FAIRMONT - Just below the marker for 1528 Trees Trailer Court on Albion Avenue hangs a new sign that reads "Future home of Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church."
"We waited a long time for that," said Jim Johnson, church chairman.
He joined the church about 30 years ago when he first moved to Fairmont, and the quest to find property for a new building has been ongoing for much of that time.
The church's current home is on First Street near Veterans Park.
"It's a beautiful building," Johnson said, "... but it's old."
Size is part of the issue, though the sanctuary is large enough to hold all its members and visitors, even on holidays when space gets tight.
The church, which belongs to the Wisconsin Synod, has 124 members, with 13 new members last year alone. With the majority of churches across the nation losing numbers, Shepherd of the Lakes' growth is significant.
"People ask me what our church is all about, and we believe that the Bible is truth, all the way through, and our ministry hinges on that," Johnson said.
Their course for new members is 12 weeks, giving participants an overview of the Bible and the church's doctrine.
"There are no questions we don't talk about here," said Pastor Peter Hagen.
On average, about 60 people attend each week.
"As far as churches go, 50 percent attendance is in good shape, though obviously we're all shooting for 100 percent," Pastor Hagen said.
Sunday School classes are all well attended, which is good but problematic in terms of the building. The sanctuary takes up the first floor, and an open basement with a full dining room occupies the basement. That leaves no space for classrooms or an office. Visiting after sermons on Sunday is often done on the front lawn of the church, since there's no space indoors to chat.
But the biggest downfall of the building is accessibility, according to Johnson. Steps lead up to the church, and more steps are required to get to the bathrooms.
"The new church will be all on one level," Johnson said, likely with two wings. On one side will be a larger sanctuary with better acoustics for singing, and the Sunday school classes and office space will be on the other side.
The building will also be much less ornate than the one Shepherd of the Lakes currently calls home.
"The day of the cathedral-type building is gone," he said.
"At the same time," added Pastor Hagen, "we want a building that people can recognize is a church."
The goal is to break ground in three to five years, but in the meantime, Shepherd of the Lakes congregation is the landlord to the trailer court and a rental house that sits on their newly purchased property.
In addition to purchasing land this month, Shepherd of the Lakes is also installing its new pastor on Sunday. The Hagens moved to Fairmont from Ottawa, Ontario. Pastor Hagen's first sermon will be July 21.