BARK RIVER, Mich. (WJMN) – A town built on faith. The four churches that started in Bark River many years ago, still hold a valuable place in the community today.

“Well as we know, once the train came, people came,” said Fr. Darryl Pepin, Pastor, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church. “And as a result, the population grew and Catholics joined the population and they were ministered by priests who traveled through the area. A number of missionaries to the Native Americans stopped and had masses in private homes. And as the population grew of course the Catholic population grew and somewhere around 1888 or so, the people decided they needed to build a church.”

“It was not called the United Methodist Church back then, it was called the Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church and it began in 1882,” said Christine Bergquist, Pastor, Bark River United Methodist Church. “It began by people that were interested in getting together, actually meeting in homes. There was no building in that point in time. It was the early settlers in the Bark River area.”

“It was 17 charter members that gathered in a house and they wanted to start a Lutheran church that spoke Swedish so they formed a church in 1883 here in the community,” said Stephen Cowen, Interim Pastor, Salem Lutheran Church. “And they met homes for a while.”

“The Bark River Bible Church actually started in 1956,” said Brad Cochrane, Pastor, Bark River Bible Church. “There were two teenagers, Evelyn and Leonard Erickson that desired to have a bible church in Bark River. So, they saved up money and there was the old Mission Covenant Church in South Bark River. That came up for sale. That church was no longer being used. So they saved their money and purchased that church and from there, it was just a series of events that brought that church into existence.”

No matter the denomination, church has always been a big part of life in Bark River, a place where people of the same beliefs can unite and enjoy fellowship.

“Church was really an important part of the life and the community and people so that they would speak the language that they came from was really helpful and nurturing and encouraging for the people,” said Cowen. “They built a church in 1889. For the first six years of existence they met in homes and then they got the land from JB Fisette, who I believe was actually Roman Catholic. But he had land and he thought that the church should be a part of Bark River, a part of the community. So he gave them, donated the land and then they raised $255. That’s hard to believe. You’re going to build a church with $255, but they did. They built the building in fact that we still use today.”

“So that was 1956,” said Cochrane. “About 15 years later, they purchased property on the northwest side of Bark River here, 20 acres. They built a new sanctuary there at that time. That’s how it began. Two teenagers with a vision for a bible church.”

“After the church was built, of course the congregation grew,” said Fr. Pepin. “The little wooden church outgrew itself or people outgrew the church and so they built a new church up on the hill where the current St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church is but sadly, that church burned. It was struck by lightning and then they built another church and that one was burnt by fire by spark in the chimney.”

“By 1887, five years later they had enough persons together and then also the resources to build the church that is now in its present place that it’s at,” said Bergquist.

All four churches continue to have a strong presence in the Bark River community.

“I don’t see us as separate churches,” said Fr. Pepin. “I see us as one community of Christians serving the Lord and reaching out to those who are in need and offering the good news.”

“Lutherans know how to do potlucks,” said Cowen. “They just do a phenomenal job and that is really true for Salem. The little brunch that they have after each service is warm and inviting and encouraging and it reflects the community. I’m really touched by how the members of the community really know the other members step up and reach out and help out.”

“I think there is a really strong faith community here and so whether it’s different denominations, because denominations is what we’re born into sometimes,” said Bergquist. “Sometimes, it’s what we choose as we go along in our own faith journeys. And so I think just the strength of it that is here, that is important for people. They want to have that place to go whether it’s on a Saturday night, or a Wednesday night or a Sunday morning, whenever that is when we worship and get together. Fellowship times, a time together for bible studies, time together for youth, adult activities, just fellowship times I think are very important. I think that it helps us individually and it helps us certainly as a community.”

“You know church is so important in a community to have a fear of God, to have respect, to have connection with others through faith and I think the churches do that,” said Cochrane. “They bring a lot to a society, a lot to a community. We strive to be a positive influence in our community and loving our neighbors. I believe as you look at Bark River, that Bark River is better because of people looking to God.”