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Building a church one prayer at a time

An all volunteer team is constructing a $450,000 facility for Grace Lutheran Church, 409 West Willow St. Bear Creek.

Contractor for the project is Laborers For Christ, which uses skilled volunteers from all over the country.

Congregation members and other volunteers are also helping with the project.

Without the help of volunteers, the project would have easily have cost $650,000, according to Rick Gabrielson, church council president.

The building began a few weeks ago and should be completed by Labor Day, according to Project Manager Bob Natzke, age 75, of Wayside, Wis.

“We don’t do it for the money – it’s for the love of spreading the Gospel,” Natzke said.

The workers are paid minimum wage, basically to make it a legal contract, he explained.

For the past 16 years, Natzke has supervised over 20 projects for Laborers, from California to Florida, from New Orleans, LA, to Grand Forks, ND.

His job is to pick the Laborers For Christ crew, assign jobs to all the volunteers, and to supervise the project.

Each crew member has a specific skill. The seven crew members serving in Bear Creek are all retired and travel with their wives, who also help with the project.

Their motor homes are set up next to the work site.

“To the person, the Laborers have that heart to serve,” Natzke said. “They are here to assist the congregation in building this church.”

“We’re doing better than we ever expected,” Gabrielson said. “The Laborers are easy to work with and they are the nicest people I have ever met.”

“When they leave, it will be a sad day for all of us in this parish,” he added. “But we’ve worked on this project forever, so it will be a relief when it is finished.”

Reasons for building

Grace Lutheran Congregation was organized April 6, 1924, and was united with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod on April 16, 1925. Services were first held in member homes and later at the local Methodist Church.

By 1927, the group purchased the “Old Dane Church” for $400 and moved it from the town of Deer Creek to the present site on land donated by Fred Reinke in Bear Creek. The dedication service was held July 1, 1928.

Theodore Reinke donated land in 1947, allowing the church to expand. The updated facility was dedicated Oct. 24, 1948.

A greeting area was added and the basement was updated in 1068.

The Grace Lutheran Congregation has been working on the current building project for several years. They began fund raising about 10 years ago by holding brat fries and working at Green Bay Packers games.

They had considered remodeling the old building, but ran into several obstacles. In the first place, the church was too close to the highway.

“If we were going to make any changes to the structure, we would need to tear off the front,” said Lois Probst, church treasurer.

The congregation determined that the building is falling apart, it is not handicap accessible, and it would be too costly to repair and update. Besides, if the church were to be renovated, “We would still have an old building,” Probst said.

The project began under Daryl Henrickson, who served as church council president from 2002-2005, according to Probst.

“He saw that the need was there,” she said.

Prior to beginning the project, the congregation contacted Laborers For Christ about seven years ago.

Ground was broke on Oct. 4, 2011, and the foundation was laid in preparation for the 2012 project.

When completed, the new construction will be used as a worship facility, but plans are for it to become the congregation’s fellowship hall. The building will have a seating capacity for 112, which is about the same size as the current structure.

The congregation plans to eventually build a church, for which they are already begun fundraising.

Laborers For Christ

The nonprofit service organization for Lutheran Missouri Synod began in 1970 in Richfield, UT. Employing retirees, Laborers For Christ combines church-related construction with spiritual renewal.

Members of this ministry bring experience and expert knowledge in construction, typically cutting the project management costs 10 percent to 30 percent.

Laborers For Christ operates under the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF), headquartered in St. Louis, MO. Incorporated in 1978, the mission of the LCEF is to facilitate sharing of the Gospel through investments, loans and ministry-support services.

“Laborers has given our retirement years meaning and purpose,” said Marcia Wilson, a volunteer from Pueblo, CO. “It takes whoever you are and works with you. Nothing is expected of you that you cannot give.”

“I love this organization,” said Bob Natzke’s wife, Flo. “It takes a lot of the fear out of retirement.”

“We come to help a congregation build their church – we don’t do it for them,” Wilson said. “It’s such a fulfilling thing. It builds you up from the inside.”

“The nature of the job is being a servant and I don’t think anyone would join it without a servant’s heart,” she added.

Wilson has been supporting her husband on the job for the past seven years. Prior to that, she worked with a hammer and nails on the projects for seven years.

Her days are still very busy. She gets her husband off to work by 7 a.m. The ladies take turns leading morning devotions at 9 a.m. and they next prepare a snack for their daily “Attitude Adjustment” time following prayers and devotions.

Next, they do chores around the church, like mowing the grass and cleaning up the area. Then they volunteer at a local thrift store and at other locations in the area; they also teach Vacation Bible School classes.

“It’s amazing how short your day is,” Wilson said.

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