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Faith United Lutheran Church and a rainbow.
Faith United Lutheran Church and a rainbow.
The Milky Way over Immanuel Lutheran Church south of Canova.
The Milky Way over Immanuel Lutheran Church south of Canova.
Zion Lutheran and a rural water tower silhouetted against the sunset south of Hartford.
Zion Lutheran and a rural water tower silhouetted against the sunset south of Hartford.
Historic Beaver Creek Lutheran Church, which now stands in Heritage Park on the Augustana College campus in Sioux Falls.
Historic Beaver Creek Lutheran Church, which now stands in Heritage Park on the Augustana College campus in Sioux Falls.
Our Savior's Lutheran Church along the James River south of Menno.
Our Savior's Lutheran Church along the James River south of Menno.
Our Savior's is also called the 'stone church,' or 'rock church,' and was constructed of rock from the James River in 1935.
Our Savior's is also called the "stone church," or "rock church," and was constructed of rock from the James River in 1935.
Salem Church on the South Dakota/Minnesota border east of Dell Rapids.
Salem Church on the South Dakota/Minnesota border east of Dell Rapids.
Dowling Community Church at a country crossroads in Haakon County.
Dowling Community Church at a country crossroads in Haakon County.
Holy Name Episcopal Church among the Missouri River bluffs on the Lower Brule Reservation.
Holy Name Episcopal Church among the Missouri River bluffs on the Lower Brule Reservation.
A beautiful iron cross in Holy Name's cemetery memorializes Elizabeth Swift Hawk, who died May 21, 1915 at age 77.
A beautiful iron cross in Holy Name's cemetery memorializes Elizabeth Swift Hawk, who died May 21, 1915 at age 77.
A winter Sunday morning at Highland Church north of Garretson.
A winter Sunday morning at Highland Church north of Garretson.
Highland Church with the rising sun.
Highland Church with the rising sun.
Martinus Lutheran Church northeast of Utica in Yankton County.
Martinus Lutheran Church northeast of Utica in Yankton County.
Sunset at Sigel Church just a few miles east of Martinus Lutheran Church.
Sunset at Sigel Church just a few miles east of Martinus Lutheran Church.
The road curves slightly around Sigel Church, which provides a great view from the east.
The road curves slightly around Sigel Church, which provides a great view from the east.
West Nidaros Lutheran Church near Baltic at sunrise.
West Nidaros Lutheran Church near Baltic at sunrise.
In front of West Nidaros is a replica of the old Nidaros Lutheran that still stands in Renner.
In front of West Nidaros is a replica of the old Nidaros Lutheran that still stands in Renner.
Oslo Church in Brookings County with departing clouds and faint Northern Lights.
Oslo Church in Brookings County with departing clouds and faint Northern Lights.

Prairie Sanctuaries

Feb 26, 2014

It is late afternoon in early spring. A lone car (me) is southbound on Highway 63 south of Midland. An early season thunderstorm had just rolled across the prairie and kept me entertained for half an hour. As the sun broke through retreating clouds, a steepled building atop a distant hill caught the light and gleamed against dark blue storm clouds beyond. St. Peter Lutheran in northeast Jackson County had always caught my eye on this stretch of road, but on this day it was glorious. Unfortunately this was before I began regularly shooting photos, so I was unprepared to capture the scene. That still bothers me.

Last July, a mean thunderstorm roared along the Missouri River valley. Drawn like a moth to a porch light, I caught up with it in Yankton County. The goal was to get some interesting weather photos. The problem, I soon learned, was that this storm was rife with lightning, the kind that illuminates the countryside like a million flash bulbs and then rattles your windows with an immediate thunderclap. After a handful of those I decided I might be a little too close to the heart of this beast so I retreated north and west. About the same time I noticed a rainbow forming in the evening light, I also saw the distant shape of Faith United Lutheran Church. By the time I got to the church, a double rainbow had formed. This time I had my camera. 

Earlier this week the Northern Lights began to shine and shimmer. I remembered another local photographer (Zachary Wicks) had shot a stunning photo of Oslo Church in Brookings County silhouetted against early October Northern Lights, and I wanted to see if I could capture something similar. Oslo Church has not been used for some time and has no yard light — perfect for shooting against the night sky. I set up my camera on an approach about a quarter mile south of the church. Low clouds obscured much of the horizon, but then magic happened. As the moon rose and coyotes began to howl, a break in the clouds revealed those mysterious pillars of light rippling above the church.

These examples illustrate why I’m drawn to photographing country churches. I love the symbolism of all the things a church is supposed to stand for contrasted against the expanse of the surrounding country and open South Dakota skies. Lately I’ve realized that almost everywhere I go or whatever I’m planning to shoot, if I find a picturesque country church it’s usually my best shot of the day. That is why I’ve compiled my favorite shots of rural churches over the years on a Facebook page called Prairie Sanctuaries. I’ll add to the collection as I travel the state and region. You are invited to visit the page often and visit these places with me. I promise to always have my camera handy.

Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing our prettiest spots around the state. Follow Begeman on his blog.

Comments

12:52 pm - Thu, February 27 2014
nannette hurst said:
loved your pictures. their is a church just out side of okaton s.d. st. pete's lutheran We used to liveclose to it,our daughter died when she was 11 yrs. old she is buried their ,also my niece annabuxcel & angela hurst . they moved it in after the old one burned down,as it was stuck by lightning, the people were great & everyone were friends & nieghbors. i don,t know if they even have sevices any more because the older ones havepassed & younger ones r gone or olderlike us now. we left their yrs ago but we still visit cemetary & keep in contact with the ones left. it sits on a hill,big tall steeple.we left alot of memories their. bill & donna eckert still live close to church & they would be the ones to contact. hope u can see it some time. thanks nancy
03:23 pm - Thu, February 27 2014
Christian Begeman said:
Thanks for the tip. Next time I get to that area, I will be sure to take a look for this church.
09:34 am - Fri, February 28 2014
Donna Eckert said:
Christian, I hope that someday you will be able to take a picture of our church, St. Peter Lutheran; which you described in your above article. That would have been a beautiful picture. A picture of this church with a thunderstorm in the background would be most fitting and ironic since a thunderstorm and a lightning strike burned down the previous church on this site. We still have church every Sunday, weather permitting. If you do ever get a picture of our church I would love to see it! Love the pictures of the churches please keep them coming! Thanks, Donna
05:16 am - Wed, March 5 2014
Mel Antonen said:
I enjoyed the pictures of the churches and the weather. Classic South Dakota. I would love to attend every one of those churches.
01:37 pm - Wed, March 5 2014
Kris Frerk said:
Christian,
I saw the picture of Highland Church this am when I read my email from SD Magazine. I attended Highland Lutheran Church all my childhood years and lived 2 miles from there. My 89 year old father still attends there. Congregation small in size but big in faith and local outreach. I would love to have that photo enlarged on canvas. Please contact me.
03:05 pm - Wed, March 5 2014
Christian Begeman said:
Thanks Kris. You can send me an email at christian@sio.midco.net and I'd be happy to help you get that photo printed up.
02:30 am - Wed, November 5 2014
Christi Lisboa said:
Hello! I've been enjoying your pictures on facebook. I'm an architect and am interested in country vernacular buildings. I live and teach architecture in Brasil but I've attended Highland Church in Brandt SD for a year when I was an exchange student living in Toronto SD decades ago. I'm not sure if it's Highland (more likely) or East Highland in Brandt, but anyway, all of your pictures are superb! Excelent work! thank you. Greetings from Brasil.
01:22 pm - Tue, June 9 2015
rod Jensen said:
Hi Kris,
I'd like to hire you as a location scout for a project we are shooting in southeast South Dakota. Please drop me a line.
Thanks very much!
Rod
12:38 pm - Sat, November 28 2015
Melissa Maher said:
Hi, Christian,

I am looking for a photo you took. My grandmother who is 87 years old and lives in SD; was confirmed at the Zion Lutheran Church, that was built near Volin in 1915. She would love a print and I was wondering if this would be possible to purchase for Christmas? I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!
02:06 pm - Tue, June 7 2016
Brian Potts said:
Hi Christian.
I'm sure you've been asked this a million times, but do you sell these?
Thanks, Brian
02:40 pm - Tue, June 7 2016
Christian said:
Hello Brian,

Thanks for the comment. I do have a selection of photos for sale at the following link:
https://cbegeman.smugmug.com/Photography/Recent-and-Requested/

If you don't see the photo you are interested in, feel free to email be at christian@sio.midco.net. Thanks again!

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