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Silent night

Battle Center Country Church hosts Christmas Eve service

HOLSTEIN — Stepping into the Battle Center Church is a spiritual experience in more ways than one. The past permeates this space, where there’s no electricity, plumbing or climate-control system. No regular services have been held in this small, white, wooden building southwest of Holstein for decades. Yet this humble country church had remained as relevant as ever for the past 20 years as the faithful gather each Christmas Eve to proclaim the real meaning of the holiday season.

“The whole idea is to help the kids know what Christmas is all about,” said Rochelle Luscombe, of rural Holstein, who helps coordinate the Christmas Eve service.

Luscombe introduced the idea for the Christmas Eve service two decades ago as her family gathered at home for the holiday.

“When they heard, ‘Put on your coats, we’re going for a drive,’ many of them were surprised when they ended up at the church,” Luscombe said.

The Christmas Eve gathering at the church was so memorable that the family wanted to do it again the next year. As friends and neighbors learned about it, they wanted to come to the service, too. In recent years, 50 to 60 people gather each December in the Battle Center Church to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Christmas Eve service starts at 5:30 p.m. and lasts about an hour. The gatherings have included everything from singing Christmas carols a cappella to giving the congregation whistles, drums and bells to make the service more interactive. The congregation has even been known to shoot off fireworks in the area to celebrate the Savior’s birth.

“Every year we try something different to help tell the Christmas story,” Luscombe said.

Church preserves local heritage

It’s easy to shift into a reflective state of mind inside the Battle Center Church. So much history endures in this small country church perched on a hill in Battle Township in Ida County, from the resonant bell in the belfry to the wooden pews to the massive 1892 Bible on the ornate lectern.

This is not the original church that stood on this spot, however. That church was built around the time that the Battle Center Cemetery was established in 1886. After the church burned down, another church was transported to the site about 80 years ago.

“This church was moved in the spring on muddy roads,” said Luscombe, whose husband, Hank, grew up about two miles from the church. His parents, Henry Sr. and Mildred, were active members of this Methodist church.

While the church served local families faithfully for decades, it closed permanently more than 40 years ago as the rural population declined. The church hasn’t been relegated to the past, however. It’s part of a small hub that includes the Battle Center Cemetery across the road to the east, and a former country school just to the south of the church. Although the church is not open for regular services, local families use the sanctuary for special events, including funeral services (people continue to be buried at the Battle Center Cemetery) and weddings. The Luscombe’s daughter, Lori, got married at the church about five years ago.

Funds to maintain the church come from a variety of sources, including donations and money from estates. The church received a new foundation three years ago, new storm windows in 2019 and a new roof this year. The interior has also been maintained carefully, including the balcony on the east side where Sunday school classes used to be held. Interior walls have been repainted, and floors have been refinished through the years.

Luscombe and her family have provided much of this volunteer labor.

“This church means a lot to us,” said Luscombe, who grew up near Arthur and serves as a Battle Township trustee. “It feels like a second home.”

Contemplating heaven and earth

The church also holds special meaning to Don Poggensee, of Ida Grove. He came across the building in the late 1970s and deemed it an ideal location for night photography.

“The church, it was like an old stranger waiting for someone to pay attention to it,” said Poggensee, who taught adult photography education classes through Western Iowa Tech at Ida Grove High School back then. “I still find the place enchanting, especially at night when it comes into its own beauty as the stars surround it.”

As Poggensee views the Milky Way over the bell tower, the church evokes a variety of senses, including a sense of history.

“You’re paying attention to the sound of the wind in the cemetery across the road, and you hear the coyotes calling to one another on a clear, dark night. I also think about how the church was moved to its current location, pulled by horses and mules across the ice to higher ground.”

The history of the church has also inspired Poggensee when he has attended the Christmas Eve service.

“The pioneers worked so hard just to have a church home and a cemetery for their final resting site. Times have changed, but the values learned in these settings still linger in some of us today,” he said.

The church continues to provide a sense of stability, said Luscombe, who has passed on a love for the church to her children and grandchildren. “These country churches are so peaceful.”

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