By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Talk about a team effort.
With fund raising, the use of local construction expertise and a bit of hope, faith and prayer, North Running Valley Lutheran Church has now finished the 3,400 square foot addition fellowship hall and is planning a dedication Sunday, March 19.
“We have a huge kitchen up here, and now we won’t be limited to our less than 60 people,” said Arlis Larson, president of the North Running Valley Church women’s group.
Construction on the addition started last summer.
The sanctuary at North Running Valley Church seats about 60 people, and the existing fellowship hall in the basement of the church is about 1,100 square feet.
“Two things motivated (the addition). In the last few years, we have gotten five or six new families, which added to the number of kids in Sunday school. We have quite an age range. We have a group of preschoolers. Then we have first to third graders, and we have older kids up to sixth grade. We did not have enough room to have enough teaching stations for all those people,” said Reverend Robert Schoenknecht, also known as “Pastor Bob.”
“The second thing is, we also have a significant aging population of church members … how can we make our building more accessible. We have eight or nine steps to get into the church. That’s a struggle for our 90 year olds,” the pastor noted.
The addition, built onto the back of little brick church constructed in 1905, will seat a little over 100 people.
North Running Valley is part of a three-point parish with Holden Church and Norton Church.
Solomon Plank of Colfax acted as the general contractor for the project.
The new addition covers about three times the square footage as the church itself, Plank noted.
New and old
“We’ve done a lot without destroying the look of the church,” Pastor Bob said.
From the new addition, people can enter the church on the level, turn right to go into the fellowship hall or turn left and use a ramp to get into the church.
A lift or an elevator would not have solved the Sunday school problem, Pastor Bob said.
“We came out behind the church to see where we could put it. We started putting stakes in the ground. How would it fit with the cemetery?” he said.
“And then we said, ‘is this going to be big enough.’ We said if we’re going to do this, it should be worthwhile. So we moved the stakes to make it bigger. And that’s how we ended up with this size. And it evolved from there,” Pastor Bob said.
“Once you decided what you’re going to do and how it might look, then you’ve got to decide how you’re going to pay for it or if you can pay for it,” he said.
Church members put together a capital campaign and sent out letters to current and past church members.
“People have been very supportive … it’s always a challenge and risk to borrow money, especially for smaller churches. This church had faith there would be money to build and money to make the payments,” Pastor Bob said.
“It would be worthwhile in our mission here, in the work of the church and the mission of the Gospel to make this work. And then we had the godsend of this man here (Solomon Plank) who had the expertise to make sure the project is right … he made this a beautiful building,” he said.
“This building would not be anywhere near as wonderful as it is without Solomon’s shepherding,” the pastor added.
“He went above and beyond,” Arlis Larson said.
“It was my own design on the trim. I thought it should match the existing (in the church) and yet be something different on its own. We can’t match it exactly, of course,” Plank said.
The stained glass windows on either side of the entry to the addition and in the apex of the roof outside also were due to Solomon Plank’s vision and expertise.
The windows came from St. John Lutheran Popple Creek but were originally acquired from Epiphany Lutheran in Eau Claire.
Popple Creek church was destroyed by fire several years ago, and when church members were ready to rebuild, they purchased the windows from Epiphany, which had taken the windows out of their church when the building was sold to Luther Hospital.
Epiphany had hoped to build a new church and use the windows but ran into financial problems, Pastor Bob said.
Popple Creek church could not use all of the windows, and Solomon Plank selected three of them that would work for North Running Valley.
The stained glass windows in the North Running Valley fellowship hall depict “suffer the little children to come unto me” and “the Good Shepherd.”
The stained glass window outside lights up at night.
“I was trying to find a place to use (the arch window) on the inside, but there just wasn’t enough height to use it, so we put it out there,” Solomon said.
Everybody who worked on the addition of the fellowship hall had ties to the community in some way, noted church member Eric Larson, who also is a member of the church council.
“A couple of other features that were not part of the original plan is a camera at the front of the church so you can project onto the television screen in here. And there’s a DVR so any service can be recorded,” Pastor Bob said.
The fellowship hall also has air conditioning, he noted.
“So many times at a wedding or a funeral, the ladies are in the kitchen preparing a meal, so they are not able to be (at the service). But now we’ve got two T.V.s that they can still hear and see what is going on,” Eric Larson said.
The television screens also will be helpful for overflow crowds when there is not enough room in the sanctuary to seat everyone.
The fellowship hall has an enhanced speaker system as well.
“We were able to add quite a bit with the money that we saved (using local contractors),” Plank said.
“In this day and age, young people use (the Internet). They don’t get out the yellow pages. They’ll check out online who has what and when the church services are,” Pastor Bob said.
“We have some young families who joined our church, partly because of the Sunday school. Okay. So we have them. Now we’ve got to keep them. And we were not going to keep them with the dungeon,” Arlis Larson said with a laugh, referring to the basement of North Running Valley Church.
In all seriousness, the basement does require using steps to get down into it, and the space is limited for both accommodating people to sit at tables and for people working in the kitchen, she said.
“All of our older people now come in this door (of the fellowship hall), and go up the rump. That way they are not struggling with the front steep steps,” Pastor Bob said.
“When there’s a funeral, with the steps, the undertaker can’t do it himself. You always had to make sure someone was here. Now they can come and do it on their own. Carrying a casket up and down the stairs is not all that easy,” Eric Larson said.
“This is a church built on many generations. We wanted to do something they would be proud of and show that we are putting in the same kind of work as they did so the church can continue,” Pastor Bob said.
“I think we’ve melded together. Yes, you can tell it has been added onto. But it looks like it belongs,” Arlis Larson said.
“One of the key issues was that the roof line make an extension of the church so it doesn’t look like a pole shed added to the back,” Pastor Bob said.
Sunday, March 19, is a joint service of the Colfax Rural Lutheran Parish at North Running Valley.
Bishop Rick Hoyme of the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin will be conducting the service, and then following the church service, the fellowship hall will be blessed and dedicated, with a luncheon to follow.
North Running Valley Church is planning to have enough food for 200 people.
“Everybody is welcome, so if they want to see what we’ve done, come,” Arlis Larson said.
The worship service on Sunday begins at 10:30 a.m.
North Running Valley Church is located northeast of Colfax on county Highway A. Take state Highway 40 east out of Colfax and then turn north on Highway A.
Two churches are located almost directly across the road from each other. The North Running Valley Church that is part of the Colfax Rural Lutheran Parish is on the west/left side of the road.