Emmanuel Church - Gott Mit Uns

This article was re-printed from the June 15, 1967 edition of The Saskatchewan Valley News. (50th Anniversary of the Church )

Prairie Peace-Makers – by Mrs. Doreen Mierau

In 1948, during the ten most impressionable years of my life, I began to attend this church. I saw the evidence of faith and service and the incidents, both humorous and meaningful are such that they shall remain in my memory always. All my life I shall remember Rev. Stahl’s fiery language and his great ability to keep his listeners spellbound. His sermons had in them a message for young and old alike. He detested half-hearted singing and when the congregation tended to do so, he never failed to rise and conduct in order to speed up the singing. Often he would question the spiritual experience of his congregation in connection with their lack of enthusiasm. Also in 1948 he chose J. M. Waldner as his assistant minister. He relieved on alternate Sundays or when illness or church business caused Rev. Stahl to be absent.

The nursery, which he as children called the “woman’s room” was situated in the rear of the church sanctuary. How degrading it was at the age of six to be taken to the nursery as punishment for misbehaving! What a teasing we got from other family members who found out about it after the service! The cradle, which I mentioned earlier, was recently removed when a long table was built against the wall to take its place. There was talk among the congregation to partition the nursery from the church main with a low wall. But Rev. Stahl would not allow it as he believed that no one was too young to hear the Gospel an in this way a child’s first impression of the church was that of absolute silence and disciple.

Daily Vacation Bible School , held one week in July, was a story in itself. Children came by every means of transportation that had been invented. Some came with a horse and buggy, others with bicycles. A rubber-tired wagon and horses and a few were even fortunate enough to bring the family car. One family that came by horses and wagon picked up every neighbouring child and by the time they reached the church the wagon box was full.

We didn’t begin the classes till this particular party had arrived because there weren’t enough children to justify starting the lesson, nor taking an offering for that matter.

Throughout the week each class learnt a craft. We were patiently taught copper tooling, leather craft, oil painting, and making crepe paper flowers. At recess the Kindergarten children took part in the usual nursery games while the older children played softball with old boards for bases and the barn door as a backstop.

Classes were spread throughout the church, including the basement. I remember one year in particular. I was nine at the time and our class was downstairs. The teacher asked us to stand for prayer. When I stood with my eyes closed and my head bowed in prayer, I had difficulty keeping my balance. So I kept my eyes open. I was to learn and important lesson. Suddenly out of a large crack in the basement wall, two shiny eyes appeared followed by a head, a body and a long tail. By then I knew it was a mouse. Breathless, I watched it scurry under the old cook stove, less than four feet from where I stood. Terrified, I finally caught my breath and let out a scream. You can imagine the commotion that followed. Weak and trembling, I spent the afternoon resting on a hard pew, counting the ceiling boards. The lesson: when praying, always close your eyes.

The Sunday following the week of DVBS was what we called “Children’s Day”. It was the day we recited verses, sang songs and gave flannel graph lessons to our parents and everyone in the community. The church was always filled to capacity on this day. Year after year bananas were handed out in payment for our efforts. Some years boxes of Cracker Jacks were substituted, but nothing really took the place of our “Children’s Day Bananas”. My mouth still feels tart and puckered when I think of them.

Thanksgiving celebrations were an all day affair. Services began early and for dinner one could eat everything beans to roast chicken. Families arrived laden with bags of homemade buns, jars of dill pickles, pies of all shapes and sizes, and roasters of chicken, duck and goose. These were carried downstairs to be reheated on the old cook stove that usually heated the whole basement once the men managed to get a fire started. Outside the basement door, a feed cooker was kept to heat water which was later poured into large blue and grey enamelled coffee pots. These the men carried up and down the aisles, serving coffee. Everyone ate as heartily as they usually sang. Some of the growing boys (and some that were no longer growing!) went down the long row of pies, sampling each one and eating their way back again. Our stomachs were allowed to settle while the women, up to their elbows in soapsuds and hot water were left with all the dishes. After the dinner hour another service was held on the theme of missions, usually conducted by a missionary on furlough.

Although the church had a balcony it was needed only during a large attendance. The seats were backless benches and their construction left much to be desired. My brother, a young fellow at the time, sat in the balcony during a Thanksgiving service. As the seats were beginning to fill up, he suddenly slid over to make more space and had a painful misfortune of being speared in the leg by a splinter. He never uttered a word but quite inconspicuously removed it by pulling it through his trousers. Evidently he was more content to bear the pain than the shame of causing a disturbance in church. I’ll wager he moved more carefully when more space was needed!

Christmas was not a much celebrated occasion. It was considered as a time for quiet contemplation and re-dedication. On Christmas Eve a short program was brought by the Sunday School classes, followed by a distribution of goodies to the children. The morning of Christmas Day was spent in church. Other than that, much show and festivity was not considered to be in order.

The annual mission sale was the highlight of the year for the women. Quilts, pillows, aprons and the like, which were made during the year, were sold and the proceedings were sent abroad to needy countries. They had, to a certain extent, formed a ladies’ aid in 1935, although they worked as individuals and not as a group. In 1950 they officially organized into an aid and met at the home of the hostess in charge of the evening. Projects were organized, such as making food and clothing parcels that were sent to needy missionaries. This ladies’ aid is still active although membership is declining.

The large hot-air register at the back of the church used to fascinate me to no end. It seemed that every time someone took his precious nickel or dimes from his pocket, it rolled in circles till it disappeared into the register, clanging all the way down to the furnace. If the furnace and pipes were taken apart, the amount of money found would be nothing short of a morning’s offering.

As was custom in that day, the cemetery was on the same yard -- about 50 feet from the church. The ladies’ bathroom was situated 20 feet from the graveyard. I learnt through experience that there was method in this madness. Who would spend more time than necessary beside a cemetery with Rev. Stahl’s voice ringing out above the groaning and creaking of the dead that my imagination supplied? I spent no time dilly-dallying and I often found myself running back to the church, casting hurried glances over my shoulder in the direction of the graves.

Tradition played a large part in church etiquette and the manner in which services were conducted. Each sex had separate doors of entry to the church. The men and boys entered and seated themselves on the right, while the left side was strictly for the women and girls. Children always sat in the front pews. It was indeed a rare sight when a visiting family sat together. The constant turning around to view this spectacle in our church brought a stiff neck and a stiff reproof from our parents, for we were not to embarrass strangers, but make them feel welcome. The church officials were seated in front, either to the right of the minister or facing the congregation. These seating arrangements have lost their significance, but they taught us respect for order, parents, and elders.

A major part of the morning service was the “prayer hour.” It was begun by Rev. Stahl jr. and has remained to this day as the sole power of the church. It was exercised with such sincerity and trust that its significance has remained with me ever since.

The song “Sweet Hour of Prayer” was sung and everyone knelt among the pews. Rev. Stahl would ask a member of the congregation to lead in prayer, after which anyone who wished could participate. Through the years however, the solemnity of kneeling was lost and now everyone stands during the entire half hour. Perhaps it matters not in what position prayers are uttered, but I feel that a bit of tradition has been lost.

In 1962 the Mennonite Brethren Conference suggested that the church discontinue services, join the M.B. Conference and unite with other M.B. congregations. But, feeling that they couldn’t abandon the little church which had been built through prayers and faith, the congregation stood their ground and continued to conduct services, although they did join the Conference. The word “Krimmer” was dropped and the church remained as M.B. Emmanuel. This action displayed not only the spiritual stubbornness of these people, but the esteem with which they held the perseverance of their forefathers.

As Rev. Stahl had not received a pastoral salary up to this time, the congregation offered him a yearly sum of $200 for the last four years of his service. He was reluctant to accept the money for he believed he was ordained to spread the Gospel of Life and be of service to his fellowmen. He expresses the wish only to be supported by prayers as his small farm and faith had always provided in the past. In spite of being sick occasionally for the past 15 years, his energy was exhaustless and the hours of study and prayer that he put into his work were numberless.

By 1965 his body began to show signs of extreme wear. In 1966 the assistant pastor, J.M. Waldner, became the new minister. During the next six months, Rev. Stahl spent considerable time in the hospital, where he received numerous blood transfusions which enabled him to continue preaching. He brought his last sermon on June 26, 1966 , only to be re-admitted to hospital where, on July 24, he went to his reward. Friends from far and near came to pay their last respects to this humble man who served his beloved church for 36 years.

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This little church hasn’t changed much through the years and that it is still being attended is evidence of strong leadership on the part of forefathers and church elders. The outside toilets are still in use, the second-hand piano still misses the occasional note and the white-washed basement walls still harbour the same creeping cracks. The doors, always open to strangers; still swell tight after a rain.

However, small changes, evident of passing time, are apparent. The barn has been converted to a chicken barn on my father’s farm and the church is in need of a new coat of paint. The weeds are taller and thicker, and now and then new grave is added to the cemetery. But the unchanging Gospel of “peace on earth” is still being declared.

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What kind of people build and maintain a country church? Rural folks, for they are by nature religious; inspiration exists all around them in the hills and trees, the sky and earth and planting and harvest. Their religion is not theology, it is people living in such a way that peace and brotherhood, the only means of survival, is the direct result. Simple, honest speech passes between these men of the soil, whether they know one another well or slightly, or not at all. They live as neighbours for it is the way they know.

When they worship, they see about them a congregation of families, childhood and youth and age in the same pew, and their hearts swell with the assurance of belonging to this inclusive company. They are simple folk who laugh together when life is good, sorrow together when life is hard, and work together for each other when one is in need. They stand alone as the best of their kind – little men and women of devout faith and sincere practice, who come and feel and think and live in a community that is more than a human parasite. Their church remains a testimony to the words of Christ: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I will be in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20