Church time capsule discovered in Poynette

March 28, 2019

POYNETTE — A liturgical calendar and a Bible, both in German.

Group photographs of children, with the handwritten notation “Sunday Church School 1974.”

A 5-inch floppy disk, containing records or photos that might date back as far as 1905.

Copies of the Poynette Press from 1907 and the Portage Daily Register from 1975.

An inch-thick typed volume, with plastic comb binding, titled “The Lutheran History in Poynette.”

These are just some of the treasures Scott Adams uncovered when he bought the Bethel Lutheran Church property.

According to Adams, a former parishioner in the church, which closed about five years ago, tipped him off about the possibility that a time capsule, containing artifacts of the congregation’s history, had been secreted in the altar at about the time the church building was completed in 1974.

Sure enough, there it was, underneath a slab of stone that formed the altar’s top.

“Nobody else seemed to know it was there,” Adams said.

Adams and his wife, Krista, acquired the church, and the five-acre tract on which it is located, in September, with the intent of converting it to a gathering place, called Whispering Pines Event Center.

Their process of preserving and repurposing everything in the church included moving about 25 artifacts in the time capsule into a sturdy storage tub, to prepare them for donation to the Poynette Area Historical Society.

Adams said the presentation of the items to the historical society will be part of a public open house from 2-6 p.m. April 6.

But other entities have interest in the artifacts, too.

Jane Cahill Wolfgram, vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s South Central Synod of Wisconsin, said the synod likely will want any records from the congregation, which was founded in 1905.

The story of Bethel Lutheran Church’s founding, growth and decline is a story that’s familiar to many congregations. According to Wolfgram, the membership dwindled over the years, as the parishioners aged — as did the pastor, the Rev. Stephen Kurth, who was the author of the history included in the time capsule.

Wolfgram said Kurth had been the congregation’s pastor for “30 or 40 years,” and he too was aging. According to an obituary in the Portage Daily Register, he died in March 2017 at age 75.

“The church just wasn’t able to maintain and support itself anymore,” she said. “There are many examples of churches that have gotten to a point where they’ve lost all their younger members.”

Adams said the first church building was located just off Highway 51, within the village limits.

The altar in the church’s last building — the building that is now Whispering Pines — was an artifact unto itself. According to Adams, it was built from stones that members brought in; some of them apparently dug the stones from their farm fields.

The altar’s materials will be reused in some way, Adams said, but the artifacts hidden within it will be preserved by others.

Before that happens, Adams wants to take a closer look at them — particularly at whatever information might be stored on the 5-inch floppy disk.

“I don’t even know how we’d look at that anymore,” he said of the older digital technology.