History book records Lutheran pioneers’ struggle and success

It’s a story of struggles and survival, of hardships and progress, of families joining together in work and in worship.

It’s a story of struggles and survival, of hardships and progress, of families joining together in work and in worship.

That’s the story Alfred Erichsen sought to tell when he wrote Lutheran Pioneers in the Stettler Area and Their Churches.

The handsome book is a detailed history of the German, Estonian and Swedish pioneers who settled here in the early 20th century, and the six Lutheran congregations they established.

Stettler Public Library hosted an info night on Tuesday, Dec. 2, welcoming Erichsen to present the book and answer questions.

The book covers the period between 1905 and 1960, and the history of each of the churches, only one of which — St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church in Stettler — now remains.

Alfred’s parents, Klaus and Martha Erichsen, were part of the St. Peter congregation for decades, and he has attended the church for most of his life. As a boy he knew many of the surviving pioneers mentioned in his book.

He wrote the book over two years, based on a desire to get the churches’ history in a printed form, and to separate fact from fiction.

“History is like gossip,” he explained. “If it stays oral, it changes every time someone tells it.”

Erichsen finished the book in May and received the printed product in July. Copies have been presented to each of the families at St. Peter.

The author said it was a difficult book to write, given the passage of time and the scarcity of records available. In researching church pioneers, he often had to rely on obituaries, which typically speak of the deceased in highly favourable terms.

Reviewing the Stettler Independent archives, he had to contend with the bias of editors and writers who sometimes used their stories to editorialize or made mistakes that they were reluctant to correct.

“History takes the original version as being right,” said Erichsen. “It’s hard to separate a viewpoint from news . . . Your viewpoint will change how you write history.”

The book doesn’t shy away from covering difficult sides of the story. Most of the churches closed as the result of schisms and dysfunction, leaving little behind.

St. Peter itself was not immune. A decision in the late 1950s to sell the old building and build a new church alienated several members, including Erichsen’s father, who stopped attending in 1963.

“My father was very intimately involved with the old church,” said Erichsen, saying that he and others, who invested their time, money and efforts during lean years to keep the church going, “felt betrayed” when it was sold.

Part of his motivation for writing the book was to help today’s church to learn from the lessons of the past and avoid further divisions.

Minister Karl Faltin, who wrote the introduction, said he appreciated Erichsen’s efforts to accurately preserve the church’s history, blemishes included.

“It helps us to realize that we’re still real people with real issues,” said Faltin. “We don’t have to sugarcoat our history, because God is faithful in our good times and in our bad times.”

Erichsen’s history ends around 1960, when he left Stettler to attend Camrose Lutheran College.

“That’s one history that still needs to be written,” said Faltin, adding that people with Erichsen’s dedication and passion are “few and far between.”

Copies have been presented to the University of Alberta’s Augustana Library. Faltin also reported that the Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis, Mo., has requested a copy of the book for its library.