During the Depression, many people lost hope. But even as some families left their farms, others gained strength from community churches. No one had money, but farm families took care of each other, as well as their church's minister. Preachers were paid very little, or nothing at all in the 1930s. People who went to a church often invited the minister and his family to simple farm meals with foods from the garden.
Churches were usually a center for community and social events. A Church potluck dinner gave friends and neighbors a chance to share food and visit. And young people met at church events. When Mildred Opitz visited her aunt and uncle in York, she went to the church where her aunt taught Sunday school. Mildred stayed for the church picnic and met Chris, a man she later married.
The Federal Writers Project realized what an important part churches played in community life.
"The church supper, held once or twice a year with most congregations as a means of raising money, might not be much of an event for the city-dwellers accustomed to eating out; but for rural people it is something of a treat to get together in a crowded basement, exchange gossip, inhale the inevitable smell of coffee, and choose their dinner from two or three tables loaded down with all kinds of food. The election dinner is much the same kind of festivity; usually given on the evening of election day. The annual church picnic, generally held on a hot late-summer day, provides many hard-working Nebraskans with one of their few chances to get to a park where there are trees, maybe to go swimming if there is a pool, and to take part in the races or ball games that are ordinarily on the program."
Churches were also central to the effort to provide relief to those families who were experiencing hard times. Hollis Miller (right) remembers that church parishioners made sure the minister's family had food and clothes, even if they were hand-me-downs.
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.