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Near Reva, South Dakota. Click to enlarge image.
Near Reva, South Dakota. Click to enlarge image.
Benton Lutheran Church near Crooks.
Benton Lutheran Church near Crooks.
A church near the South Cave Hills.
A church near the South Cave Hills.
A favorite spot from college days — south of Midland, South Dakota.
A favorite spot from college days — south of Midland, South Dakota.
St. Basil's Church near Ridgeview once sheltered stranded travelers.
St. Basil's Church near Ridgeview once sheltered stranded travelers.
Benton Lutheran Church near Crooks.
Benton Lutheran Church near Crooks.
Zion Lutheran Church south of Hartford.
Zion Lutheran Church south of Hartford.
Sometimes the sky looks even more interesting in black and white, as in this photo of Immanuel Lutheran Church near Canova.
Sometimes the sky looks even more interesting in black and white, as in this photo of Immanuel Lutheran Church near Canova.
A church near North Cave Hills.
A church near North Cave Hills.
Skrefsrud Lutheran Church, located between Beresford and Centerville.
Skrefsrud Lutheran Church, located between Beresford and Centerville.
Purple rockets surround the South Cave Hills Church in June 2011.
Purple rockets surround the South Cave Hills Church in June 2011.
St. Peter Lutheran Church near Madison, South Dakota.
St. Peter Lutheran Church near Madison, South Dakota.

Prairie Spires

Feb 6, 2012

Back in my college days, my route to and from Sioux Falls took me south of Midland, South Dakota on Highway 63. There is a place on that road that you can see a lone country church on a ridge a few miles away to the east. I always loved that site. I'm not exactly sure why, but I suppose the scene spoke to my rural roots and spiritual beliefs. Mix the vast expanse of South Dakota's West River prairie with a symbol of my faith and it produces a sort of transcendent and serene feeling. It's hard to describe, really. There is something inspiring about a lone church spire standing upright in the midst of nature's immensity — a kind of study in contrasts with these small centers of spiritual community amidst what can seem to be endless nothingness.

 When I worked for KSFY's news department right out of college, I spent a good deal of time on the back roads of Minnehaha and surrounding counties chasing stories. I noticed a lot of other picturesque country churches on these trips. Back then I had an idea that someone should do a coffee table book on these rural churches. I’ve finally taken the time to go out and photograph a few of these myself over the last year. In doing so, I’ve discovered that the buildings and sites often hold a great deal of historic value in addition to their photogenic beauty.

Take St. Basil’s Church along Highway 212 near Ridgeview, for example. During the blizzards of 1949 and 1950 it served as a haven for stranded travelers who were forced to burn some of the pews to keep from freezing. Sounds like a plot for a good short story to me.

The country churches on the eastern side of the state are primarily Lutheran and usually have a single tall spire at the front of the building. I really like how they look against the colors of a South Dakota sunrise or sunset. Another way to capture the beauty of a rural church is to get low and shoot the structure against an interesting sky. Try changing the photo to black and white and see if you like the results. One of my favorite church photos was taken on a dull gray day last March near Canova. For most of the day, I wasn’t finding any good photos because the light was terrible. As the day grew late and the sky darkened even more, I happened to drive by Immanuel Lutheran. Despite what I though was bad light, I shot what I saw so as to remember to come back at a later time when the light was better. When I got back home, I started playing with the image in black and white and really liked the image. Sometimes photography is funny like that. That’s one of the things that make the hobby fun for me.

The photos you see here are just a small sample of the many country churches in our state. I’d love to hear back from you on your favorite country church. It would be fun to go out and try my hand at shooting more of these inspiring scenes.

 

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog

Comments

09:04 am - Tue, February 7 2012
Chad Coppess said:
Great collection of photos Christian!
10:40 am - Tue, February 7 2012
Steve Hovland said:
One suggestion would be Lebanon Lutheran Church, Southeast of Ortley. It was the first Norwegian Lutheran church in the area. The current building was constructed in 1908. The congregation became part of a 3-church merger with Ortley and Summit in the mid-1960's and regular services ended at that time, but the church, its grounds and adjacent cemetery have continued to be well-maintained due to the generosity and efforts of former parishioners. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. My Grandparents and other relatives attended this church more than 100 years ago, and we held a family reunion there in July of 2010.
06:58 pm - Fri, April 27 2012
Mary Nelson said:
St. Liborius Catholic Church in Polo is a beautiful church with Spanish style architecture more than 100 years old. There was once a parochial school on site also, although those buildings still stand, the school is closed. It is worth the drive. I enjoyed all the photos of churches you have put together.
03:31 am - Sun, March 10 2013
Craig Ness said:
THe Bethel Lutheran Church on Main Street in Faith, South Dakota is in the national register of historic buildings. It has the classic design of churches of that era. The church building is known for its high steeple and charilon. It was dedicated in 1926 or 27. My grandfather waa chairman of the church board that started the church. His name was Trond Ness.
Craig Ness, Kuwait City and Faith, S.Dak.

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