby towns.
“It is so important in the community to provide and bring
in Christ to bear in the midst of those are there. It’s really
been a privilege to be able to serve as their pastor. A privilege
to continue to provide a viable Word and sacrament ministry,”
Dedicated clergy have served the St. James congregation, from 1904
through today are:
1904-1905: Rev. Matthias (Hannover); 1905-1906: Rev. J. Duerr (Hazen);
1906-1908: Rev. W. Schmook (Hazen); 1908-1909: Rev. O.H. Pannkoke;
1909-1912: Rev. H. Mackensen; 1912-1920: Rev. F.W. Kaul; 1914-1915:
Vicar Enno Budde; 1920-1921: Rev. R. Filter; 1922-1925: Rev. G.
Heilman; 1926-1934: Rev. L.A. Reimler; 1934-1935: Rev. H.F. Gerike;
1935-1936: Vicar F. Geske; 1937-1939: Rev. W.E. Hannemannn; 1939-1940:
Rev. W.J. Link; 1941-1944: Rev. H. Bruss; 1945-1946: Rev. E.R. Dubs;
1947-1951: Rev. S. Meske; 1951-1956: Rev. A.G. Schwab; 1957-1993:
Rev. Harry R. Theiss; 1933-1995: Rev. Fredrick C. Hearn; 1995-1997:
Rev. Scott Kuntz; 1997-1998: Rev. Robert Rowan; and 1998-present:
Rev. David Suelzle.
The early settlers built a church to last. More than 100 years
later, the dream of a church long a reality, St. James still stands;
the Word of God still alive within. Several miles away, the prairie
winds whistle through the grass that now blows across the vacant
Only the church cemetery remains on the original site, along with
an iron sign designating the original German name, St. Jacobus,
Today, all that remains of St.
James Lutheran Church at the original site of Sofia, are the
original cemetery and an iron sign marking the site by the church’s
German name, St. Jacobus.
Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.