St. James Lutheran Church: Congregation dedicates new building

The sanctuary inside the new St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop was packed with people during a dedication service Sunday afternoon.

NORTHROP — The dedication service for St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northrop took place on Sunday afternoon. About 340 congregation and community members from around the area attended the service, completely filling the new sanctuary.

The congregation lost its previous church to a devastating fire on March 30, 2016. The fire started in the sanctuary as the result of a lightning strike. Construction of the new church began in May 2017 after a ground-breaking ceremony took place. Since then, multiple crews have been working through the week to construct the church and in the meantime, many of the 225 congregation members have been attending church services at Zion Lutheran Church-Fraser.

The original church, which stood in the country, was built in 1890. The second church was built in town in 1940 where it stood for decades before the fire took it.

Three different pastors were the worship leaders for the dedication service, but many different pastors from area churches were in attendance.

Rev. David Schultz, who has been filling in as pastor at St. James for some time, was the assisting minister during the dedication service. Schultz said he had only taken part in just one dedication service a long time ago.

“They’re very rare. Unless a church is re-dedicating itself, which rarely happens, a church dedication will happen once in the lifetime of a congregation,” Schultz said.

Rev. Bob Schulze, who is Minnesota South District Executive Assistant to the President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), was present to give the sermon during the service.

“As you walk around this wonderful new place, you recognize some things, but almost everything is brand new. There’s so many new things. That’s got some good things that go along with it when you think about it… but when you dedicate a new church, you can’t help but look behind and remember the things that once were,” Schulze said.

Schulze talked about all of the memories associated with a church such as weddings, funerals, countless meetings, potlucks and gatherings.

“This isn’t the way that people usually go about building a church. Usually you outgrow a church and you make plans for what you’re going to do down the line and you raise funds for it. It’s much more orderly. This was way different. Nobody planned that on March 30, 2016, lightning would strike the old church and it would burn to the ground. Nobody thought that, that wasn’t part of the plan,” Schulze said.

Schulze talked about all of the encouragement the congregation has received and how much hope everyone has kept throughout the process.

The new church boasts several changes. A committee of congregation members has been behind the many different aspects and projects needed to design and construct the church.

While the church bell was retrieved from the fire, a crack was detected in it. However, an exact replica was created and the new bell now sits on top of a bell tower that was constructed by Wiederhoeft Welding and Machine.

A very special feature inside the new church is the addition of several unique light fixtures as well as 17 stained glass windows, made with 1890 vintage glass, that was gifted to St. James from Belleview Lutheran Church in Howard, S.D., soon after the fire. The light fixtures and several of the stained glass windows are in the sanctuary, while several others are in the fellowship hall.

About 25 people from the Belleview congregation were in attendance at the dedication service and able to see the windows that were previously in their church installed in the new sanctuary. At the end of the service, St. James congregation member, Joe Leimer, presented a gift to several of the members of the former Belleview congregation.

“This is the window that was above the door coming into Belleview, and we’re giving it back today as promised to go in your church,” Leimer said.

When the stained glass windows were removed from Belleview Lutheran Church, the arched window came with it and members of St. James promised to clean it up and repair it so that it could be put in the congregation’s new church in Howard.

The members of the former Belleview congregation were emotional to get their window back, just as the members of St. James are extremely thankful for the gift of the stained glass windows.

“Our congregation cannot say thank you enough for your kindness and generosity,” Leimer said, noting that there will be a plaque hung in the church as a reminder of the gift from Belleview.

Following the service, those present were encouraged to enjoy some refreshments in the new fellowship hall and take their time getting comfortable in the new space.

Also in attendance at Sunday’s service were two comfort dogs, Katie and Gideon, who came from Lutheran Church Charities in Fremont, Neb. Lutheran Church Charities is a volunteer organization that helps out when they’re called on. The comfort dogs were at St. James soon after the fire happened in order to offer their services to congregation members and they came back again to be a part of the special dedication service.

Bart Johnson, who has been chairman of the congregation for about five years, said that he was surprised but pleased to see the great number of people who came to the dedication service and noted that more than just congregation members were in attendance.

“The whole town has been really supportive and Zion played a huge part in keeping us afloat in between,” Johnson said.

“It’s remarkable to see how everyone came together and did their part. Everybody had a part in bringing this together. I don’t know if anyone felt like they were up to the task, but God provided for us.”