It was back in January that Diane Claeys, a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Bliedorn, was reminded that 2021 marks the church’s 125th anniversary.
To Claeys, it seemed like just yesterday when church members gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary.
When it came to commemorating 125 years of “faith family and fellowship,” Claeys wondered — in the age of COVID — what could church members do to celebrate safely?
“I thought we needed to bring everybody together,” she related. “All of last year, we met outside.”
Knowing the anniversary would look different than it did 25 years ago, Claeys decided to send church members a letter and ask for their input.
In it, she included a questionnaire, enabling members to ask questions about the church’s history, share their own memories and indicate whether they would feel comfortable attending an “in-person” worship service.
While — out of precaution — there wasn’t a great deal of fanfare, Claeys said several members joined in the festivities in what was called the “Celebration of Hope,” held Sunday, May 2, which included exchanging memories and Bliedorn trivia and an ice cream social.
Also in attendance was former Bliedorn Pastor Dan Olson, who served church members from 1984-2012. Joining him was his daughter, Laila Barr, who also is a pastor, at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church, in Prior Lake, Minnesota.
To honor Pastor Olson at the celebration, church members gathered to dedicate a newly-planted tree.
Claeys felt like the tree, which stands beside another tree planted in memory of Dr. William B. Streng, who served the congregation for more than 30 years, perfectly symbolizes Bleidorn’s strong roots.
Those roots date back to May 3, 1896, when a meeting was held and 23 members signed for the intention of establishing of St. John’s Evangelical Congregation in Berlin Township, Clinton County.
The church is located seven miles north of Grand Mound, and is all that remains of a small community named Bliedorn. The community once included a rural school, post office, general store, blacksmith shop and creamery.
Over the years, the church has grown in terms of membership and its physical facilities. In August, 1997, a groundbreaking was held for a new addition, which allowed the church to be handicapped accessible with ramps, as well as additional education rooms.
Traditions that have continued over time include Vacation Bible School, Sunday School Children’s Christmas programs, community worship services in Calamus Park, outdoor/contemporary worship services, stewardship and Bible study groups and Ash Wednesday soup/sandwich supper, led by the church’s Luther League.
Spaghetti suppers were held in March 1998, 2003 and 2004, involving all church members young and old, and on March 24, 2019, a fundraiser spaghetti supper was held, with proceeds going to the Victory Center, in Clinton. Church members began years of helping to support the center, which helps the homeless, in 2006.
As for her own connection to the church, Claeys and her husband, Curtis, joined St. John’s Lutheran Church of Bliedorn in 1979. Both of their children were baptized, confirmed and married there.
As she talked about the church that is so near and dear to her heart, Claeys flipped through the pages of a compilation of the church’s history that the late Betty Burzlaff put together in a book for the 100th anniversary.
Claeys called the book her “Bible,” and credited Burzlaff for working so hard to chronicle the story of the church.
Maybe one day, future generations will look back and see even in times of uncertainty — like a global pandemic — their congregation stood together.
“We have three and four generations of families who are (at the church),” she related. “Betty loved history. It’s so wonderful that she gathered this stuff … it’s so informational and it’s so neat to be able to read all about our roots.
“The theme of this anniversary celebration was hope, and this is where the ‘hope’ comes in … in the future, we hope to continue to find ways to worship, even if it’s not in ways we’re used to.”