United Protestant Church

Palmer 

A History Written in Honor of the 50th Anniversary

1937-1987

Compiled and Edited by

Priscilla Bacon

The 50th Anniversary Committee

Lucille Stephan, Harry Wimmer, Janet Jacob, D. L. Pollock and Jessie DeVries

 A Journal of a Pilgrimage 

Psalm 122:1 “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go up into the House of the Lord.’”

Early missionary work in Alaska, where the area is so vast and the population so sparse, presented a challenge to the major Protestant denominations. Delegates met and assigned responsibility for areas to avoid competition with one another. This division of labor was called “The Comity Agreement.” Among other areas, the railroad belt became the purlieu of the Presbyterian Board of National Missions. Initial services were held in the towns of Wasilla and Matanuska and at the Eklutna Native Boarding School on a monthly basis by Reverend John Youel and Reverend Winterberger of the Anchorage Presbyterian Church.

On February 27, 1935, the Presbytery of Yukon, meeting in the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward, recommended that the Board of National Missions consider appointing a minister for the Matanuska Valley, where there were a hundred people without adequate religious oversight, and two hundred colony families reportedly to be moved to the area by the government.

Reverend Bert J. Bingle, then pastor at Cordova, was chosen for the post. This decision was acquiesced to by the Presbytery later on its next meeting in Anchorage in September, the placement being for three years, to be wholly supported by the Board.

Reverend Bingle arrived in Palmer on May 6, four days before the arrival of the colonists. He found a few survey men and some homesteaders, but was shortly joined by a large contingent of construction workers who proceeded to erect the 16x20 tents for the Minnesota families arriving on the train, as well as their own camp facilities. By the following Sunday, May 12, Mother’s Day, the colonists had arrived, and the first services with 35 persons present, were held in a tent allocated to the colony’s architect, Harry K. Wolfe. The sermon topic was “Our Mothers”, an appropriate theme since most present had recently left mothers far away. 

Not only was Bert Bingle a spiritual guide who spoke in simple and direct Ohio farm language, his appearance and activities were indistinguishable from the farmers and construction workers as he helped the community with daily problems. He was also a hearty man of great vigor and purpose. He organized net fishing at Knik, and edited the first news sheet from reports on his short-wave radio (the aerial of which was Mr. John Bugge’s pasture fence) and from his contacts with officialdom as it existed.

Under his direction, work was immediately started on a community hall where civic and religious groups could meet. Materials were scrounged from various sources. However, this building was in use only a short time when an epidemic of measles and scarlet fever broke out, causing the death of several children. When a doctor arrived, the community hall became, overnight, a hospital. Max and Dorothy Sherrod, nurses at that time, report it was near the present Koslosky Building. Services thereafter were held in homes in various points in the Valley, an arduous schedule for the Bingles. Finally, a separate tent was secured, and in August plans were made to formally organize a church.

Five hundred dollars were loaned by the Presbyterian Board of National Missions to build a manse. Two lots were donated by Mr. and Mrs. M. D. Snodgrass, pioneers and developers. The manse was erected by volunteer labor, and still stands on the southeast corner of Evergreen and South Cobb. This building was more than a manse. It was home to the Bingles, the center for Sunday school and Church Services, daily meeting place for committees of Council, Building Committees, or Constitution and Bylaws. It was also a rest center for people who had walked miles to town, with miles to walk back, and it was a news and message center. Always, Mabel Bingle had a cheerful word, a cup of coffee, and cookies to renew the confidence of those weary in body, mind, and spirit. Were the nomination of saints part of the church doctrine, Mabel would be a candidate, although it would astonish her plain, unruffled, matter-of-fact soul.

Psalm 122:2 “Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.” 

On November 24, 1935, the congregation met in the manse and finally adopted a Constitution and Bylaws for the church. A council of seven members was selected, and Dr. C. E. Albrecht, resident colony physician, was chosen Chairman. On January 6, 1936, Articles of Incorporation of the United Protestant Church was filed in Juneau.

A building committee was appointed to make plans for a permanent church. The Yukon Presbytery met in stated meeting at Palmer on March 3,1936, at the manse. The recommendation adopted read, “(we have) looked over the field and the work of the Protestant Community Church of the Matanuska Valley, under the direction and administration of Reverend Bert J. Bingle, and wish to go on record as heartily endorsing this project. We recommend to the Board of National Missions the continuation and development of our Board’s undertaking and investment in that new and promising field.” 

Because the membership became too large for accommodation in the manse, services were held in the new school gymnasium from April 1936 to March 1937. Until January 1937, the colony buses transported people to and from church services without charge. 

Meanwhile, Harry Wolfe, the architect whose tent was used for the first church service, drew up plans and provided a materials list for a permanent building, without charge. (These have been framed and hang in the church Sunday school office.) The final plans were approved on December 31, 1936. Almer J. Peterson, Attorney, donated his services to draw up contracts, deeds, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and all legal matter and advice.

In May 1936, the government’s agency divided a plot of ground 300’x300’ into three equal areas, and granted an area to each of three churches, of which the United Protestant was one. The stipulations were that the grounds would be kept neat and clean; that the location must be used for church services only; and that should any church not hold services for a period of one year, the property would revert to the grantee.

The congregation met on this site in the summer of 1936 to “formally dedicate these grounds to the God who has led us so far in this adventure ... We stand here at this time with bared heads asking that the Christ be our leader, our guide, our stay, our savior.”

Mr. Bingle visited the Presbyterian Board of National Missions in New York, carrying an appeal for funds. This Board made an outright grant of $1,500,00 and a loan of $1,700.00, without interest. Local contributions totaled $1,062.80 in cash, and an undesignated value of materials and labor. 

Timber-cutting began in June, the logs being peeled in most part by the women, by students from the Eklutna School, and the men when they could spare time from myriad farm demands. Much was done in the long evenings. There were always cookies, coffee, and sandwiches furnished by the women. Pouring was begun on the concrete piers to support the church on September 8, 1936. The corner stone, with various church records and documents enclosed, was poured September 30th at a campfire meeting at the site. The log-raising began on October 9th, with Victor (Vic) Johnson, a colonist, as foreman.

Vic offers this account of some of the activities connected with the building of the church:

"I went into the woods and showed the men the type of trees and size needed. A sawmill sawed the logs on two sides. When delivered, it took a lot of peeling. The church building was built with volunteer labor, but they insisted that I be paid $1.00 per hour to direct the work. Very few mechanical tools were used. I used a two-foot level to sight a 90-foot long building and set stakes for the base piers.

As the summer days went by and we worked in the cold and snow, it kept one man, A. J. Swenson, busy shoveling snow and keeping a fire going. The dear ladies fed us a lovely meal.

It took six trusses to span the width of over 36 feet. The first set of logs brought in for the trusses were too small so the loggers went back into the woods to cut larger ones.

I recall an incident that happened when pulling logs up on the building. This work was done by hand with two men working on top pulling and one man on the ground fastening the rope to the logs. He used a hitch that could be easily untied when the log reached the top. One of the men on top pulled the wrong end of the rope and the log tumbled to the ground. Fortunately no one was injured. The trusses were assembled on the ground, bolted together, then taken apart and hoisted up one piece at a time then re-assembled." 

Excavation of a small basement for a heating plan was done by hand. The heating plant consisted of an oil drum fitted with a door and flue connection. This simple device served to heat the church for a number of years. In cold weather the women regularly wore ski pants to church due to the inefficiency of the heating plant.

Thirteen years later the Church Council voted to excavate from under the church and pour a full basement. Gifts toward the project were pledged. One person, Harold Thuma, suggested that the building be raised one foot since we were going to excavate. Some Council members thought that would be too costly. Then Mr. Thuma said he would contribute another $400 if they would raise the building. The suggestion was accepted, the building was raised, and the basement was poured. A man near Wasilla bid the job for $3,000.00 This included raising the building, blocking it up, excavating, pouring the concrete floor and walls, and letting the building back down on the foundation walls. 

The first church service held in the log church was on Palm Sunday, March 7, with 15 people present. On April 9 at the Presbytery of the Yukon meeting in Anchorage, a “petition from the Protestant Church of Palmer was received and the church was added to the roll of Presbytery. The church and minister were commended for their amazing accomplishments in the erection of the church building.” 

On April 11, the roads being too dangerous between Palmer and Anchorage, Presbytery staged an excursion on the Alaska Railroad. At the morning service, Presbytery dedicated the United Protestant Church of Palmer, and installed Bert J. Bingle as Pastor. More than 200 people were present. Dr. C. Earl Albrecht, chairman of the Council, acted as chairman of the meeting. Reverend Ralph Peterson, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Cordova, preached the dedicatory sermon. Reverend William McAdoo, pastor of the Anchorage Presbyterian Church, offered the dedicatory prayer and Reverend John Youel, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Fairbanks, formally installed Reverend Bert J. Bingle as pastor of the new church. In addition to music by the church choir, girls from the Eklutna School, under the leadership of Miss Miller, furnished solos and chorus numbers.

At the dedication Reverend Bingle reported that all but approximately $200.00 of construction obligations had been liquidated. The estimated value of the log building was $10,000.00. The low indebtedness was due entirely to the unanimous decision of the church members that they would borrow as little money as possible, would go on a cash basis, and what could not be paid for thus would wait until funds were available. 

When the permanent manse was being planned, the Board of National Missions sent Dr. J. M. Somerndike to consult with the church officers. As a result, the Board agreed to pay for the sawn logs, and to pay the wages of the construction foreman of the manse. They advanced a grant of $1,000.00, with the understanding that the first manse was to be sold, and the proceeds applied to construction of the new manse. Its sale was delayed, and an additional $900.00 had to be borrowed. When the sale eventually yielded $600.00, the money was paid on the additional loan, and the balance of $300.00 was canceled. Actual construction began in June 1938, under the direction of Carl Erickson, a colonist. The balance of labor was donated by the congregation. The chinking of the logs in both church and manse was done by the women.

The inside of the manse has been extensively renovated. Each change of Minister, Trustee, and Women’s group has brought differing ideas. It remains the minister’s home, and the log design of the house and garage has been maintained. 

Psalm 122:3-4: “Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together, whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.” 

The labor on the church building was shared by people of thirteen different denom-inations. The names of these people are recorded as Charter Members on the rolls of the church.

Itself a mission church, the church has continued consistently as a mission-giving church. The 1956 budget showed an income of $15,360 of which $2,637.00 was for mission work. The 1986 budget showed the income $87,793.00 of which $27,166.00 was designated for missions. Not only is this evident in church records, but its contagion spread to the national level when the need for a new hospital in Palmer became urgent. Throughout the nation, women were asked to send “Pennies for Palmer,” and these funds were used for the grant that made the establishment of a modern facility possible. 

Another unusual outreach was the sponsorship in 1963 of two Cuban refugees, Amado Izaguirre and Frank Ramos, in cooperation with the National Council of Churches.

Psalm 122:5: “For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the House of David.”

The qualifications for membership in the church, written by the Council at its first meeting, state, “We invite any who wish to attend, to worship with this organization and by virtue of their attendance they become a member and have a voice in the organization’s proceedings.” The original wording was of course of great tribulation to the early ministers and this concept has been modified since joining the Presbytery of Yukon. The warm, cordial spirit of the church has not changed. Members of all Christian denominations are welcome to join and to worship in the friendly, spiritual atmosphere of the church of a thousand trees. To repeat a portion of the program for the 25th Anniversary -- “We have been most fortunate and are grateful for the steadfast, spiritual leadership of the ... devoted pastors who have served here during the ... years since this church was dedicated. Their services have been and ever will be an inspiration to the members of this congregation and ... the community.” 

Another quotable quote appears in the report of the Christian Education committee for 1971, Mary Lou Marsh, chairperson, “Only by the cooperation of many ‘unsung heroes’ could the church conduct its high quality educational programs. The committee appreciates the faithful help, support, and many hours of preparation of the members, leaders, teachers, and chairmen of all our programs.”

A very demanding responsibility has been undertaken in recent years, that of the center for the distribution of supplies for the Food Bank. Much time and energy is expended in collecting and disbursing food in coordination with other charitable agencies. 

The first official Ladies Aid organizational meeting was held April 1, 1936 with Mrs. Carl Erickson, President, and Mrs. Vera Rorrison, Secretary. Whether officially organized or not, the women of the church have always taken active roles in the church in whatever capacity their talents were needed. In fact, all members of every family have received from the services of the church, and in some manner given service in return. To accomplish this, many groups have, over the years, formed and dissolved, for various needs. We give our thanks and appreciation for these contributions which cannot be listed, nor even known in full, but the vital spirit of the church has been their legacy to the future. 

Upkeep and improvements on the building have continued over the years. The outside logs have been sanded and refinished twice. New double glass windows have been installed. A new insulated roof has been installed which cost more than the entire original cost of the building. A new gas heating system has been installed adding greatly to the comfort of the congregation. We have received title to the church building and the building has been designated as a National Historical Site.

On the other hand our record of stewardship is not unblemished. Perfataping and painting of the ceiling should have been done long ago; office help for the pastor has been voted at the annual meeting but has not been forthcoming. In 1960 the Building Committee recommended that the Church seek additional land for future expansion believing that in fifteen years the Church would expand beyond the limits of the present property. There is no record of further activity in that direction, nor is there a record of need. Attendance peaked in 1962 with 220 present for Easter services.

The following excerpt was taken from The Alaska Presbyterian, Volume 1, Number 2, 1972:

"For several years, fuel oil has been leaking from somewhere seemingly through the cement floor in the kitchen which is in the basement of the United Protestant Church in Palmer. It was first noticed about ten years ago after the fuel delivery ran the underground storage tank over. It was finally decided the tank had sprung a leak. The tank was dug up and carefully examined, but no leak was found. 

"While the exhausted diggers were eating in the kitchen, one noticed a jog in the wall, and wondered what was behind it. This section of wallboard was cut out and the leak was located. It seems that one time a furnace was in the kitchen area. When it was removed, the connecting oil pipe was closed with a valve. Evidently the valve leaked, and someone set a three-pound coffee can below it to catch the oil. Over twenty years ago this area was then closed off with wallboard, evidently by someone other than the one who placed the can there. Eventually the can filled up, ran over, and the oil went under the floor tile."

In 1974 annual Mother-Daughter were begun and have continued yearly providing a joy to all the families. Paving has been completed on three sides of the church property and work has started toward paving the church parking lot. 

For many years the high school young people accompanied the Anna Jackman boat on its journey through southeastern Alaska. In 1982, the boat being discontinued, the youth traveled to Washington, Philadelphia, and New York to observe Presbyterian missions. 

The groups, beginning in 1983, volunteered as helpers in a day camp in Glasgow, Scotland, being hosted by the Wellington Church of Scotland. 

Psalm 122:7-8: “Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say Peace be within thee.”

We delight in sharing with you from the 1963 Annual Report, this contribution from the Reverend Paul Moyer: 

"An inventory of a business at the end of a year is pretty clear-cut. If one follows the simple rules of arithmetic and honesty in his credit and debit columns, one can arrive at a simple evaluation as to whether the business has known success or failure in that particular year. At least the results are positive, and there is no nagging uncertainty of what the true picture must be. 

But that is business. A church is different. For no matter whether the columns are black or red, this is not necessarily any indication of whether the church has failed or succeeded. The figure can be all in black with a substantial leeway, and the church can be a failure. Or all of the figures can turn up red, and the church may be judged a great success. Success or failure for the church is not added on an adding machine. Nor can it be summarized by any human measuring rod.

But beware lest we take shelter in this and hide from the responsibility of adding up. But where do we begin when we are dealing with humanity? Perhaps we must begin and end with ourselves. For the church can be no more or less than what we have been. The church’s advances or backsliding can be no different than our own. For we are the church -- we are the body of Christ as we come together in this corporate union.

Therefore take stock ... and you might correctly ask, ‘Take stock of what?’ Of the number of Sundays you attended church, of the number of hours you spent in devotional reading, of the number of chapters read in the Bible, of the number of times you forgave your neighbor, of the number of cups of cold water given in His Name, or of the number of bad habits overwhelmed with a good conscience? But we soon discover that an adding machine doesn’t do well on these figures either.

But nevertheless take stock ... of your ties with God, and your rapport with your neighbor. Jesus dwelt much on these two points alone. In the first is our salvation through Christ. In the second do we reveal what our salvation means.

As each one of us has made progress in these alone, so has the church succeeded or failed in this year. For here is the church ... in our believing and in our doing.”

Psalm 122:9: “Because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek thy good.”

Thus, we bid you welcome, one Pilgrim to another ... to visitors, old friends, relatives, new members, strangers, those in need, now and in the future. On this fiftieth anniversary, we take your hand on the journey and rededicate ourselves to the God who has brought us this far, with Christ as our guide, and pray for strength for the journey.

Addendum 

After the Rev. Tim Carrick arrived the church began to grow gradually and it became evident that we needed to expand. The manse was moved onto land purchased from the Catholic church after it had moved to a different location. Plans are to expand the church building onto the land vacated by the manse by 1999, if the needed funds are raised. (Jessie DeVries, 1998) 

Some Facts and Figures

(As reported at the 25th Anniversary)

 The Church pulpit in current use was constructed of Native birch by William Bennett, one of the colonists. It was purchased from Mr. Bennett by the Battdorf sisters and presented to the church by them.

A piano was purchased by the congregation through the efforts of Rev. Bingle, and was first used in January of 1937, when church services were being held in the Community Hall, now Central School Gymnasium.

The electric organ now in use in the church was purchased through subscriptions and donations and first used in the church in September 1946.

The women of the church, over the years, have furnished much equipment for the Church’s use. The material for the original pews was purchased by Ladies Aid. 

The communion table was presented by the Neil Miller Family in 1954. It was built by the students of Sheldon Jackson College. 

Dr. and Mrs. Earl Jackman presented the cross and candlesticks to the church in 1961.

The United Protestant Church of Palmer applied for and was granted admission to the American Presbyterian/ Reformed Historical Sites Registry, Plaque No. 50.

Charter Members

 Charles B. Wilson

Mr. Emil LaWalter

Mr. and Mrs. Victor Johnson

Mrs. Vera Rorrison

Mr. and Mrs. Max Sherrod

Mr. and Mrs. M. D. Snodgrass

Mr. and Mrs. LeRoy Hamann

Mr. and Mrs. Ross Sheely

Mr. and Mrs. Don L. Irwin

Mr. and Mrs. Clare Nichols

Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Caulkins

Mr. and Mrs. Chris Anderson

Mr. and Mrs. Neil Miller

Mrs. Fred Larson

Mr. and Mrs. John Hoekzema

Mrs. B. J. Bingle

Mr. and Mrs. Everett Hylen

Mr. and Mrs. Francis Henry

Mrs. Luther J. Weeda

Clara Wagner

Pearl Martin Moyer

Mrs. Ruth Broostrum

Mrs. B. G. Davies

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Risley

Susan Drenth

Mrs. H. O. White

Norris Sturdy

Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Mau

Mr. and Mrs. L. McKechnie

Mrs. H. Genevieve Linn

Mr. and Mrs. Walter Huntley

Mr. and Mrs. Lauren Smith

Mrs. Otto Peterson

Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Eckert

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Clark

Dorothy M. Bell

A.J. Swanson

Dr. and Mrs. C. Earl Albrecht

Mr. and Mrs. Carl Erickson

May R. Kennedy

Ruth DeArmond Estelle

Hilda Hermon

 

Who Followed Whom…


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