Several members of Skjeberg Lutheran Church stand with their pastor, Jon Dryburgh, by the rock that lists founding members. Members include (l-r): Marlys Nelson, Kris Heine, Roger Anderson, Beverly Jensen, Gay Jensen, Laura Bloomquist Hammond and Dryburgh. (Enterprise photo by Linda Andersen)
By Linda Andersen
Skjeberg (SHAYberg) Lutheran Church in far western Kittson County needs a firm foundation both in the physical and spiritual sense. On Sunday evening, March 6, 2018, lightening struck the bell on their 100 plus year old church building, resulting in the total loss of that building (The bell turned out to be its only surviving part and is currently in a farmer’s shop being refurbished for the new church building).
Undaunted, the church’s congregants voted to rebuild. They’ve been meeting at the Drayton Lutheran Church, plan to host their annual church picnic for the community, and recently met for worship and a picnic at the site of their old and new church buildings.
It appears they’ll have the firm foundation necessary to head into the future. At the Sunday, August 19th worship service, Jon Dryburgh, their lay pastor who also serves as a principal at the Hillsboro Public School, in speaking about the church founders stated, “They built the church on the fact that Jesus was the son of God.” Dryburgh went on to say that building upon Jesus is “the only thing upon which you can build a church where the church will survive…The cement we lay is a picture of the true foundation.”
Dryburgh added that the church founders had believed in firm physical foundations, too, mentioning that the foundation on the 1883 building had been a foot thick.
“We hope to get cement poured by the end of August,” stated Kris Heine, president of the congregation. She also said they plan to get the frame up soon so they can continue work on the building through winter. They hope to be meeting in the building by August of 2019.
At one point in the August worship service, congregants faced the site of the new structure as Dryburgh prayed a blessing on the congregation and its new building. Later, congregants grabbed spades for a bit of a ground breaking ceremony at the site.
Heine noted that the church had “pretty good insurance.” That insurance plus other funds are covering about three-fourths of the cost of a new building. “We need to raise funds for about a quarter of the costs,” she said.
Heine’s history with the church hints at another strong foundation of the church – family connections. Heine’s great-grandparents, Nils and Karen Pederson, became members of the church after arriving here from Norway about six years after the church started.
“The members really support each other and support the church,” Heine said, adding that the church is “more like a family and it doesn’t’ matter if you’re related to somebody or not.”
Family ties within the church actually go back hundreds of years to Skjeberg Lutheran Church in Sarpsborg, Norway. Beverly Jensen, a California woman who grew up just a few miles from Disneyland, has become knowledgeable about those ties to Norway. Though she is not originally from the church, her love for Skjeberg is apparent as she speaks. “I married into the church…My husband is in the Jensen line that descends from the Andreasens… Five generations of my husband’s family are buried there,” she said, motioning to the nearby cemetery.
Beverly, who is married to Gay Jensen, traveled with seven others from Skjeberg in 1996 to their sister church, Skjeberg in Norway, to help the church celebrate its 900th anniversary!
A rock stands at the side of the Skjeberg Cemetery listing names of the founders of the church (Interestingly, it only lists male names – no doubt just a practice of the times and not an indication of lack of involvement of the women). Descendants of these founders are still a big part of the church today.
It’s good to see children in a church and, one of them, Rylee Marustad, is a fifth generation church member who is a descendant of Ole Hemmingson, one of the men named on the rock.
Marlys Nelson is another of those in the church who can claim descendancy from founder Christian Andreasen.
Carol Hansen, who is a granddaughter of founder Christian Hansen, said that her grandfather’s brother, Gunder Hansen, donated the land for Skjeberg Church. In speaking about the founders, she stated, “The rock of their life was Skjeberg Church,” adding that church members would “prepare all day Saturday” to go to church on Sunday. Carol Hansen is the author of a book, “Here Come the Norwegians,” which tells the history of the immigration of the Norwegian people.
Lay pastor Dryburgh indicated that a family feeling in the church is authentic, “They all care so much for each other like a family does,” he said.
Laura Bloomquist Hammond, who grew up in Skjeberg Church, said the success of the church has to do with “warmth, friendship, a sense of history…People feel warm and welcome here.” She spoke of traveling with other church members to unused churches in search of items and ideas for their new church. They were particularly interested in finding a Gothic Norwegian altar just like the one they’d lost in the fire. Though some folks thought finding one to be impossibility, Hammond believed, “There’s an altar somewhere that we’re going to find.” It turns out they were able to obtain one at Pleasant Valley Lutheran Church at rural Park River.
A variety of churches that have closed have donated items, such as altar cloths, a pulpit, pastor’s chairs, tables, chairs, and dishes to Skjeberg.
It appears that the foundations for continuing a strong Skjeberg congregation in a new building are coming along well. Anyone wishing to help them complete the rebuilding process can contribute funds to the Skjeberg Recovery Fund at the Koda Bank, 104 South Main Street, Drayton, North Dakota 58225 or c/o Kris Heine, 404 George Street, Drayton, North Dakota 58225.