Fewer attending religious services in MN [UPDATED]Published 9:08am Tuesday, June 5, 2012 Updated 12:17pm Tuesday, June 5, 2012
HILLSBORO, N.D. — The people of Aal Lutheran Church will celebrate its 140th anniversary on Aug. 11, the day it was founded just off the bank of the Goose River between Mayville and Hillsboro before the towns existed and roads or train tracks still were a two-day walk away.Hans
The same day this summer, the same people, heirs of those Norwegian Lutheran immigrants, will close the doors of this well-kept church.
“It got to the point where four or five families couldn’t fund the whole bill,” said Gregg Kaldor. “It was pretty much inevitable.”
His great-grandparents, Christian and Ragnhild Kaldor, were part of a handful of families who came here in schooner wagons in the summer of 1871 from southern Minnesota. By harvest time in 1872, they organized Aal church with the Rev. Bernhard Hagboe.
No congregation in the state is older, although Catholic and Presbyterian mission work at Pembina dates back 200 years and more, state historians say.
Small, rural churches have been closing steadily for decades, but Aal’s closing will take a lot of history with it, while illustrating a national trend.
A new survey by the Association of Religion Data Archives finds that fewer people, even in highly churched North Dakota and Minnesota, are attending religious services, mostly in the traditional denominations.
In 2010, “religious adherents” made up 67 percent of North Dakota’s population compared to 73 percent only a decade earlier, according to the survey released earlier this month.
President Joel Egge of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, a small body based in Fergus Falls, Minn., with about 4,200 adherents in North Dakota and twice that many in Minnesota, credits spiritual and cultural factors.
“I observe in the culture a greater polarization that is being felt also in the spiritual and religious world,” Egge said. “People are either more engaged or less engaged. It isn’t so much of a community anymore, where you ‘have’ to be in church.”
Young people, especially, seem to be very committed if they are in church at all, Egge said. His group is seeing growth in the oil patch. Civic leaders in Williston say three new churches are being organized there.
Adherents include members of religious groups, whether they attended services regularly or not, and close family members; some groups do not consider children full members, some do, and the study sought to standardize its count.
The main denominations in North Dakota — two Catholic dioceses and two corresponding synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — each have around 165,000 adherents, representing together half the state population but 73 percent of the religious adherents.