As the years went by, the old farmers retired, sold their farms and moved into nearby towns.The little family farms were absorbed into bigger farms. Fewer farm families meant the congregations declined until the remaining members couldn't sustain the cost of the building and pastor. The old church buildings and land were sold off and the only remaining evidence they ever existed was a small cemetery notched into a farm field.
When I was eleven, we moved to the tiny town of Dovray, Minnesota where my dad was the contractor on construction of a large new church to replace the old one. There was a single church serving the entire predominantly Norwegian Lutheran community. The old building, a typical white country church, was far too small for the growing congregation even with the basement.
I have fond memories of the old church basements where weekly Sunday School classes were held, the Ladies Aid and church groups met, and church suppers were served. The most popular of these was the annual Lutefisk supper.
Norwegian immigrants had brought with them the exotic dish called lutefisk (loo-tuh-fisk) from the old country. In his book, "How to talk Minnesotan", Howard Mohr describes the dish thusly:
A translucent, rubbery food product with a profound odor, created by soaking dried cod in a solution of lye, although equivalent results are claimed for doing the same to gym socks."
The oldtimers really loved their lutefisk with melted butter and potatoes. The suppers were so popular that arrivals had to take a number and sit in the pews upstairs while waiting their turn. The church basement was lined with rows of tables as the hungry throng slowly passed by the counter where the food was served. In the kitchen, on the other side of the pass-through, the church ladies were bustling to keep up with the demand.
Out of courtesy, those who did not want to put any lutefisk in their mouth were offered the option of meatballs. That's what I ate. To this day, I have sucessfully avoided eating lutefisk despite the fact I was born in Madison, Minnesota which claims to be the Lutefisk Capital of the World! (It may well be true since the Norwegians no longer eat it in their country.)