Faith remains a solid bedrock in times of change

Mychal Wilmes recalls the changes seen to rural America from the loss of churches and Main Street, to the isolation of families and friends.

While times change, author Mychal Wilmes holds onto faith as a constant.
Submitted / Georgette Rømo Danczyk

A busy kitchen awakened the upstairs sleepers not long after midnight.

Mother had wakened to prepare raised and glazed doughnuts for the church’s annual fundraising social in the hall. The boys sleeping upstairs pulled on their clothes and raced downstairs to see how many doughnuts they might consume as surplus.

There were never quite enough, although we nevertheless left for chores with full bellies and sugar highs.

The rural church had always been the hub of our farming community’s social life. In the distant past when tractors had just started to replace horses, farmers brought chickens, piglets, surplus fencing, corn cribbing, and hay to the grounds to be sold with the money raised given to church projects.

Wives, at a time when few took off-farm jobs, kept church affairs running smoothly. The funeral committee ensured that scalloped potatoes, buns, and desserts were delivered to the hall, made coffee and lemonade, and organized games for the children — among other things.


In my youth, the hall that was built with great sacrifice lacked indoor plumbing, though we children did not complain about using the two-seater outhouse. We were overjoyed when volunteers handed out small bags containing popcorn balls, candy, and peanuts at Christmas time. Adults filled the hall for winter card parties that netted winners bragging rights and perhaps a little money.

Times change — mostly for the better but not always.

To read more of Mychal Wilmes' Farm Boy Memories, click here.

There was talk in the darkest times of the 20th century that the church might have to close, a potential fate that threatened the farming community to its core. The reasons to support its closing were numerous.

Another church in our faith was just a few miles away and there was a significant shortage of pastors to lead us. The idea met with stiff resistance from people whose ancestors established it more than 100 years ago and from those with relatives buried in the cemetery.

Times change, although the bedrock faith in the existence of a higher power that lets rain fall and sunshine warm remains. Several country churches, faced with membership declines and other issues, have closed in recent years. One that suffered that fate was in the tiny town of St. Thomas, well-known as a bastion of Irish families.

The church was saved from a wrecking ball when it was moved lock-stock-and-barrel a few miles down the road to an antique tractor show and grounds, where it remains in use. It is beautiful in its simplicity, like the snow that glistens in fields on a sunny February day.

An old and deceased friend — who was free with his opinions — mourned the passings of former times when rural churches and small-town Main Streets prospered.


The advent of television weakened the quilt-like strength of rural communities, along with better cars and tires, he said.

TV, which in its early days featured westerns like Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger, and star-laden variety shows, caused families to voluntarily isolate themselves. Heck, others his age learned about Pearl Harbor and the end of the war from the radio.

“You are probably too young to remember when Main Streets in our small towns were crowded with people on Friday nights,’’ he told me. “Now, they are pretty much empty.’’

Yes, many Main Streets have lost implement dealers, clothing, and appliance stores and banks, but that is due to many finding those things and more in bigger communities.

What I did know is that we ought to celebrate the past while recognizing that for the most part it is impossible to restore it. It is equally impossible to be good stewards of the land without recognizing that despite the best of modern farming technologies, farmers and farming depends on God to send rain or sunshine when livestock and crops need it.

Faith, the old man once reminded me, is a belief in things not readily seen. That faith, he said, was what allowed the homesteaders and those who came after them to plant and harvest.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minnesota, with his wife, Kathy.

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