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JIM - Mrs. Berg Visits Columbia: The Rest of the Story

"And thus is the story of the young agnostic who, shortly before leaving Columbia, spoke to the News, in a charming Garrison Keillor / Powder Milk biscuit sort of way: "The hack ride from Campbellsville over here caused me to think that Columbia was an out of the way place, and I feared the meeting would a failure, but after seeing the town and becoming acquainted with many of the residents, I knew it would be a success. Why, you have a city and your people have city ways. I have never been in a community where I found more intelligence. Every body is educated, even the small boys and girls. You have miles of concrete [sidewalks] and the large majority of homes are beautiful and attractive, and the hospitality of the residents is unexcelled. I just tell you I am in love with Columbia, and my husband and father are with me in this expression."
Click on headline for complete story + The Rest of the Story + The Rest of the Rest of the Story

By Jim

In the early years of the 20th century in Adair County, it sometimes was difficult to toss a pebble in any given direction and not ping someone headed to or from a revival. Such was the case in Columbia in the closing days of winter one hundred-six years ago.


On the evening of Friday, March 10th, 1911, well-known evangelist Dr. John Lincoln Brant, along with his daughter and son-in-law, blew into Columbia to hold "a series of meetings" at the Christian Church, then pastored by Eld. Z.T. Williams. Dr. Brandt was a speaker of power and passion -- "a most captivating pulpit orator" -- and his address given at the church on Sunday forenoon, March 12th, brought an immense crowd. Implored the next edition News, "On account of the church being crowded at each evening service, the ladies are earnestly requested to leave their hats at home."

Dr. Brandt's son-in-law, Hjalmer Berg, had charge of the singing, and the paper reported, "The chorus service, led by Mr. Berg, is inspiring, many new and beautiful songs being rendered." Virginia Brandt Berg sang duets with her husband and otherwise assisted him. And too, she worked with the youngsters who came. Of the latter, the News said, "Mrs. Berg has endeared herself to the children whom she is taking special interest in, teaching them religious songs and giving much wholesome advice."

Huge crowds necessitated a larger venue

Not far into Dr. Brandt & Co.'s stay in Columbia, the services moved to the courthouse, necessitated by the throngs of people coming to hear. On March 19th,

"The largest crowd that ever assembled in Columbia, to hear a discourse, wedged into the court-house Sunday night...The speaker's oratorical powers are great, and upon this occasion he seemed at his best...He closed with a touching appeal to sinners and fifteen young men and women went forward and made confessions."

The meeting broke on Wednesday night, March 22nd. Dr. Brandt and the Bergs soon departed Columbia for Frankfort to hold another series of meetings, and from there, sojourned home to St. Louis for a few days respite before heading to Texas.

The rest of the story

And that's the story of the revival troupe that visited Columbia -- except for the rest of the story.

In March 1911, Virginia Brandt Berg, not quite 25 and married barely a year, was agnostic. She and Hjalmer Berg had wed in January 1910; at the time, he too was a nonbeliever but he soon converted to Christianity and later attended Seminary.

Shortly after leaving Columbia, Virginia conceived, and toward the end of December, 1911, delivered their child, a son. Days later, she was involved in a near-fatal accident, one that left her partially paralyzed and frequently bedridden until 1918 when she underwent a great spiritual awakening, followed almost immediately by what can only be described as a divine healing.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Virginia and Hjalmer were expelled from their church for their adamant refusal to recant her testimony of being healed by faith. She went on to become an early radio minister (in the 1920s); to pastor a huge church in Florida; to pen at least two books; and eventually, following somewhat in her father's footsteps, to become an itinerant evangelist. She remained active in ministering to others until not long before her passing in 1968, age 81 years.

And the rest of the rest of the story

And that's the rest of the story -- except for the rest of the rest of the story.

In 1919, the year following her conversion, Virginia and Hjalmer had a second child, David, who went on to become a well-known minister in his own right, and his "Children of God" organization, although short-lived, worked closely with the counter-culture population of the late 1960s well into the 1970s.

The Bergs' simple double marker in a California cemetery is inscribed with the nine words that were their guiding light for the last several decades of their lives. The marker may be viewed by entering his name and death year (1964) at findagrave dot com.

And thus is the story of the young agnostic who, shortly before leaving Columbia, spoke to the News, in a charming Garrison Keillor / Powder Milk biscuit sort of way:

"The hack ride from Campbellsville over here caused me to think that Columbia was an out of the way place, and I feared the meeting would a failure, but after seeing the town and becoming acquainted with many of the residents, I knew it would be a success. Why, you have a city and your people have city ways. I have never been in a community where I found more intelligence. Every body is educated, even the small boys and girls. You have miles of concrete [sidewalks] and the large majority of homes are beautiful and attractive, and the hospitality of the residents is unexcelled. I just tell you I am in love with Columbia, and my husband and father are with me in this expression."

(Believer or not, follower or not, the life of Virginia Brandt Berg is fascinating. Entering her name into a search engine will result in a multitude of hits.)


This story was posted on 2017-02-26 09:26:41
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