After 137 years of service, Faith Lutheran Church in Inkster, N.D. is closing its doors.
The church, which is as old as the town, had been struggling with declining membership and an aging building for years. Services were put on hold in late 2019 because of low attendance and the church was forced to remain closed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the church does not have the resources or the community support needed to reopen.
On Oct. 23, the church’s members are holding a closing sale where items from the church, including pews, hymnals and the organ will be sold. The sale runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The church building and lot will be sold by sealed bids at a later date.
Church President Denise Karley estimates that the church now has less than six members, and about three that are active in the church. She believes one of the factors that led to the closing of the church was the availability of worship options in the area.
“Today, people are so much more mobile than they used to be, so it's easier to pick from a wider variety of churches. It's also easier to go online, if they want to attend church, rather than travel,” Karley said.
She said that people in Inkster often spend their Sundays in other towns with more options for services and types of churches, and those who have moved to other communities often do not want to come back to Inkster for services.
She also identified the church’s facilities as a challenge to already declining membership. The church was inaccessible, without running water or bathrooms, and the stairs provided challenges for older members of the congregation. In 2018, church members launched a Go Fund Me in an effort to raise the money to make improvements to the church, like installing plumbing and making the church accessible. These changes never happened.
Despite dwindling numbers over the last few years, Pastor Marilyn Nyberg stayed with the church until the end. She came to the church in 2002 as a lay pastor and stayed there throughout the process of attending seminary and becoming ordained.
“It’s where my heart belongs, to where I’m called,” said Nyberg.
Since 2003, Faith Lutheran Church has been a part of Turtle River Ministry with St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Honeyford and Ascension Lutheran Church in Emerado. Three churches would alternate holding services, bringing members from each congregation together at the different churches. Nyberg anticipates most of the remaining members of the church will transfer membership to St. Paul’s or Ascension.
“It’s been really fun to have the experience of everybody getting to know everybody from a different space and time, and caring and loving for each other,” said Nyberg.
Marlene Olmstead, member of Faith Lutheran Church, agreed that being a part of Turtle River Ministry added a different aspect of community to her time at Faith Lutheran.
“You get to meet new people, you make new friends, you'd have a bigger family. We'd worship at each other's places,” said Olmstead. While Olmstead has started attending a church outside of the ministry with her parents, she said she plans to attend a service at one of the remaining Turtle River Ministry churches from time to time.
Kim Yon, a member of Faith Lutheran Church and Turtle River Ministry council member, says she continued going to services at Faith Lutherand until the church closed because it was where she had gone to church her whole life, and was where her parents continued to attend.
“I was brought up in that church so it has sentimental value to me,” Yon said. She plans to continue attending services at the two remaining churches in Turtle River Ministry.
Nyberg is sad to see the church close, but acknowledges that the surrounding area has many options for those still looking for a place to worship and a community to worship with.
“The good news is that while that building will close, fortunately, God doesn't move and he still will be present in the lives of everybody involved,” Nyberg said.
Karley said a farewell service for Faith Lutheran Church will likely be held Nov. 21, but details are still being worked out. While preparing for the sale, it was discovered that the church’s heating system is in need of repair, so the service may be held at one of the other Turtle River Ministry churches.