After 107 years of ministry in Minot, Augustana Lutheran Church has initiated a merger with Christ Lutheran.
Carter Matson of Glenburn, president of the Augustana church council, said the congregation voted Sunday to merge after contemplating its options following the 2011 flood. Augustana, located on University Avenue near Minot State University, was hard hit by the disaster.
Matson said Sunday's vote was a difficult one for a congregation that has struggled with flood recovery for two years.
Augustana Lutheran Church, shown Wednesday in northwest Minot, remains in need of renovation, but the congregation decided Sunday to move on and merge with Christ Lutheran.
Members of the Augustana Church Council gather Wednesday to discuss the merger that the congregation voted Sunday to pursue. From left are (back) Brenda Hustad, the Rev. Michon Weingartner, council president Carter Matson, Dave Norton, Terry Quinlen, (front) Brenden Matson, Mark Schnabel, Jeff Bliss, Erika Kelly and Emily Schaefer.
"It's been emotionally taxing," he said. "The one bright spot is that we are closer to coming to a conclusion."
Completion of the merger is expected by early summer. Augustana will have a final worship service in the church to commemorate the change when that time comes.
In the meantime, Augustana will continue to hold worship services at Minot State University. Church offices are located in Bread of Life Lutheran Church. The church is pastored by the Rev. Michon Weingartner, who will remain with the congregation until the merger is complete.
Founded in 1906, Augustana is one of six churches in Minot associated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Matson said Augustana was drawn to Christ Lutheran because of their shared flood experiences and northwest Minot location.
"That certainly gave us some positive energy," Verla Rostad, council president at Christ Lutheran, said of Augustana's decision.
Although Christ Lutheran has restored enough of its flood-damaged building to resume worship there, much work remains to be done.
At the Christ Lutheran's Jan. 27 annual meeting, its architect unveiled a renovation plan for the existing building with an addition for a kitchen and dining area. The church has a capital drive fund in place to raise money toward the $3 million project.
Rostad said the church is receiving help from the Western Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through its Souris River Flood of Hope fund and from congregation members and friends. The fund drive runs until March 3. The congregation meets March 10 to finalize a decision on whether to proceed.
An ELCA Mission Builders team is prepared to assist with construction this summer. The involvement of Mission Builders would mean a huge cost savings, particularly since the group has waived its usual square-foot fee for churches damaged by the Souris River flood in 2011, Rostad said. Mission Builders also has helped Peace Lutheran in Burlington with a post-flood rebuilding project.
Christ Lutheran's building was constructed in 1954 with additions in 1960 and 1988.
Augustana's building was constructed in 1958. The original building is now vacant and under different ownership, but it still stands at the corner of Fourth Avenue and North Broadway.
Matson said Augustana has no plan yet for its building. A sale is possible. However, given the short time frame until the merger, it is more likely that the building will transfer to Christ Lutheran, which could decide to sell it, he said.
Augustana's building was cleaned following the flood with the help of many volunteers. Asbestos has been removed, but minimal reconstruction has been done. The congregation used the sanctuary for services last summer.
Changing demographics have led to a smaller, older congregation than when the church building was constructed, Matson said. For that reason, the congregation felt drawn toward a merger rather than rebuilding. The congregation was reluctant to take on debt, Matson said.
"We looked at the cost to totally rebuild, and we looked at partial renovation. The costs were high enough that we felt it wasn't something that we could handle or at least enough of us were willing to handle," he said. "The cost dictated that it maybe was wise for us to close and become part of another congregation."
Not all Augustana members may choose to join Christ Lutheran after the merger of the two entities, but Rostad said Christ Lutheran has facility capacity to bring in the second congregation.
Christ Lutheran has 431 households, while Augustana had about 154 households before the flood.