By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — If the weather cooperates and all goes according to plan, the congregation at St. John Lutheran Popple Creek will be worshipping in their new church by Thanksgiving.
Construction on the new church about ten miles north of Colfax on county Highway W in the Town of Grant officially started August 6.
“We’re happy to see construction is starting. We’ll be happy to have a new energy-efficient, handicapped-accessible church,” said Bruce Winget, president of the church council.
The new church will include a steeple and a round window reminiscent of the old church that burned down in January.
At some time after 9 p.m. on Sunday, January 12, residents in the area heard the sound of an explosion.
According to a news release from the Colfax Fire Department, firefighters were paged to a fully-involved structure fire at the church at 9:41 p.m.
The church burned to the ground, and the cause of the fire was later determined to be a gas leak.
On the day of the construction ground-breaking, several members of the congregation said they were thankful the explosion occurred at night and not at 11 a.m. Sunday morning when the congregation would have been worshipping at the church — or not when several members of the congregation were cleaning or not when Winget had stopped in to check on the church.
In March, the Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development committee recommended that the county board approve a rezone to A3 for an additional acre-and-a-half for Popple Creek church to allow the congregation to rebuild.
The Dunn County Board subsequently approved the rezone to allow the church to have a three-acre site.
Brian and Peggy Johnson, members of the St. John Lutheran Popple Creek congregation, donated the additional land.
The new 4,200 square-foot church will be located several hundred feet north of the old church and farther back off the road.
“We’ll actually have a parking lot. We were lucky all those years that there were no accidents,” Winget said, referring to people parking along the road for church services.
Mike Adair, president of Legacy Services Corporation, said the building would be enclosed by October and that construction crews could then begin finishing off the interior.
“We are going to build a beautiful church everyone will be proud of … it’s very exciting to start,” Adair said, noting that Legacy Services has been specializing in churches for more than a decade.
Tim Peterson of Menomonie, Peterson Design Services, designed the new church.
“I have enjoyed working with the church council … the view is a nice setting. The church (will be) a little higher now,” said Peterson, who also specializes in churches.
Word of God
John Toppe, the pastor at St. John Lutheran Popple Creek, noted that the congregation held a ground-breaking ceremony a few weeks ago.
Right after the church burned down, the congregation did not know if they would build another church, he said.
“The power is not in the building or even in the people but in the word of God … we see His power in our own weaknesses … a new church is a blessing from God,” Reverend Toppe said.
Dave Buchner, also a member of the church council, noted that residents in the Colfax area have been very supportive in a variety of ways, including monetary contributions.
“We received some contributions from people we’ve never heard of,” he said.
“We lost our old church, but we will build some new memories,” Winget said.
“We hope to be in by Thanksgiving, but by Christmas for sure,” he said.
Since shortly after the fire in January, the St. John Lutheran congregation has been worshipping at Holden Lutheran Church just north of Colfax on county Highway M.
The old church at St. John Lutheran Popple Creek would have turned 100 years old next year in 2014.
According to a history of the church included in a cookbook published by St. John Lutheran, the first service was held in 1884, and services were held in the homes of church members for 15 years after that.
From 1899 to 1914, church services were held in the Popple Creek school house.
In 1913, the congregation decided to build a church, and Carl Abraham, Lewis Dietsche and Gust Sonnenberg were appointed to the building committee. Members of the congregation and non-members, neighbors, and village businessmen of Colfax donated money to build the church. A total of $3,268 was raised, and the church was completed on October 1, 1914.
The St. John Lutheran Ladies Aid was started in 1914. On December 17, 1919, the congregation adopted a constitution.