This is the Church that Loyalty Built

July 1, 2013 | 14 comments

The little country church where our family worships turned 125 years old this weekend. We celebrated with a pageant, an old-fashioned “hymn sing” under a big white tent. We lingered long over tables, while our children ran under the sun, in unending circles around the church.

Songs were sung in Norwegian, and white paper doves drifted on fishing line over our heads, each dove bearing the name of every baptized church member from 1888 to 2013.

The power of God resides here, in this the humble crook of a farm field, tucked into a small corner of the world.

I walked across the road with my camera, to shoot the long view from the cemetery, while a summer breeze danced through my hair.  I stepped over top of gravesites, wondering where they’ll bury me someday.

And then I turned to see it:

This is the church that love and loyalty build.

It was built on faith and hope and love, for sure. But it was also built on tears and grief, built up through hard times and world wars, a depression, and — no doubt — a number of disagreements over theology and church administration.

But they were loyal.

They’ve been loyal to God, and loyal to their fellow man.

Surely, over these 125 years, folks have irritated each other. I don’t know details, but someone said something that another person didn’t like. Someone sat in someone’s pew. People sang off key, and too loud, and some were too bossy, and too controlling. Others were probably accused of not “carrying their weight.”

But they were stayed. They were loyal.

These days, we trade churches and jobs and neighborhoods and cars without batting an eyelash. But there is power in the staying. Loyalty is perhaps one of the greatest virtues, next to love and faith. It’s not just for the dogs, it’s for the people, too.

For folks like Hazel and Helmer and Rosie and Art and Milo and Wanda? Loyalty has been a rock to stand on, and longevity is a brick in the church wall. These are cherished virtues. Without loyalty, we are aimless. Without the view of the long road, we’d never be willing to fight through the present pain.

I wonder, did Hazel or Milo or the others consider giving up over the years? When they could barely scrape enough money to put in the offering plate? When they were without a pastor? When the church burned to the ground in 1996?

When strife?
When theological spats?
When empty pews?
When family disputes?
When Chris Tomlin songs were played every now and then, instead of Luther’s hymns?

For the past couple weeks, I took a video camera to the homes of our oldest church members, asking them to recount memories, and to advise my generation on how to keep the church going in the future. I put together a little video for our church family, and it played in a loop all weekend long in the sanctuary.

When I asked Rosie if she’d allow me to interview, she responded, “Well… I suppose so. But remember, I haven’t been attending here as long as some of the others. I’ve only been here 60 years, you know.”


When I interviewed Milo, 90, he was sitting at the kitchen table in his old farmhouse. He raised a finger in the air, and gave me this advice: “Stick together. If you have a problem, why … you need to work it out.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that changing churches or finding a new peer group of getting a better job is a bad thing. Sometimes, it’s time to make the move. But these days, it’s so easy to let a cross word sever a relationship. But if we’d all just breathe a little deeper, let our righteous indignation cool a bit, then we might end up finding ourselves gathered under the white doves one day. And right there, we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves, to celebrate something bigger than ourselves, out where the corn grows tall and the wind blows steady across the plain.


“Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved.”
~ Martin Luther


“We are all in the same boat, in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”
~ G.K. Chesterton

by | July 1, 2013 | 14 comments


  1. Ann Kroeker

    Good words for a generation accustomed to splitting apart. *Only* 60 years.

  2. bettie

    loved this … we are a society of “church hoppers”.. trying to fill the “what can they do for me” attitude.. instead of “what can i do this the body of believers in Jesus name!”

    • wesley

      Great article and important things to think about. This may be a tangent but it’s on my heart. It’s hard to form connections today. When some members, because of being around longer, are treated one way and new members another. Or those who volunteer more visibly or give generously are treated as being more important. I do love the message of this article and the celebration of loyalty. Let’s work harder to love everyone unconditionally and see if loyalty makes a comeback.

  3. Anon E. Mouse

    the act of forgiveness is Amazing! Thanks for giving a living example of how we can run the race before us by using God’s powerful tool, forgiveness.

  4. Kay

    Jennifer, I really appreciate this post because, as a pastor’s wife, I’ve watched people change churches like hummingbirds zipping from one flower to another! And I’ve wondered where the loyalty went. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people do indeed see church as a commodity, a disposable “purchase”, something you shop for and then you keep on shopping. It’s sad for those who try to stick things out and remain, and it’s sadder for those who never find the real meaning of church–family–in all their moving on. Just yesterday a woman was visiting our church from another state and she brought this issue up with me and my husband after church. She goes to our church once a year, as her parents live in our state. But she was questioning, after sitting in our worship service, if she should go home and change churches…even though, as she admitted, “the gospel is being preached there.” Of course, if she was comparing her church to our church she needs to be aware that, of course, she saw our “best side.” There’s definitely more to us than meets the eye! At any rate, I encouraged her to seek the Lord, but I’d always say there’s great virtue in the staying. Happy for you and your church family!

  5. Marilyn Burch

    Thank you for your thoughts. I remember the small church that I grew up in. Was married there. Buried my father from there and had hoped to do the same for my mother. But, people went where they felt they needed and the church came down to seven white haired ladies and a student pastor. So it is closed now. Shuttered. Waiting for rain or snow or a good hard wind to take it down. Thank you for sharing how it can be different. God bless you.

  6. Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Jennifer, My church turned 125 years old back in January! I’ve only been there 19 of those years, but I love the rich heritage of belonging to a church where some of the folks have been there for 55. (Clearly, we’ve got nothing on Rosie and Milo:) ) Thanks for this wonderful reminder of the value of loyalty. For the reminder to stop treating relationships as things that we can shed like out-of-fashion clothes. For the exhortation to step back, cool off, and then work it out with humility and love. I hope many, many people read and heed your wise and much-needed words here.

  7. Floyd

    There is definitely power, gratification, and honor in persevering. What an enduring legacy. Really cool.

  8. Diana Trautwein

    Beautiful, Jennifer. I thank God for churches with this kind of history, this kind of loyalty. I know that people I love must leave churches sometimes, and for very good reasons. But I also know that way too often, we treat our church community experience just a little bit too much like a cafeteria line – taking a little of that, then a little of this, until we feel we’ve found the perfect combo. There is no such thing as perfect. But sticking together, through good times and hard times? That comes pretty darn close. Just lovely and I thank you for writing it out here.

  9. Leah Adams

    I love this post because it speaks of LEGACY. Legacy is my ‘thing’, the thing about which I have spoken and written so much. It is so important…much more so than most of us know or understand. The Legacy of those who have gone before us is part of the fabric that makes us who we are. As I read your post, I thought so much about my own church and the beauty of those lives who have served in it’s halls in past generations. Beautiful post, Jennifer.

  10. Steve Espeland

    Thank you Jennifer. How true your words are. You don’t just belong to a church you become a part of it and I think that is what God intended.

  11. Barbara Isaac

    I thank the Lord for churches like this. May we shine brighter and brighter as the days get darker.

  12. Sara DeSmet

    Absolutely LOVE!! We had Carson’s bday party Saturday and Wild Water West Sunday…so sorry we missed it. What memories to cherish!!

  13. Rhonda Quaney

    So enjoyed this Jennifer. A few years back I interview many of the folks who had been at our church for so long and discovered some amazing things about our church history… such as they used to have an orphanage and the charter members worshiped in the basement before they were able to build up. Thank you for your beautiful heart and writing.



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