Elsie Viren Has Done Her Work for 63 Years

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

After 63 years of unbroken service in the church office and in the ministry of visitation it appears that Elsie Viren will serve out the rest of her days in other ways. She is now a resident of Augustana Home and her desk at church is empty.

On September 1, 1928 Anton Sjolund became Bethlehem’s ninth pastor. The following January he invited Elsie Viren, the secretary of W.B. Riley, to be his “Church Missionary.” She began her office and visitation duties January 1, 1929.

Elsie survived and thrived through the peculiarities of six pastors: Anton Sjolund (20 years), Eric Lindholm (10 years), John Wilcox (7 years), Robert Featherstone (3 years), Bruce Fleming (10 years), and me (11+ years).

For many years Elsie taught the Junior High Christian Instruction Class—a class on Bible knowledge and doctrine that met on Saturdays to help prepare young people for responsible church membership and Christian living.

She was perhaps best known for simply knowing so much about all of Bethlehem’s people. They used to call her “Encyclopedic Elsie.” Her files are a gold mine of interesting facts about the members’ lives.

What has been Elsie’s secret of endurance? For many of the “older generation” life was not easy at the beginning and did not get a lot easier with age. They were born into a world without cars, washing machines, radios, televisions, movies, telephones, central heating, air conditioning, microwave ovens, synthetic fabrics, photocopying, computers, cassettes and disc players. People weren’t so tormented in those days with “choices” because basic survival dictated most of their tasks.

One upshot of this is that they were not as subjective, introspective and self-absorbed as younger folk. Life was not so much a list of options for self-actualization as it was a set of tasks to be done because they were necessary or because they were right. That is the way Elsie has been. The Lord has saved us and there is work to be done for the Lord. You don’t spend time examining whether it is “fulfilling” or “self-actualizing.” You get up and do it. And when it’s done you sleep pretty well.

There is a ruggedness about these people. Reliable, strong, determined, persevering, resilient, stoic, stable—these are the good words we use to describe them. That is the way Elsie has pressed on. We need to be more like that today.

But there is a price to be paid for being like that. One could call it emotional reserve. When life is hard there is always need for “reserves.” Endurance is less vulnerable if relationships are courteous, polite, and respectful and if emotions are kept in reserve for the inevitable hardships. It is a high price. But in view of the fragility of commitments in our emotionally vulnerable generation, one wonders about the relative value of the tradeoffs.

I praise God for Elsie’s endurance. She has been a great asset to me for over ten years. I will miss her in the office. I urge you to visit her at Augustana. Increasingly I am aware that my days are numbered before my mind wears out and I forget too much to be a leader. I wonder how quickly I will be forgotten.

At 66% of three-score and ten,

Pastor John