Voices of Minnesota

A Study In Transitions Oral History Project


DATE: August - December 1999


Decisions to close schools, churches and businesses in rural Minnesota have been a source of anxiety throughout the 1990s. These infrastructures of the community and region are slowly disappearing. The increasing out-migration of farmers and youth from rural communities signals the decline of a former way of life.

This oral history project attempts to capture some of the personal stories of the people affected by the closing of Bethany Lutheran Church in Renville County. After 123 years, members of the church women’s organization, a long-time congregation member and widow, and a younger member of an affiliated church combine to tell the reasons for, and the outcome of the tough decisions being made in the countryside as long-time organizations are being forced to dissolve.

In the interviews the interviewees discuss their feelings about the changing countryside with emphasis on the closing of their church. This project symbolizes a much larger change occurring in rural Minnesota. It is hoped that this undertaking will serve as a pilot for a much larger project.

Reflecting on the outcomes of these interviews, the interviewer has achieved a deeper sense of the loss of community in the countryside. With rapid changes in family structure, including a phenomenal increase in the number of farmers and their wives seeking income off the farm, drastic change is occurring in the rural areas.

For a more complete picture of the situation, community members who manage and promote the agricultural cooperatives in Renville County should be interviewed. This small project has probed the issues of God, family, and farm, and the discussion is just beginning.

LENGTH OF INTERVIEWS: 4 hours 36 minutes