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Covenant Church Serves Up Pies and Prayers for RAGBRAI Cyclists

Most mornings when I arrive at Pomeroy Covenant Church in rural Pocahontas County, Iowa, I hear birds singing, and a breeze blows through the trees. I see cornfields and soybean fields and wind turbines. But one morning this summer, I saw a 64-foot blue and white tent and an eight-foot livestock watering trough filled with water bottles and milk jugs frozen into ice. Three tractors with cable between them were out front. Two dozen church members carried tables and chairs to set up under the tent. And there was pie—lots of pie.

RAGBRAI (The Register’s Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) is an Iowa tradition. The ride started 49 years ago when two writers from The Des Moines Register decided to bike across Iowa and write about what they saw and the people they met. They invited their readers to join them—and 300 people showed up. Public interest was so strong that the ride became an annual event. More than a bike ride, it is a festival—eight days of cycling across the state, with music, food, and 25,000–30,000 riders. The route changes every year, and this year they would pass our church on Highway 4.

We knew we wanted to welcome the riders. And we heard that RAGBRAI participants love pie. So we came up with an idea to make pies and sell them as a fundraiser to support our new building project.

So one Friday in July our fellowship and hospitality team made 400 balls of dough for pie crusts. Saturday morning people peeled apples and peaches. We used stored-up bags of rhubarb from the spring. We baked through Sunday afternoon, with a break for our worship service. More than a dozen dedicated workers produced 250 pies that were baked, cut, and individually wrapped for the riders.

Church members prepared in other ways too, painting signs to place along the highway, donating cases of water, setting up the tent, tables, and chairs. And on Monday, July 28, we waited for the riders.

Our first customer was Jim. He woke up at 3 am to start the trek from Ida Grove. He loved biking across Iowa, but he had been in two accidents during past RAGBRAIs so he wanted to avoid the crowds. For the next 10 hours thousands of riders stopped and bought pie, used our Port-a-pots and visited our prayer tent. People came from all over to bike across the state. They used vacation time. They left behind families. We met people from Wyoming, Michigan, Florida, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, California, Tennessee, Illinois, Nebraska, Maryland, Hawaii, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, Canada…and, of course, Iowa.

One man wanted to take pictures of our small church because he was from Miami and said churches around him are closing. Others wanted to know our story, and we shared how we are a small church—rich in tradition and looking to the future.

We are a rural church, surrounded by soybean and corn fields. Our average attendance of 100-140 a week draws people from a 30-mile radius. Our location seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but we draw members from the nearby towns of Pomeroy, Palmer, Rockwell City, Twin Lakes, Manson, Fonda, and Pocahontas.

Our roots go back to 1881 when Swedish immigrants started meeting in homes to study the Word of God, pray together, and encourage each other to persevere in faith and good works. One member mortgaged his farm for $600 and loaned the money to build the church. Then 32 families committed to raise 32 steers for three years to fund a new sanctuary. Soon the church was one of the biggest in the area and they decided to build another horse barn. With the new building, shelter was available for 44 teams of horses. It was the largest in the county and a source of bragging rights. People came through then and people come through today. Two sanctuaries have been built, a fellowship hall, and a parsonage.

We had been discussing the new building project for several years. We needed more space for classrooms and an activity center that we could share with our community as a place to hold meetings and events. We wanted to include shower and laundry so anyone who needed access to such facilities would have a place to go.

But the journey toward making that dream a reality wasn’t easy. After starting the discussion, Pastor Dan Fullerton tragically and suddenly passed away. He was succeeded by amazing interims, Marv and Linda Norlien, but the time for building didn’t seem right. We called Pastor Grayson Daganaar as our new pastor a week before all public places were closed in March 2020.

Gradually, we met our initial fundraiser goal. But the cost of building materials had skyrocketed so we needed more funds. We held a campaign in the fall of 2021, and members committed to a three-year pledge. This past spring, with the help of a loan, the building project started and as of early August, the exterior of the building was finished and the interior work begun. The projected finish date is January 2023.

Plans for the Outreach Center were founded in prayer. Planning for RAGBRAI was founded in prayer. And God answered.

At the end of the day, the riders had left, the tables and chairs were put away, the garbage was cleaned up, the water trough was emptied, and the pie was gone. And close to $10,000 was raised. A few days later, we gathered in the Outreach Center. We wrote our thoughts, prayers, and Scripture on the metal studs. They will forever be with the building. Our prayers to God about how thankful we are for his blessings.

About the Author

  • Shari Nesbitt

    Shari Nesbitt is a retired high school English teacher currently serving as secretary at Pomeroy (Iowa) Covenant Church.

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