Posted 7/26/16 (Tue)
By Kevin Killough
The groundbreaking on a new home for Zion Free Lutheran Church could be as little as a month away, said Rev. Richard Carr.
The congregation’s current home reached the point it’s no longer practical or efficient to renovate, which isn’t surprising for a building that is a century old.
“It’s outlived its life,” Carr said.
Century of growth
The Zion church is no stranger to renovations.
The original church was built to house a congregation that began meeting in 1903 in John Neset’s house.
By 1915, a building committee was formed to find a way to build the Zion congregation a church large enough to suit its needs. It took them a year to complete the project.
This was back in the day when concrete was mixed by hand and carried by wheelbarrow.
“It worked at the time, but as the needs of the congregation grew, so did its needs,” Carr said.
When severe drought and a deadly outbreak of Spanish Influenza swept through the region the following year, Tiogans were happy to have a new church in which to pray.
The first renovations began during WWII with a remodeling of the basement. In 1949, Zion expanded the basement and renovated other parts of the church.
Then came the first oil boom and the congregation grew by a quick, sudden leap.
In 1957, Zion completed a major expansion that added the Sunday school rooms and youth center.
The last expansion, aside from aesthetic projects through the years, came in 1969 when the congregation added a narthex and an inside stairway to the sanctuary.
Zion managed to utilize its current home through the latest boom, when building costs skyrocketed and left the church without options. The slowdown has brought costs down, but not the congregation’s needs.
The current building is hugely expensive to cool and heat, circuit breakers flip anytime they have lots of appliances going for a big event, and the stairways are not navigable for the elderly or small children.
Carr said the inaccessibility of the building is an especially big concern. Members of Zion who have been going to the church for their whole lives, giving regularly to it, are now unable to go because they can’t use the stairs.
They installed a chair lift, which Carr said provides a very slow and uncomfortable ride up and down the stairs. And if they have to use the restroom, it’s another slow trip down and back up again.
Some of the congregation’s eldest members have simply stopped coming.
“You feel really bad about that,” he said.
Renovate or new
The slowdown has brought labor and material costs back down to earth, but Carr said further renovations of the structure would save them little.
Since such construction would fall under federal guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act, they would have to install elevator shafts, and widen hallways and doorways.
And there is the problem with parking. At one point, the church purchased a neighboring parcel for additional parking, but that small lot still spills over throughout the neighborhood every Sunday.
“We want to be good stewards of our money, and even if we spent $3 million to fix it up, we’d still be land locked,” Carr said.
“There’s just not enough space.”
The North family donated 8.5 acres for a new church right across from the hospital on North Main Street.
Carr said estimates for the new building are about $3.6 million, depending on what the final designs contain.
They have raised about a third of that total so far.
Current plans for the new building include a large fellowship hall and a youth center built around a large octagonal sanctuary that will seat up to 400 people.
The actual square footage is about one-third the current square footage, but much of the current building’s space is wasted for stairs and other areas that can’t be used practically.
The new, modern structure will make use of every square foot more efficiently, and in the process cut down on utility bills by 25 percent.
“Long-term-wise, it’s a whole lot more efficient” than trying to renovate a century-old structure, Carr said.
There is the possibility funds will not cover the entire plan, in which case the fellowship hall and youth center could be cut from the plans.
Zion will then use the current location for these functions.
The hope is they will reach their goals and bring the full plans to fruition, which will not only serve as a new home for Zion but a space for the community as well.
And as momentum builds, Carr said he’s seeing a lot more interest.
“People are starting to get excited about it,” he said.
For more information on the new construction and how to donate, see tinyurl.com/hcgosxz.
Donations may be made through First International Bank and Trust in Williston. Donors can also send checks to Box 548, Tioga, ND 58852. Checks should be made to Zion Lutheran Church.