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A Different Kind of Social Networking

June 17, 2013

I had the blessing of being the pastor of a parish in rural central Wisconsin for ten years. The “home” congregation was established in 1854, just six years after Wisconsin became a state, and two more “daughter” churches in the community were built from the original as more immigrants moved into that part of the state. They have a rich and wonderful Norwegian heritage and know how to use that to propel them into the future.

In the 1800s (and into the 1960s) the church was the social, educational, and religious center of the community. An important part of Sunday morning was having time to catch up with one another and sharing bits of news from the community. It was a time to find out who was sick and who was born; who had moved into town and who was having a good crop in the fields. When someone died in the community, someone would toll the church bell the number of years of that person’s age. For example, if a nine-year old child died, they would toll the bell nine times; if someone was 71, they would toll it 71 times. The church was typically the first structure built in a community, usually on a hill, and then people would build around the church, even when it was farmland. That way, everyone could here the bell ringing, would stop what they were doing to count the number, and then know who had died–usually because they knew who was ill from Sunday’s conversation.

The women’s organizations served a very similar kind of function. Originally, the women gathered in someone’s home for the day. They brought their children along and the men often joined them for lunch. It was the one day each month the women could get off the farm and meet with each other. They shared recipes, got advice from each other about how to treat a rash or a fever, got the news about who was “failing” in health and which families were struggling to survive. They quilted together. The younger women and young mothers could learn from the more experienced women and everyone could help each other with life’s joys and challenges. Over time, they also added a Bible study, led by the pastor, and then realized the value of helping support “missions.”

I do not know just how active my female ancestors were in their congregations’ women’s organizations, but it is fun to imagine them going to their “circle” and engaging the conversations and activities.  As the decades have passed, the “circles” do not have the same kind of necessity as they had previously. I wonder if what may be lost is the joy of a group of women coming together to share their lives, support each other, and delight in the power of that kind of community.

From → General

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