Fade in. Scene opens with a gathering on a Southern Minnesota Prairie. The participants, dressed in 1900’s church clothes, are seen debating, but they seem cautiously timid. One participant, an old Norwegian pastor, Bjug Harstad, stands from his wooden chair and makes a motion. There is nodding agreement. Fade out.
This is the opening sequence to a documentary commemorating the 100th anniversary of the reorganization of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod that I am privileged to be producing. Over the previous weekend, on Friday and Saturday, we filmed this scene along with a few others.
If you aren’t familiar with the history of the ELS (which is ok, because that’s the reason we’re making a film), there’s a reason there was a meeting in a Minnesota Prairie. The church body which the ELS traces it’s lineage to actually was begun in 1853. That church began to forsake the truth of God’s Word for the sake of a one united large church. Eventually, the majority of that church decided to merge with two other churches with differing confessions. A small remnant determined to not join in the merger but rather to begin a “new” church founded on the “old basis and according to the old principles.”
So, on June 14, 1918 a group met at Lime Creek Lutheran Church in Iowa. Three weeks before, because of World War I, the governor of Iowa issued “The Babel Proclamation” which forbade the use of any foreign language during public meetings in the state. Because the Lime Creek church building was located one mile south of the Minnesota state line, the entire assembly hiked one mile north to cross the state line. There, under a large canvas tent, they held their discussions in the Norwegian Language. On Monday, June 17, the church which would later be titled the Evangelical Lutheran Synod was founded, and on Tuesday night a communion service was held in English in the church.
This event is commonly referred to as the “reorganization” of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, since the ELS truly was the spiritual heir of the previous church body.
This is what we re-enacted and filmed, with about two dozen participants and crew. It will only be a small part of the finished documentary, which will attempt to cover 100 years of ELS history in about 20 minutes, but my goal as producer will be to have the theological lesson learned at Lime Creek form the heart of the whole documentary. We’ll ask the question, “what does ‘Lime Creek’ have to do with the ELS today?”
The documentary (still unnamed) will air next year during the 101st annual convention of the ELS, 100 years after this 1st gathering at Lime Creek. After that, it will be available for use in congregational settings. Check back here for more updates on the film.