Marjory Hyde (Marge), the newest member of the Nez Perce Circle of Elders, left Lapwai and her fond memories of the Spalding Church to pursue a long career as a social worker. After obtaining a degree from the University of Denver, she began her work in Yakima and spent time all over the Northwest and beyond, dutifully attending the local Presbyterian church wherever she found herself. She entertained many offers to join other congregations, but being the faithful and loyal person she is, she always remained a member of the Spalding Church. Upon retiring, Marge returned to Lapwai and was dismayed to find her beloved church had fallen into disrepair, both spiritually and physically, and was on the verge of closing for good. Clashing personalities caused the Lapwai Presbyterian community to lose members to other churches, and the building itself suffered as a result with fewer hands and able bodies to share in the many tasks required to keep the structure in good working order.
This was devastating to Marge, who credits her upbringing in the church and the sterling example its congregation set for shaping her into the thoughtful, faithful, and passionate person she is today. She recalls a time when the men in the community would volunteer to cut the grass, keep up the grounds, and make any needed repairs, while the women would keep the interior clean, tidy, and overflowing with food to enjoy after services and for special occasions. In 2015, Marge rallied the community to save the church from condemnation, and ever since she has dedicated herself to restoring the church and its congregation to the vibrant institution that had such a profound influence on her and her family.
Marge grew up just north of the church in a two-room home without running water. Her and her siblings would fetch water from the nearby creek to cook and do the dishes, and it was the same with the church. There were very few luxuries, but they were happy and everyone pitched in to do what needed to be done and did so freely and willingly. Such was the expectation, and it was seen as an honor to devote your time to supporting the church. It is this sense of duty and honor, both for the church and her ancestors, that drives Marge to this day.
One way Marge chose to commemorate those that came before was to read off the names of all the people she could remember attending Spalding Presbyterian from when she was younger during the first service after the church reopened. “We never say their names,” Marge says, “If it wasn’t for this church and those people, we wouldn’t be standing here.” Marge added the names that her mother and aunt could remember, as well. Funny enough, it was another list of names that further affirmed Marge’s dedication to the church. “When you’re young and you’re growing up, you don’t even bother with the significance of things. I always noticed a typed letter in a frame, but didn’t read it until a few years ago,” Marge recalls. It was a list of all the people who contributed to the construction of the building in 1886. Nestled near the bottom of the list was a woman named Koos-Ne-Wah who donated $.50 to the cause and just happens to be the person for whom Marge is named.
Speaking of namesakes, the church is named for Henry and Eliza Spalding who first brought the Presbyterian Church and Christianity in general to the Nez Perce in 1836. The Spaldings opened Idaho’s first school, trained Nez Perce farmers to grow Idaho’s first potatoes, and translated bible passages and hymns into the Nez Perce language. The mission was moved to near the church site in 1838 but was later abandoned in 1847 following the massacre of the Whitman mission in Eastern Washington. Spalding returned in 1871 and revived the mission, which was later replaced by the building we see today under the direction of fellow missionaries Sue and Kate McBeth. In Kate McBeth’s memoir The Nez Perce After Lewis and Clark, she describes the people of Lapwai as being sinners in need of saving and far less amenable to conversion than their Kamiah compatriots to the east. However, their beadwork was noted to be far superior, a detail at which Marge cannot help but laugh.
Now, with the help of her son, Marge is attempting to return the church to its roots as a source of community, safety, and inspiration. At times she finds the undertaking overwhelming, but she draws strength from her ancestors and keeps chipping away one task at a time. When her faith flags, her son chimes in, asking her “What would granny want?” This connection between Marge, her parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and now her own children is represented in the Spalding Presbyterian Church, and it is what keeps her going even when the issues seem insurmountable. Right now, they are trying to build a berm and drainage system to keep the rising waters of the Lapwai Creek at bay. When the snow melts in the spring, the rising waters flow beneath the chapel causing structural damage.
Even so, Spalding Presbyterian Church endures, with services held on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of every month, and it still provides tremendous comfort to Marge and her community. After losing a close relative to COVID, Marge went by herself to the church to mourn. She cried, she sang, and when she sat back exhausted with her eyes closed, she could hear a voice behind her saying that everything will be alright, that you are safe. Marge is not the only person to hear voices in the church. People have experienced the singing of hymns that the Spaldings translated generations ago. Marge believes that these are their ancestors singing for their descendants, supporting and praising them down through the ages. “It is the music of happiness, joy that someone cares for their building, their church, and their community,” Marge says. In the past, powerful Nez Perce beliefs comingled with church beliefs, creating something stronger and more profound, and the feeling inside the church is tangible. “The teachings in the longhouse are not so different. There is a sky god. When you leave the earth you go to heaven, where your ancestors line up to welcome you,” Marge explains.
“We Indians are not bad people. We have been spiritual since way back when. That’s the way our people always have been and always will be going forward.” This sentiment is memorialized in Spalding Presbyterian Church, where those dressed in traditional buckskin pants, moccasins, and braided hair would share the same pews as the Spaldings’ descendants. It represents a commingling of cultures based on respect and a desire to bring out the best in one another. It connects the memories of the past, the spiritual needs of the present, and the ways our history and traditions can shape a better future. And we are so very proud and thankful that Marge and her family are preserving this special, special place.
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