It was about 3 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2014, when Howard Coyle realized, from his window, that his beloved rural church near Langdon, was engulfed in flames.
Posted on 1/10/15
By Dee Entzi
By dawn, all that was left was the basement.
“By the time I saw the fire it was beyond saving. It must have started about an hour before because it was all on fire. There was no smoke, just flames,” said Coyle, who lives nearly five miles northwest of the church.
Cause of the fire was undetermined, but since that devastating day the 45 members of Big Pembina Lutheran Church were determined to rebuild. Eager to preserve their group identity, on Jan 17 they will dedicate their new structure on the same spot. The rebuilt church is a more modern design with fewer square feet. But it includes amenities that the previous building didn’t have- such as running water, restrooms and a kitchen. Big Pembina, which is named after the Pembina Gorge located only miles from the church, originally met in members homes back in 1885. During 2014, they were back in members’ homes while they rebuilt the church. The church that was built in 1908 had an old country charm, its welcoming exterior and tall steeple served as a home for generations of Lutherans. Losing it was like losing a family member.
“Most congregations, when something like this happens and they’re small and elderly, that’s kind of it,” said Don Swenson, pastor, shortly after the fire. “And then you’ll hear that such-and-such congregation closes. This one doesn’t; it revitalizes.”
Though the building was insured, the cost to rebuild a church suitable for the congregation’s needs with proper updates was significant. Members decided to proceed with rebuilding plans despite financial concerns, moving forward with a faith that also carried them through the last year. Jan 17 will be a day of celebrating, rather than mourning, with Terry Brandt, bishop of the Eastern North Dakota Synod preaching and dedicating the church.
“It will be a festival of remembrance and a festival of dedication to continue on in a faithfulness in word and sacrament ministry, celebrating God’s goodness and graciousness,” Swenson said. Big Pembina, part of Walhalla-Big Pembina Parish, is thankful not only to its extended church family but to the community as well for financial and emotional help in rebuilding.
“What began as a tragedy continued to evolve into determination,” Swenson said. “This is a reminder that small is beautiful and will hopefully encourage small congregations throughout the country that they can overcome obstacles and triumph in the face of hardship and desolation.”
All are welcome to attend the reopening of Big Pembina Lutheran Church on Jan. 17 with a service at 2 p.m. For more information contact Pastor Don Swenson at 701-256-5375.