By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Exactly one year to the day after the St. John Lutheran Popple Creek Church burned down, the congregation held the very first service in their new church.
Built somewhat to the north of where the old church stood, the new church at Popple Creek was filled with parishioners who were thankful to be back in their own church.
For the past year, the Popple Creek congregation has been holding worship services at Holden Lutheran Church on County Highway M a few miles north of Colfax.
Popple Creek is about ten miles north of Colfax on County Highway W.
“It is appropriate to give thanks for the previous church, for what God did for us there in that church,” said Rev. John Toppe in his opening remarks for the church service.
The hymnal, Pastor Toppe noted, has a service for the planned closing of the church, but the fire that destroyed the old Popple Creek church was very much not planned.
The old Popple Creek church would have celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013.
“We say farewell to what once was, and we give thanks for what we now have,” Pastor Toppe said.
The new church is built to be energy efficient and all one level, with the sanctuary to the west and a church fellowship hall to the east.
The front of the new church that faces the road is reminiscent of the old church with a peaked roof and a cross on the top of the peak.
“It looks ‘right’ when you come across the bridge from the south to see the church there again where there’s supposed to be a church,” said Bruce Winget, president of the Popple Creek congregation.
“With the trees there, the bridge is far enough away, that it looks like the old church,” he noted.
The congregation at Popple Creek had hoped to be worshipping in their new church by Christmas, but construction took a bit longer than they had anticipated.
“It took a year, but it was better to get everything right. It always takes longer than you figured,” Winget said.
If the congregation could not have their first church service at Christmas, then January 12 was another significant date, since the old church had burned down exactly one year ago on that Sunday, he said.
The stained glass fanlight at the entrance to the sanctuary and the stained glass panels behind the altar at the front of the church came from Epiphany Lutheran Church in Eau Claire.
Epiphany Church was where Luther Hospital is now located. The hospital bought the church and tore it down. Epiphany Lutheran built a new school nearby and had hoped to build a new church, but it never quite worked out. Epiphany eventually sold the school to the school district and merged with another congregation, Winget explained.
All of the stained glass windows from the church in Eau Claire were put into storage, he said.
The paneled stained glass at the front of the church behind the altar had been installed at the school in a commons area, Winget said.
In addition to the stained glass, Epiphany also donated the baptismal font, the lectern and the organ, he noted.
“They were glad to see those things being used. They had to abandon their plan for a new church, and this is a way for part of their church to go on,” Winget said.
Winget noted that his grandmother grew up across the road to the west from the church, and that when his grandfather, who lived east of the church, went courting, he had to ford the river not far from the church to get there with the horse and buggy.
“That was a few years back. I think they only dated about as far as a horse could travel back in those days,” he said.
Popple Creek Church is planning a dedication service and an open house for the public this spring.
“I know there are a lot of people who want to come and see the new church, and spring will be a good time, once we get the parking lot completely finished and get some grass seeded,” Winget said.