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Published July 21 2013

Rural North Dakota church to close after 133 years

CHRISTINE, N.D. – About 30 minutes south of Fargo-Moorhead, just off Interstate 29, across a small bridge and situated along a dirt road, is a piece of local history that has nearly finished writing its final chapter.

South Pleasant Lutheran Church, a small, white building with no running water and two outhouses still standing behind it, held a parish-wide farewell service Sunday, and in a few weeks will close its doors for good after 133 years of worship.

Janie Johnson, one of the church’s members who attended Sunday’s service, said the church is closing because its congregation was dwindling in numbers, and those that remained were getting older.

After 133 years, “it was just time,” she said.

In all of those years, the church was the site of roughly 600 baptisms, 400 confirmations, 110 marriages and 260 funerals, according to a book about the church’s history compiled by its members.

And on Sunday, all of those events and all of those memories played an important role in the farewell service, one of the last to be held in the building.

The Rev. Bill Rindy, bishop of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, led the worship service, which also included the sharing of memories by members of the Christine, Hickson and Walcott congregations.

All four churches are congregations of the Shepherd of the Prairie Lutheran Parish.

During Sunday’s service, Rindy referenced the church’s age several times.

“This is a place like the way it used to be,” he told the congregation. “I hope that you’ve had some good memories here.”

After the service, as everyone filed down the church’s narrow steps into the basement to enjoy Subway sandwiches, cake and lemonade, Anders Thiseth and his wife, Carol, reflected on the church’s few remaining weeks.

“It’s hard, in a way,” said Thiseth, who has been a member of the church ever since he was confirmed there in 1947. “There have been so few members, so it’s hard to keep going. There had to be something done.

“I have quite a few memories here,” he said.

“All our kids were baptized here, our grandkids,” Carol Thiseth said. “It’s sad.”

The church’s final service is set for 9 a.m. on Aug. 18. New York native and pastor Ron Lande, who served the South Pleasant, Hickson and Christine churches from 1967-98, will officiate the service.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535