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Bethany Lutheran to close after 131 years

By Staff | May 31, 2019

Bryce Berginski/PCT Bethany Lutheran Church as it stands currently. The church is slated to close, with its final service to be held in August.

After more than 130 years, Bethany Lutheran Church will hold its last service in its current location later this summer.

After Aug. 25, Bethany Lutheran will be closed and its current membership is slated to merge with First Lutheran Church. The church building will become the property of Village Arts. At the time of this writing, the congregation has yet to decide what will be done with the parsonage.

A regular worship service will be held at Bethany Lutheran at 10:30 a.m. that day, and the closure ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at Bethany*.

Bethany Lutheran Church Council President Will Griffin said the decision to close and merge, or close permanently, was a difficult decision to make.

“The writing’s been on the wall for a few years,” said Griffin, adding a decrease in congregation and financial concerns. Griffin said on average it costs $12,000 a month to keep the church’s doors open.

“We’re nowhere near that,” Griffin said.

After taking over council leadership in February, Griffin brought the matter up at his first meeting, and a vote by the congregation was held in March to close and merge. Griffin said had the vote went a different direction, the church could’ve made it until November before having to lock the doors permanently.

First Lutheran Church Council President Patrick Branco said his church’s council’s role was to not interfere in the process, but rather to offer support and open arms.

“It’s a very difficult process to go through,” said Branco. “It’s from the heart and from the gut having to make a decision like that with a church that’s been here through the history of Rugby. It’s difficult to get there.”

Merger committees from the two churches have yet to meet at the time of this writing to iron out details during the transition period. However committees are in the process of figuring out what can be brought over to benefit other area Lutheran churches, and contacting donors as to what should be done with items donated to the church.

The closure of the church did not escape the rumor mill. The one rumor Griffin said he heard was that rather than being gifted to Village Arts, the church had been sold to an outside source who would use it to house Somalian refugees. Branco said he heard persons thinking aloud as to what could go into the church, including Village Arts, Lutheran Social Services, or childcare in the fellowship hall.

Village Arts plans

In a statement, Village Arts Board President Bonnie Berginski said the organization’s intent for the church building is to “use it as a community arts center”. The center could offer services, such as dance, vocal, violin and guitar instruction; painting, photography and writing instruction; and theater. Village Arts would also be open to renting the center to other organizations and private parties for meetings, workshops and other events.

Berginski said the plan is to host ongoing activities throughout the year.

“While we are sad to see this historic church close, we are excited about the opportunities that this gift presents,” Berginski said. “We want to make this a space that is useful by all in the community.”

Griffin said he was “glad” Village Arts “jumped on this right away”, adding his biggest concern was the building sitting empty.

“They have a vision of what they want to do,” said Griffin.

Branco said there are two ways of looking at the transition, either some will mourn the passing of time or embrace the new future. Branco said he sees a blending of congregations of “good, faithful people” and an art center “that will serve a great number of generations.”

Church history

Bethany Lutheran was organized in 1888 by Rev. J.U. Pederson, and the church’s first building was completed in 1907.

On Jan. 20, 1947, however, that building and the contents inside it had been destroyed by fire. Construction on a new building began in June of that year, at a cost of $90,000 according to a June 28, 2013 Tribune article by then editor Chris Bieri.

The first service held in the completed building was on Sept. 11, 1949.

– Tribune Staff Report

– In the print version of the “Bethany Lutheran to close after 131 years” story, the article said that the closure ceremony would be held at 2 p.m. at First Lutheran Church. The closure ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at Bethany Lutheran Church. The Tribune regrets the error.

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