Pelican Lake area rural church Christmas program a tradition sparking fond memories of a simpler time
Generations of kids and families have made the trek to the little church on the gravel road, south of Pelican Lake.
More than 50, including a couple dozen kids, crowded in Dec. 4 to sing carols, hear the Christmas story, and meet Santa Claus himself.
“I feel my grandmother’s presence here,” said Lori Messall, pianist at the Christmas program—following in the footsteps of her grandmother, Mary Wick, who also played for church. Messall is one of several generations who find themselves making the trip to Scambler for the charming tradition.
“I remember performing as a child. It was usually a full house,” said Messall, Moorhead, a Rothsay native, who still feels the sentimental pull back to the country church each holiday season.
Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the little church earned a spot on the esteemed listing because it was founded entirely by about a dozen women more than 100 years ago. In a time before dependable transportation—and roadways—the Scambler Township area was somewhat isolated from Pelican Rapids to the south. The women decided to take action, and established a church for their neighborhood—meeting in home first and later building.
Direct links to those early founders include Kit Hoadley and Jim and Mazie Wick, who were all there for the annual program. Jim handles much of the prep work, including turning up the heat and warming up the church. The church holds services in the summer months—but only one gathering in the winter, always on the first Saturday evening of December.
“He vacuumed up the bugs and dust that collected since summer,” said Mazie, who has been active at Scambler since the late 1950s. Decorating was Friday. Other than forgetting to place the cross on the altar—and plugging in the coffee pot, laughed Mazie, a retired Pelican teacher, the program went well. “We had plenty of hot chocolate!”
Snow isn’t uncommon in early December, including 2021. Those dreaming for a white Christmas found themselves negotiating snowswept country roads when the program ended.
“I just love it here,” said Kit Hoadley, recalling the rich family memories. A resident at Pelican Valley Senior Living, she and late husband Ralph, and their five kids, grew up attending the Scambler Union Church. Kit taught Sunday school, and was a quilter with other Scambler women. Hoadley ancestors Dolly Randall and Nellie Hoadley were among the “founding mothers” of the Scambler church.
“We’re about the last ones,” said Kit, of the Hoadleys and the Wicks, who are the spiritual anchors of the small church.
Bible school and church softball games dating back to the 1950s were recalled by Duane Seifert, who attend the program with his wife Barb.
The extended Bennet family occupied a pew-and-a-half—right up front—for the program with Mom and dad, Sara and Stephen.
The Scambler Christmas program is a charming blend of the secular and sacred. Santa arrives as a finale, delivering those little brown bags of Christmas treats that generations of youngsters have received at rural and small town churches during the holidays. “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night” are included in the sing-along, but the program also includes some of the favorite Santa tunes.
The Christmas story is central to the evening, presented by lay minister Evie Beste.
“Count your blessings,” said Evie, “and make sure you share the joy of the season.”