Worship, Word, Watermelon: Summer services at historical site draw faithful worshippers

JACKSON -- Summer is typically a time of dwindling church attendance, a time when pews are often more empty than full, due to family vacations and other seasonal activities.

JACKSON -- Summer is typically a time of dwindling church attendance, a time when pews are often more empty than full, due to family vacations and other seasonal activities.

But there's one church in Jackson that's seen a steady increase in church attendance on Sunday nights, even though the church has been defunct for more than 10 years. The former Delafield Lutheran Church, originally located near Wilder but now situated at the Fort Belmont complex in Jackson, is the site of Worship, Word and Watermelon -- a series of non-denominational summer worship services. Attendance has grown from a handful of worshippers to a high of 135 last Sunday during Jackson's festival weekend.

How this service came about is something of a fluke, according to the Rev. Martin Lucin, pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Jackson and one of the WWW preachers.

"Six or seven years ago, I was sitting in my office, and two people who belong to my church called and asked, 'What are you doing? Why don't you come downstairs and meet us. We want you to see something,'" Lucin related.

That was the day the Delafield Lutheran Church was being moved to its new home at Fort Belmont.


"They took me out in the country, and here comes this church moving down the road," Lucin continued. "I'd never seen anything like that in my life, to hear about it, to watch these men moving this church, to see the look in their eyes and to listen to them, about how much this church meant to them, that it was being brought into Jackson."

Fast-forward to an Our Savior's church staff meeting some time later, when someone remarked about the Delafield church: "That's such a lovely church. It's too bad it can't be used on a regular basis."

"Kiddingly, I said, 'We could do a summer evening series out there and call it Worship, Word and Watermelon,'" Lucin recalled.

Although Lucin wasn't serious when he initially threw out the idea, it was taken seriously, and five years ago, the WWW services were launched. Jackson area pastors take turns preaching during the 10-week summer schedule.

"They're usually participatory and about 45 minutes or so in length," said Lucin about the service format. "They're short, simple, casual and well-attended. ... The response has been very good."

Ken Kruse, vice president of the Fort Belmont organization and former manager of the historical site, is gratified the old church is seeing some regular use.

"When we moved the church, I always said I hoped it wouldn't just be a monument to the past, that it would still have use and purpose," Kruse said. "We've had weddings, baptisms, reunions out there -- had everything but a confirmation and a funeral."

According to Kruse, the Delafield Lutheran Church building was constructed in 1902, although the congregation traced its roots to 1893.


"When they started, they didn't have enough money to have a church of their own," he related. "Actually, there were three different groups up by Wilder, all Lutheran, all Norwegian, but all a little different in their backgrounds and beliefs. But they did agree enough to pool their money and build a church building and took turns using it. Eventually, the Delafield group became big enough and went off and built this church. Their original church is the Delafield Town Hall, which still exists. When the Delafield group left, then the other groups must have broke up or merged with other congregations."

In the late 1990s, membership of the Delafield congregation eventually dwindled to the point where it was forced to close. The congregation had to find a purpose for the building or it would have become property of the ELCA synod.

"When we took on the church, we paid a dollar to make it legal, but by the time we got it moved, we had $55,000 in it," Kruse said. "So it was a pretty good expense. We had to cut the steeple off and rebuild quite a bit, build a new foundation."

There are a couple of features in the church that make it particularly historically significant. The first is its organ, described as a "vocal lion," built by Mason & Risch, a Massachusetts company. It was acquired by Delafield from a Twin Cities church that was getting a newer instrument.

"They started making them in 1886. I haven't been able to check out the age of ours," said Kruse. "They got it in 1966. When they moved it in, they had to take it apart and found a repair slip from 1889, so it had to be an early organ from that company. There's a group of collectors, an organ society, for these organs, and there are only about 100 of these in existence that they know of. Not all of them work, and ours is still in good condition.

"Most organs work off suction; this one works off air pressure, so it has a different sound than others," he continued. "Originally, when this thing was new, it had almost like a big pump handle that stuck out the back, and someone had to pump it to fill it with air. The bellows are still inside, but the pump handle is gone. They just weighted the bellows down so they can't fill with air."

Another unique feature is the altar painting, an image of Jesus with a flock of sheep, created by Sarah Roglund.

"She did many, many church altar paintings all over Minnesota, Wisconsin, during the late 1890s," Kruse said. "She was quite a renowned artist, anyway, so it's an original."


At the most recent WWW service, Kruse said there were some former Delafield members in attendance, and he noticed a few teary eyes as they once again gathered in the building that is near and dear to their religious lives. Afterward, as has become tradition over the past five years, everyone gathered outside for fellowship and watermelon.

"You would have thought, after five years of eating watermelon out there in the grass, we should have our own watermelon patch out there by now," said Lucin with a laugh.

Worship, Word and Watermelon is at 7 p.m. each Sunday through Aug. 17 at Fort Belmont.

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