The crisp winter air settles quietly and calmly in the rural, western Wisconsin countryside. Through the still, winter air drifts the sound of voices and instruments.
“Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.”
The sweet sounds are coming from a small country church. The windows are lit with the warm glow of the candles on their sills. Smoke from the chimney slips up into the night sky, the heat from the wood stove warms those who have gathered inside. This was the scene set before me on a Friday evening in mid-December in rural Maiden Rock Township. It sounds like a scene from years ago, but thanks to the hard work of many volunteers, the legacy of the old Swedish Methodist Church continues on today.
The church was built in 1872 by Swedish pioneers on land donated by A.P. and Carolina Jonsson. It sits about two miles north of Lund. It served as a place of worship for Swedish immigrants in the area from the late 1870s until the mid-1920s. At that time the church closed its doors.
Over the decades, the site sat dormant and fell into disrepair from the wear and tear of time. That is until 1994 when a group gathered to form the Old Church Road Cemetery Association. This association began the restoration process for the church and cemetery. Over the next decade, many volunteers, including descendants of the original church founders, worked to bring life back to the old Swedish Methodist Church.
The hard work of those volunteers was followed by the hard work of a second round of volunteers. One of those volunteers, Adam Peterson, had an appreciation for the building and the important personal history his family had with it. He is the great, great, great grandson of A.P and Carolina Jonsson. He felt that this historic church should have its doors opened at Christmas, to be enjoyed once again. Peterson decided to start organizing an event: “Country Christmas: Concert & Carols”. He wanted to plan an evening to open the doors and fill the pews. This time to gather and sing carols and enjoy the talents of a few local musicians. He shared his ideas with his family and friends. With a joint effort they brought the church to life.
The snow was plowed to open a parking area. Wood was hauled in to keep the stove stoked throughout the evening. Cookies and tasty Christmas goodies were baked for refreshments. Peterson recruited friends to share their musical talents for the evening. As the clock approached 6:00 p.m., people started filling up the pews.
A group of about 60 people, including myself, enjoyed the evening’s activities. As I stood in the back of the church, warmed by the wood stove, my heart was warmed by the connection I was feeling with my family’s heritage. It felt like a gift to be in the church on a cold winter’s evening, singing songs where my ancestors had stood over a century ago. I ran my fingers across the butternut pews handcrafted by my great, great grandfather, Charles Gustafson. I felt like I was experiencing a piece of life long ago.
This season can become overrun by busy schedules, long shopping lists and the stressful hustle and bustle. But this evening, organized by my cousin Peterson, was like a pause button. A pause to stop, sing songs, connect with family, friends, neighbors and bring a little life once again to a historic country church. What a special evening it was. A gift this Christmas that wasn’t wrapped under the tree but instead was unwrapped in my heart and mind. It’s a gift that I’ll cherish for years to come as I reflect back on the evening in the old Swedish Methodist Church.