From the Autobiography of Erling Jordahl,

Who Takes Us Back

to The Good Life in the Church, Church Family, and Society

of Rural South Dakota in the 1920s

Our Sunday School Picnic Was No Dull Affair!

One of the highlights of the year for young children during those Bryant years was the annual Sunday School Picnic. This was a big, family affair, and always held at Arlington Beach on Lake Poinsett. We frolicked on a large, sandy beach, played games and ate tons of fine food. This beach had a slide, quite common in those days at beaches, that one does not see today. The user of this slide would climb to the top carrying a wooden sled. As I recall, this sled had rollers attached that would fit into grooves on the slide. The user would recline on this board, head first, and slide down this curving surface for several yards before stopping. The board was then carried back to the slide for repeated trips.

Mrs. Jordahl holding Baby Erling, relaxing with Bergit and Alfred Stadem (with Baby Estelle) at Grantfalls

Fun was Strenuous, and So Was Farm Work!

During the latter part of this third decade of the 20th century, I spent an increasing amount of time during the summers visiting, and helping with the farm work on a farm about 5 miles northwest of town. Tractors were not used for field work, so my first experience were horses. I learned to bridle, curry and haress. To this day, I am certain I could harness a horse blind-folded, using either croup or breech harnessing. I learned to cultivate corn, using a team pulling a single row cultivator. I learned how to milk cows, how to pick eggs, how to start and stop a windmill and how to use a manure fork for its intended purpose.

Ecclesiastes and Thomas Wolfe Were Right--All is Passing

Thomas Wolfe, the American writer who died at the age of 38, wrote a novel called, "You Can't Go Home Again". This June I recognized the truth of the phase he used for the title of this work. A brief side trip to Bryant on our way back from a visit to my mother's sister in northern Minnesota did this for me. One truly cannot really go home again. In a letter to a friend he never mailed, Wolfe said, "--which means back home to one's family, back home to one's childhood, back home to a father one has lost, back home to romantic love, to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame,--" Wolfe's observation became mine. The Bryant I had known no longer existed, and the child experiencing that Bryant was also long gone, existing only in the memory of a man now grown old.

Stadem Descendants Singing in Church Service

"Snakker du norsk?"--"Litt," --"A little."

In those years the church organization we belonged to was known as the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. And Norwegian it was. In each of the three churches, Brant, Garfield, and Bethany, the Norwegian language was used once a month. In fact, just a year or two before my confirmation instruction, all instruction had been given in Norwegian. I was required to attend services every Sunday even though I didn't really know the language. Listening to that much Norwegian, it was inevitable that I got to understand some of the language, and I eventually could put together a few phrases.

Family life in the Jordahl family during the 1920s was a very ordered existence. We had devotions every morning and evening. When it was time for bed (10 o'clock was the bewitching hour), Dad would shake a little, hand-held bell. We would gather in the upstairs hallway, standing in staircase fashion, tallest to smallest and sing a Norwegian song,

"Jeg er tret, Jeg sove vil"

Jeg er tret, Jeg sove vil,

Mine Oine lukkes til

Se, o Fader, venig ned

Til mit dunkle Hvillested!

Har idag jeg syndet, Gud,

Slet min synd da naadig ud!

Herrens Naade, Jesu Blod,

Gjor jo hver en Uret god.

Alle dem, som jeg har kjaer,

Maend og kvinder sjern or naer,

Smaa or store, hever in slaegt,

Tag dem i din baretaegt!

A translation would go something like this:

I am tired and would like to sleep.

My eyes are closing.

Look down, oh Father, with compassion

To me in my dark, resting place!

If I have sinned today,

Wipe out my sin by Your grace,

Lord's grace and Jesus' blood,

Yes, you are always good.

All that I love,

Men and women far and near,

Small and large, all nations on earth,

Take them in Your protective care!

We always said grace before and after each meal. These prayers were in Norwegian, and recited in unison. Translated, the beginning lines of the before meal grace read something like this: "In Jesus' Name we go to the table and receive from His hand our food."

Parsonages Boasted Few Conveniences

When we moved to Bryant in 1922, mother was 30 years old with three pre-school kids to care for. During that decade, two more children were added to the family. She worked hard, and was always faced with work yet to be done. I don't remember ever eating store-bought bread during those years. Her routine was to bake bread twice each week. The laundry was done in the basement, using a manual, push-pull washer; for some badly-soiled clothes, a corrugated wash-board was used. All washed clothes had to be hung on the clothes line. After that, many of the clothes had to be ironed. Artificial fibers were not yet developed, necessitating much more ironing then than now. Add to all this the requirement for some starching, especially in the case of Dad's clerical collars, the persistent need for patching and sewing, and you have a job description of something greater than a 40 hour week! I was frequently called upon to help. My main help was in operating the manual washer and wringer. The floors upstairs in this second Bryant residence were wooden The handle of a long-handled mop seemed to fit my hands quite well. In any event,I got more practice at this than I really felt I needed. Playing catch with neighborhood boys had much more appeal.

Rev. Andrew Holbeck (brother to Mama Bergit Stadem) Preaching at Bryant Am. Lutheran Church

Back Then Mind Cultivation Came Next to Godliness

All of us had become accustomed in the public school to much more memorization than required nowadays, but our confirmation instruction was much more rigorous. One must understand that Dad did not consider all of this memorization as being unusual since his practice in sermonizing was to write his sermon, then memorizing it word for word, leaving the written sermon at home and then delivering the sermon without any notes, depending solely on his word for word memory.

Order and Memorization Went Together Like Horse and Carriage

Speaking about confirmation instruction, Dad's teaching methods were almost military in nature. We met in the church sanctuary. He assigned a pew to each potential confirmand, each person told to sit next to the nave, thus forming a row on each side, front to back. We were required to memorize, session by session, all of Luther's Small Catechism, word for word, including all of the explanations and Bible verses.

Stadems and Holbecks Sitting in Church Listening to a Message (Very solemnly, too)

Come Confirmation Sunday--To Sink or Swim?

On Confirmation Sunday, dressed in our finery, we were lined up near the front of the church, off to one side, sweating out the public examination we were about to experience. We all wanted to do well, knowing that parents, relatives, and friends were out there in the congregation expecting nothing less. We were not primed in advance to expect a question on any particular portion of the catechism, so we really had to have done our homework to avoid embarassing ourselves and our parents.

A Rite of Passage, and More

Confirmation is sometimes called a Rite of Passage, sort of a graduation into Christian adulthood. The significance of having been adopted as a child of God through baptism, and then confirming this covenant was certainly stressed in our instruction. However, I wonder how many breathed a sigh of relief that this was now over. On the other hand, I am sure many of these young people felt grateful for the instruction in the faith they had received, and were prayerfully looking forward to serving their Lord and Savior.[please see note at end]

Who Put "Vacation" in "VBS"?

We had a month long Bible study summer session each June. We met in a hall just north of the church building which was called, for lack of a better name, the social hall. A teacher, trained in Bible studies, usually coming from Sioux Falls or Canton, came to Bryant facing the almost impossible task of renewing our interest in classroom work, something we had joyously left when the public school had dismissed a few days previously.

Steeples Defined Church Edifices

Contrasted with today's building architecture almost all churches in the early part of this century [the 20th Century--Editors] had steeples. This was the case in all three of Dad's churches in the town of Bryant. Each steeple had its bell, and the compact area of this small town meant the Sunday morning pealing of bells was heard by almost everybody. Our church, in addition to the pealing feature announcing the approaching worship services, had a second rope that was pulled three times in honor of the Trinity at the close of the service. This same dong, as contrasted with peal, was used as the casket was carried from the church at the close of a funeral service.

A Special, Bygone Ministry

One feature of the Norwegian services was the use of a person called a Klokker. His reason for being was to recite the opening and closing prayers. The person selected for this was one of the most respected, older male members of the congregation. This was a solemn occasion, heads bowed in prayer. I think of the contrast one observes today with the custom of a shouted "Good Morning" heard so commonly as the beginning event in our sanctuaries. We were reminded in this opening prayer that we were assembled for a purpose, the purpose being to hear God's holy word, that we might be taught to repent of our sins and grow in grace and holiness with the help of the Holy Spirit. In the closing prayer, the Klokker expressed thanks that God had taught us what we should believe and do, and that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we should keep his word in pure hearts and be strengthened in faith and holiness. It is my conviction that this emphasis, focusing on the anticipated hearing of God's word, and concluding with thanks for its use and explanation is so much better than the liturgy in use today.--Erling Jordahl,

Copyright (c) 1999, Erling Jordahl, All Rights Reserved

Note: See the letter below. This excerpt from the Erling Jordahl autobiography was used by permission of the author. We appreciate very much this valuable look back into the Bryant of yesteryear, and how unique traditions in the old Bryant American church fostered a special reverence for God and the holiness of worship, and cannot help but agree that not all change has been to the good. This account can, however, point the way to life-enriching values families used to enjoy, despite the lack of luxuries we hold to be necessities nowadays.

Now our note, which could be the most important thing you read in your life: Belief in Jesus Christ, not just the value-enhancing culture of the church, not only matters, it is truly a matter of LIFE or DEATH, now and eternally! Galatians 6:14,15: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation."

How do we become a new creation in Christ? How do we become true, forgiven, blood-bought children of God? Use God's Perfect Remedy for Sin: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."--Romans 6:23.

Then how do we accept and obtain this Gift of Grace and Eternal Life in Jesus Christ, which is Himself, given to us by the Spirit? "For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Call on His saving name! Then simply pray to God: "Confessing to God that I am a Sinner, and believing that the Lord Jesus Christ died for my sins on the cross and was raised for my justification, I do now receive and confess Him as my personal Savior." If you believe as a child with faith, call on His saving name Jesus, and pray and confess to Him in this simple way, the Lord will surely make you a full child of God, forgiven, washed of all your sins by His blood shed for you on the Cross at Calvary, and you are made instantly an heir to Eternal Life in heaven with all the privileges of a child of God and son of God! Congratulations, and see you at the Pearly Gates of the Celestial City!--Editors

Note 2: The pastor spoken of in the text of the autobiography is the author's father, Pastor Edward Jordahl, who served the Bryant, Garfield, and Bethany parishes from 1922 to 1931.--Ed.

Email Letter from Earling Jordahl to Pearl Ginther and Family,

June 28, 2000

Ron, thank you for your kind words about the excerpts I sent to parl from my autobiography.

Yes, you may use portions, or all that I sent to you. However, I would ask that I be credited for whatever you use. This crediting should include my name, and that my father, Pastor Edward Jordahl, served the Bryant, Garfield and Bethany parishes from 1922 to 1931.

Also, would you pleace let me know when this is posted, and where I could access it for viewing.

Here is a bit of additional information you may not know. My Dad and mother had 6 children, all still living. I am the eldest, now 83 years old.


Erling Jordahl

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