Arlene Woolery

Arlene Woolery displays two of the quilts made by women at Zoar Lutheran. Some are donated to those in need and others are sold at a fall fundraiser.

Behind the wooden pews of Zoar Lutheran Church near Revillo, South Dakota, mismatched chairs surround a large table.

It’s where women of the church gather two times a month to spend the day making quilts. They piece together fabric in patchwork designs and tie colorful tufts of yarn to secure the batting for the warm blankets.

Zoar Lutheran Church interior

The Zoar Lutheran Church sanctuary features an ornate wooden altar and communion rail.

While they work, the ladies enjoy each other’s company. They chat and catch up on what each other’s families have been up to.

“All the ladies get in on it,” said Arlene Woolery. “They enjoy quilting. They really do.”

Woolery lends her hand to stitching quilts. Her sister-in-law, Lorna Harstad, takes the creations home to quilt the blankets. One year she made 55 quilts.

The tie quilts are donated to the Lutheran World Relief program and to local organizations including a shelter in Watertown, South Dakota, and the Salvation Army. Other creations are auctioned at the church’s fall fundraiser. The money raised goes to the church mission.

“That’s a big day for us,” Woolery said.

There are all sorts of crafts and food for sale: Baby quilts and large quilts, pillowcases, dish towels, rag rugs, and of course, lefse.

The fall mission fundraiser, held the last Saturday of September, has been a staple on the church calendar for decades. Woolery is not sure when the tradition started, but she is 86 and remembers her parents coming home with pillowcases purchased at the event.

“It’s been many, many, many years – probably forever,” she said.

Zoar Lutheran church exterior

Zoar Lutheran Church sits between Revillo, S.D., and Marietta, Minn., across from a small salt lake. 

Zoar Lutheran Church started in 1895, meeting in the home of Woolery’s grandfather, Andrew Harstad.

The small church building sits across from what’s known as Salt Lake between the towns of Revillo, South Dakota, and Marietta, Minnesota. Soil around the township is high alkaline, making the land difficult to farm. The lake, though, is a draw for bird watchers, Woolery said.

The church is named after the small plains town of Zoar, mentioned in the Bible book of Genesis. It is the place to which Lot escapes while God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The name means “little” and is also associated with a place of refuge, Woolery said. The rural church embodies both of those attributes. The building itself is small, but the community created through Zoar Lutheran is a haven for its members.

The church draws 35-40 members for each Sunday worship service, led by Pastor Keith Smith, who has served the church for about 20 years.

“We’re lucky,” Woolery said. “We have very good, dedicated and ambitious people here.”

They come from Marietta, Revillo and Madison, South Dakota. Some who retired to the larger town of Watertown, South Dakota, remain active in the country church.

Zoar Lutheran Church altar

The Zoar Lutheran Church sanctuary features an ornate wooden altar and communion rail. 

Woolery said the church members care for each other like family. “You don’t have to be related,” she said. “We are interested in the other families and what happens to them.”

Along with making quilts and preparing for the fall mission event, making lye soap was another project ladies of the church took on in the 1990s. In one year, they made 369 pounds of soap for Lutheran World Relief.

Members have also shared their musical talents. A trio called the Charity Singers traveled around the area and sang at state fairs in the 1970s. The group was made of Jane Peterson, Judy Carlson and Ruth Kruse.

“Our people are very dedicated,” Woolery said.

Prayers on the Prairie is a regular feature of the Tri-State Neighbor, taking the places of the Crop Watchers report during the winter season. If you have a suggestion for a rural church to feature here, contact Editor Janelle Atyeo at 605-335-7300 or email jatyeo@tristateneighbor.com.