“Bless the Church” Service – September 27, 2015

Reverend Kimberly Brumm stands in the center of the platform while the congregation is in the foreground of the image.

The Reverend Kimberly Brumm Conducts the “Bless the Church” Service

On September 27, 2015, a warm Sunday afternoon, Reverend Kimberly Brumm of the Richmond United Methodist Church officiated at a “Bless the Church” service at the Heart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church at East Richmond Cemetery. Approximately fifty people were in attendance. In addition to Reverend Brumm, others participating in the service were Lisa Bauer (flautist), Alexandra Kestol (Lighting of the Candles), Fox Bauer and Jonathan Kestol (Ringing of the Bells), and Solveig Quinney (a Norwegian Reading). Georgia Kestol-Bauer, the leader and coordinator of the Heart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church restoration welcomed those in attendance. She spoke briefly about the history of the church and she thanked those who have helped with their generous contributions of time and money to advance the restoration project.

After the service, refreshments were served outside and a number of attendees followed the self-guided tour of the cemetery. The tour map is included in the program reproduced below.

A few photos of the event follow. Click on any of the photos for a larger version.

Bless the Church Program

“Bless the Church” Service on Sunday, September 27th at 4:00 p.m.

EAST RICHMOND — Adjacent to the East Richmond Cemetery along Walworth County Highway P outside of Whitewater, is the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery. The church originally was built in the early 1850s, and now it is being restored. Georgia Kestol-Bauer’s great- grand parents were Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin in the early 19th Century. Peder and Anna Kjostolsen eventually Anglicized their name to Kestol. Photo credit: Chris Welch, Daily Jefferson County Union

The Norwegian American (Heart Prairie) Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery.
Photo credit: Chris Welch, Daily Jefferson County Union

Please join us for a “Bless the Church” service on Sunday, September 27th at 4:00 p.m. Flute music, refreshments, and a self-guided tour of the cemetery will be included in the event.

The address is:

Heart Prairie Methodist Episcopal Church
at East Richmond Cemetery
N7372 County Highway P
Delavan, Wisconsin

For driving instructions and maps please follow this link.

We hope to see you there!

Restoration Progress: Front Doors

Larry Yanke and Original Church Doors. One is repaired and painted. The other is jus the frame.

Larry Yanke with Original Church Doors

Progress on the restoration of the church is slow but continuing. Most recently, one of the original front double doors was  repaired and painted. Larry Yanke, of Delavan, had one of the front doors repaired and he painted the door. Thank you, Larry, for your generous contribution. Pictured next to Larry is the other front door which is now being repaired.

Conference Officials and Regional Ministers Visit the Heart Prairie Methodist-Episcopal Church

Photo of those listed standing and holding coffee cups

Visitors to the Norwegian American Methodist-Episcopal Church enjoy coffee and Norwegian treats on a cold November day. From Left to Right: Lynn Lubkeman, Sandy Kintner, Rev. Kimberly Brumm, and Rev. Susan Bresser

On Friday, November 7, 2014, Georgia Kestol-Bauer hosted visitors at the Heart Prairie Norwegian American Methodist-Episcopal Church. Sandy Kintner, Chair of the Commission on Archives and History for the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church and Lynn Lubkemann, Archivist for the Wisconsin Conference, visited along with Reverends Kimberly Brumm and Susan Bresser (Lead Pastor)  of the United Methodist Whitewater Area Regional Ministry.
While they enjoyed coffee and Norwegian cookies, the group reviewed the restoration progress of the church. They also examined old church record books and photographs that highlighted  early settlers who were prominent in the establishment of the church. These included Christopher Willerup, a circuit rider from Cambridge, Wisconsin who was the first minister of the church, Christopher Steenson, who donated the land for the church and cemetery and later became a minister of the church, and Peter Kestol, one of the founders who helped build the church. Afterwards, the group toured the cemetery where they viewed the grave sites of the early members and ministers.

Georgia Kestol-Bauer Speaks to the Sons of Norway in Janesville, Wisconsin

Georgia Kestol-Bauer at the Janesville, Wisconsin Chapter of the Sons of Norway

Georgia Kestol-Bauer at the Janesville, Wisconsin Chapter of the Sons of Norway

Georgia Kestol made a presentation about the Heart Prairie Norwegian-American Methodist-Episcopal Church to the Nordland Lodge #5-544, Sons of Norway, in Janesville, Wisconsin. The presentation was made on Wednesday evening, September 17, 2014 at the monthly meeting of the organization.  Using slides to illustrate her presentation, Kestol discussed the history of the church and the current efforts dedicated to its restoration. The presentation was followed by a question and answer session.

Open House on August 24th Attended by Nearly 100 People

Thank you to everyone who attended the Open House at the historic Methodist-Episcopal Church at the East Richmond Cemetery on August 24, 2014. Attendance was nearly 100 on a hot and humid afternoon.

Special thanks go to:

  • My Helpers – Shirley, Allison, Alexandra, Arlene, and Charles;
  • Lisa, who provided beautiful flute music for the afternoon;
  • McDonald’s Restaurant, Delavan, who donated Orange Drink and cups for 100 people;
  • Cookie Bakers, who provided a variety of cookies, including Norwegian Sandbakkels and Krumkake;
  • Area ministers, who helped spread the word about the Open House;
  • Area newspapers
    • Janesville Gazette, Andrea Anderson, reporter;
    • Daily Jefferson County Union, Chris Welch, reporter;
    • Delavan Enterprise, Vicky Wedig, Editor; and, the
  • Whitewater Banner Web Site.

Many of you made monetary donations and I thank you very much for your generosity. The donations totaled over $500 and will be used to begin the restoration of the windows.

Near the completion of this project, we want to have another Open House to celebrate the restoration of this historic church.  Until then, with your support and encouragement, we will keep working!

A few snapshots of the Open House are shown below.

Press Release: Daily Jefferson County Union, August 18, 2014

Richmond church founded by Norwegians under renovation

EAST RICHMOND — Adjacent to the East Richmond Cemetery along Walworth County Highway P outside of Whitewater, is the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery. The church originally was built in the early 1850s, and now it is being restored. Georgia Kestol-Bauer’s great-  grand parents were Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin in the early 19th Century. Peder and Anna Kjostolsen eventually Anglicized their name to Kestol. Photo credit: Chris Welch, Daily Jefferson County Union

EAST RICHMOND — Adjacent to the East Richmond Cemetery along Walworth County Highway P outside of Whitewater, is the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery. The church originally was built in the early 1850s, and now it is being restored. Georgia Kestol-Bauer’s great- grand parents were Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin in the early 19th Century. Peder and Anna Kjostolsen eventually Anglicized their name to Kestol.
Photo credit: Chris Welch, Daily Jefferson County Union

 Posted: Monday, August 18, 2014 9:25 am | Updated: 9:31 am, Mon Aug 18, 2014.

RICHMOND — A few miles south of the City of Whitewater, near Whitewater Lake in the Town of Richmond, you might — just might — catch a glimpse of a white roof between the lush summer leaves on the wooded bluff.

If you’re not driving by too quickly, that’s it.

That glimpse actually is a view of one of the best-kept secrets in this region’s history, for sitting atop the bluff, at N7273 Walworth County Highway P, are the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery.

The church originally was built in the early 1850s, and now after decades of abandonment and neglect, one of the descendents of the church’s founders has made it her mission to restore and recondition the former place of worship.

Georgia Kestol-Bauer’s great-  grandparents were Norwegian immigrants to Wisconsin in the early 19th Century. Peder and Anna Kjostolsen (who would Anglicize their name to Kestol) were one of five Norwegian families, about 32 people in all, who relocated to the Richmond area. One of the other immigrants, Christopher Steeson, donated part of his farmland so the church could be built there.

Kestol-Bauer and her supporters will be holding a public open house from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24, so folks can see how far the church’s rejuvenation has come along, and how much still needs to be accomplished to fully restore the former house of worship. The Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church in Richmond is only the second church in the state of that particular denomination. The first one is Willerup United Methodist Church in Cambridge, named after the Rev. Christian Willerup, a circuit rider who served as pastor of the congregations.

“They say that they are the first Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church in the world,” Kestol-Bauer said of Willerup. “So, we say we’re the second one. The thing is, if there was not a church, they would have meetings in people’s homes.”

Kestol-Bauer explained that while the Richmond-based building fell into disrepair, the adjacent East Richmond Cemetery has been maintained by the township. There are both new and century-old graves on the grounds.

In fact, Kestol-Bauer organized the Walworth County Cemetery Association, and that group recently held its annual meeting in the partially-refurbished Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church.

“The last association was formed in 1907, but that one just stopped after a while,” Kestol-Bauer said.

It was her love of family history that prompted Kestol-Bauer to pursue the project.

“I have always known about the church because many, many Kestols are buried here,” she said. “The family has always sort of been ‘in charge’ of the cemetery; it’s always just been in the family. When my Uncle Joey died, no one else was really interested, so I took over. I now live on his farm, which was Peder’s original farm, and that put me close to the cemetery. Actually, I started taking over the cemetery in the 1990s for a few years while my uncle was ill before he passed away.”

She added that in 1992, her family had a historical plaque installed just outside the church to remind people of the church’s past. “Over the years, my dad and cousins would occasionally put on a new roof or repaint the church,” Kestol-Bauer recalled. However, much more needed to be done. Last fall, a contractor told her that the walls, ceiling and floor had to be stabilized to keep the building from collapsing in on itself. In fact, the Town of Richmond Board of Supervisors was considering tearing down the structure for safety reasons before Kestol-Bauer undertook the reconstruction process.

A new wooden cross has been donated for the altar area, and a classic Estey Organ has been donated to the church, as well. Other items, such as framed family letters (including one from a relative who fought in the Civil War, writing about Lincoln’s assassination), congregational letters written in Norwegian, and Daguerreotype-styled photos of early church ministers are hanging on the walls. The church still needs new windows, new paint, a proper step at the entrance, new front doors and some work on the walls. The altar area has been restored, but railings are needed. Beams and tension wires were added to the space between the ceiling and rooftop to help with stabilization.

The pews, 10 in all, have been removed, but the supporting boards, attached to the interior walls, remain visible. Square-headed nails in the wall likely held oil lamps at one time, she noted.

Kestol-Bauer said that two interior support beams might not necessarily be fully restored because they have their own history. It seems apparent that after in the church was abandoned completely, likely in the 1920s — the members dispersed to other congregations — the structure became a place for generations of teenagers to hang out and do teenager-like things without parental supervision. In fact, some of the graffiti, mostly names and hearts with initials carved into the wood, clearly date back to at least 1967.

“The things that need to be done now are more manageable,” Kestol-Bauer said. “Maybe, if we can get volunteers to donate their time and skills, that would help. The major expenses are complete now, but there is still a lot to be done.”

Kestol-Bauer said she has sought donations for the church’s restoration, but she personally has borne most of the cost. She hopes the open house on Aug. 24 might generate more interest and more volunteers to help on the project, although that is not the sole goal of the event.

“The open house is for everyone,” she said. “It’s basically just to generate awareness for the church. Driving by on County P, people just don’t realize there is a church and cemetery here. Even if you see the top part of the church, nobody really would know that it is a church, as it looks like it is just somebody’s house or an old barn from the road. We have this historical church that has not been used for almost 100 years.”

Kestol-Bauer said she envisions the restored church as meeting or gathering place. While a lot of the details about the church have been lost through the ages, Kestol-Bauer still has at least two “minister books” that give some historical clues about the congregation. early congregants’ names, baptisms and funerals are listed in the hand-written tomes.

The first entry is dated 1852, written in Norwegian, with later entries in English. Kestol-Bauer’s’ Great-Uncle James’ birth is listed in one of the books. There are also names that have been crossed out, indicating that members left the Richmond church for other congregations or, as listed in some cases, journeyed farther westward to other states.

One entry, dated June 1853, clearly states that the cemetery and church were built on Steenson’s farm “on the road to Whitewater, where the Norwegian Church now stands.”

That might have referred to the Rev. Christopher Steenson and his son, the Rev. Steen Steenson, who became a missionary to Norway.

The church represents a fascinating history of the Norwegian immigrants who settled in Richmond more than a century-and-a-half ago.

“I hated to see it just torn down or vandalized,” she said. “To me, it was important to honor these people who worked so hard by coming to this country to start a new life. In honor and respect for them, I thought we should save this.”

The open house will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24, at the Norwegian American Methodist Episcopal Church and East Richmond Cemetery, located at N7273 County Highway P.

From Whitewater, take East Milwaukee Street to U.S. Highway 12. Cross Highway 12 and continue on Highway P. From Interstate 90, take the State Highway 59 exit 163 toward Milton/Edgerton. Turn right on East State Road 59, left on County Highway N, right onto Highway 12/89 and then right onto Highway P.

For more information about the history of the church, cemetery, and restoration efforts, visit a website created by Georgia’s daughter, Allison Kestol-Bauer and Charles Cottle at https://namech.org/.