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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Feb. 22, 2024

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Bethel Lutheran wraps up centennial celebration with smorgasbord

By , Columbian environment and transportation reporter
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4 Photos
Elena Ferguson makes sure the Norwegian desserts stay stocked during a smorgasbord dinner celebrating Bethel Lutheran Church&#039;s 100th anniversary celebration Sunday in Brush Prairie.
Elena Ferguson makes sure the Norwegian desserts stay stocked during a smorgasbord dinner celebrating Bethel Lutheran Church's 100th anniversary celebration Sunday in Brush Prairie. (Samuel Wilson for the Columbian) Photo Gallery

BRUSH PRAIRIE — Friends, family and congregants old and new, all packed into Bethel Lutheran Church, shared memories and Scandinavian food Sunday following the day’s services, which capped off last week’s celebrations of the church’s centennial.

The church was founded March 16, 1917, as a gaggle of Brush Prairie Lutherans meeting in the home of the Rev. Hans Hjertaas, the church’s first pastor.

Bonnie Stauffer, the church family ministry director, said the week’s commemorative events — a special Thursday service, a Saturday open house with music and tours, and Sunday’s smorgasbord feast — were meant to create time to reflect upon the church’s future and, especially on Sunday, celebrate its heritage.

For Sunday’s smorgasbord lunch, traditional Scandinavian foods were stacked along tables set down the half-court line in the church’s gym. Helpers in traditional attire bused tables while guests munched on veggie-filled Jell-O molds, lefse piled with sugar, Swedish meatballs and — for the brave — lutefisk (fish aged in lye).

Church members have been working on the celebration for two years, Stauffer said. Members spent a solid day making lefse, which is a griddle-cooked Norwegian flatbread, and other treats. Others worked to fund and assemble a book on the church’s history.

Stauffer’s parents came to the area and joined the church in the 1950s, and they got to watch their children grow up with Bethel Lutheran in their lives. Now, she said, her daughter is involved in church activities.

“It’s heartwarming, and it’s nice to see the connections of each era,” she said. “We’re a church that has been able to manage change, and I think that’s kind of the key for us. If you don’t manage change, it’s going to manage you.”

Churches celebrating 100-year anniversaries seem less common the farther west you go in the United States, said the Rev. Korey Finstad, the current pastor at Bethel Lutheran, but that’s probably a reflection of immigration patterns.

Really, he said, a centennial anniversary is more of a testament to church members’ work and adaptability.

“In order to have longevity, we need to have adjustment. Change doesn’t always come easy,” he said.

The church, called Norwegian Lutheran Skjold Congregation until 1927, stopped holding services in Norwegian around then as well.

That was a big change, he said, and it shows the thriving church has been able to adapt.

Also, he said, “It means that there was a need — that it really has been fulfilling a need for the community.”

Rolf and Peter Charlston, grandsons of the original pastor, also made it to Sunday’s service and smorgasbord lunch, along with Thursday’s commemorative service.

Rolf Charlston, 85, a Lutheran minister as well, was baptized at the Bethel Lutheran Church and preached his first sermon there.

On Thursday, he read — in his grandfather’s Norwegian — the original prayer his grandfather shared when the first church building was completed in 1921, about six months before Hjertaas’ death. Peter Charlston translated.

That day, Hjertaas’ strength was giving out, Rolf explained, and Hjertaas started his prayer thanking a friend who helped him up.

“Here in the grove, I knelt by a log with my hands folded, and prayed, ‘Give us a Lutheran congregation and church,’ ” Rolf read. ” ‘Today my prayers have been answered.’ ”

Andy Matarrese: 360-735-4457; andy.matarrese@columbian.com; twitter.com/andy_matter

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Columbian environment and transportation reporter