MAX The railroad made its way across the prairies of North Dakota and people from the already settled Midwest and from Europe followed. By 1904 so many Germans had settled in Poplar Township, McLean County, that worship services began and St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Max, had its beginning.
The history of the church, compiled for the 100th anniversary celebration, has much to tell.
An itinerant preacher, Pastor Friertag of Underwood, conducted the first service in the home of Emil Kaatz on July 17, 1904. Infrequent services followed. The first wedding of the new congregation was that of Mr. and Mrs. Christ Hauf on Dec. 5, 1907, in the Emil Kaatz home. The first confirmand was Lydia Affeldt. She was confirmed in 1910.
The 100th anniversary of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, in Max, will be celebrated on Oct. 14.
The congregation of St. Matthew Lutheran Church met for services in the public school building in Poplar Township from 1908 to 1930 when the first church was built one-half mile west of the school.
Pastor Paul Schumm was installed as the first resident pastor in August 1911 and on Jan. 1, 1912, the congregation was formally organized with eight members: William Busiahn, Emil Kaatz, Fred Affeldt, Henry Bauch, Christ Schmidt, Christ Hauf, Rudolph Hauf and Gust Busiahn.
During Schumm's stay, the congregation bought an acre of land for a future church and two acres of land were donated by Gust Busiahn for a cemetery.
The 100th anniversary of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Max will be celebrated Oct. 14 with a worship service at 10:30 a.m. A catered meal will be served at noon and there will be an afternoon program at 2 p.m.
The Rev. A. Beawer was serving the church during the Dirty 30s when members decided they wanted to build their own house of worship. In the spring of 1930 the new building was started. The outside frame of the church was completed by fall and during the winter months a carpenter by the name of Oliver Buseth was hired to build the altar, pulpit, pews and baptismal fountain. These were all handmade and were very ornate with designs that were hand carved.
The new church was dedicated in July 1931.
A young people's society was formed and their energies were turned to good use when they produced a play called "The Noble Outcast." With the proceeds of this successful venture, they bought a beautiful painting of Christ, which they presented to the church. The painting now hangs in the church assembly hall.
During Beawer's stay, the congregation went from worshipping in German to using the English language in worship services.
The first baptism to take place in the new church was that of Harold Affeldt, son of Mr. and Mrs. William Affeldt, and the first funeral service was for Robert Theodore Hauf, the son of Paul and Erna Hauf.
Pastor Emil Freiburger came to serve the Kongsberg-Max parish in February 1936. His only means of transportation was by train from the parsonage in Kongsberg to the churches in Max and Ryder. As pastors had done in the past, services would be held in Kongsberg on one Sunday and then the pastor would travel on to Max for services on the following Sunday. Parishioners assisted with transportation when train service wasn't available.
Meeting a need
After using this arrangement for awhile, it was evident that the pastor needed a car. As any purchase required cash, Freiburger had saved a portion of the amount needed. One member of the church made arrangements to pay the balance with a loan to the pastor. The car, a Ford coupe, was purchased by the Max congregation at a cost of $900.
The dry years continued and times were hard for the farmers, the occupation of most of the members. The winters were very cold with many days of blizzards. One winter the pastor never arrived in Max from Christmas until Easter. Freiburger performed the first wedding ceremony in the church when Walter and Agnes (Schmidt) Polsfut were married in November 1937.
Crops were good in 1942 and by 1943, 13 years after the church was built, the final mortgage for the new church was paid. That church was built by 14 members.
The congregation made improvements to the church in 1943 by adding a lectern and redecorating the interior and placing a sign outside the church. It was also during this time that the ladies joined the Lutheran Women's Missionary League.
Two customs that were started and still are a tradition was that the Sunday school children would receive a bag of peanuts and candy on Christmas Eve. This included a box of apples for the adults. The Sunday school Christmas program was held on Christmas Eve, weather permitting.
Reverend Teuscher was installed as pastor of the church on April 27, 1952. During his pastorate, a propane furnace was installed, which was a more efficient way of heating the church. A young people's league was also organized at this time and they became a branch of the Walther League.
Candidate Clemens Hartfield from Lincoln, Texas, answered a call to Concordia Seminary for a new pastor and was installed in August 1956. During this time organizational subjects occupied the attention of the congregation. The congregation became incorporated, drew up a new church constitution and became official members of the Missouri Synod. During Hartfield's pastorate, definite plans were made to plan for a new church building.
With further reorganization St. Matthew was incorporated with Garrison and Douglas as one parish on April 3, 1959. At this time, a new electric organ was purchased.
One year later the building committee met with architects to plan a new church that would be built in Max. New church property was purchased from P.D. Podhola in July 1960 on Main Street of Max. The building committee consisted of Otto Hauf, Paul Hauf, Walter Polsfut, Wilson Schmidt, Waldo Schmidt and Edwin Schmidt.
After many lengthy meetings, the final plans were accepted. Schoenrock and Sons were selected as architects for the new church, which was quite an undertaking. Again, only 14 members took it upon themselves to build, but one pastor made this statement when it was finished, "I didn't think it was possible but where there is a will there is a way."
Construction began Oct. 1, 1960, and the bulk of the construction of the church was done by members of the congregation, all farmers but three. Cost of the church was estimated in the neighborhood of $48,000.
The church was ready for opening on Easter Sunday April 2, 1961. Thus a new chapter of the congregation's life began. The dedication services were held on June 18, 1961, with morning and afternoon services attended by members of the parish of Douglas, Garrison and Max.
The Rev. Justin Burns was installed as pastor of St. Matthew Lutheran Church on June 13, 1970. St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church of rural Douglas approved a motion to unite with Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Garrison on Aug. 27, 1972. The merger became effective Nov. 1, 1972.
A parish continued with Garrison and Max.
When the Garrison congregation built a new church, a parish office was implemented into their new building.
The members of St. Matthew's Church gathered to celebrate our Lord's victory over death and they were privileged to see the mortgage burned on April 14, 1974, which was Easter Sunday.
The church celebrated its 75th anniversary July 15, 1979. A new organ was dedicated during the afternoon service in memory of August Wellpott. At that time there was a membership of 107.
The Rev. Paul R. Nelson was called from the seminary and installed on July 26, 1981. He served the parish for 31 years until retiring from the ministry in 2012. He held his last service for the parish on June 24, 2012.
During the past 100 years many pastors have served the congregation and numerous changes have taken place. The members of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Max continue to look forward.
Edwin Schmidt, of Max, was baptized as a member of the church on Jan. 1, 1931.
He said he's not involved in the celebration too much, but signs of progress are shown in the continued building projects.
"It's nice to see young families with children in church," Schmidt said. "The sound of children in church is almost as good as the church music. It's good to hear them there."