Delafield Evangelical Lutheran Church, located in a fertile, rural pocket of southwestern Minnesota, was founded by Norwegian settlers in the 1870s and had provided spiritual and social sustenance to subsequent generations in that community for over a century. That continuity was broken in 1998 when the aging, dwindling congregation was forced to face the harsh realities of current American rural life. They did what they had never dreamed possible — they decided to disband the congregation and give away the church, a building that had been so central to their lives. Why did this happen?
Local farmers tell how the price of grain has fallen so low that they have to grow more than ever to make a profit. Growing more means investing in the latest expensive machinery and technology, but the profits never seem to cover the cost of production. Farm subsidies make up the deficit but don’t solve the problems. As the elders of Delafield say, farming is no longer a profession they can in good conscience pass on to their children. Delafield is now a township of mostly senior citizens, their children and grandchildren having moved on. The old-timers talk about a lifetime spent on the land, and convey a love of farming and a passion for their calling, articulating how difficult it is to leave behind this vanishing way of life.
If there is a solution, it does not come in time to save the church. Its contents are auctioned off and the building disassembled. It is moved to Fort Belmont, a historical tourist site 22 miles down the highway.
“I wonder at a future without rural churches, small communities, and family farms,” says filmmaker Mark Brodin. “I know it’s not a future America wants, but we’re on that road.”
- Mark BrodinProducer