Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A shuttered church March 26, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Church in West Concord, close-up


EVERY TIME I SEE an aged church like this shuttered, I am saddened.

Part of that discontent stems from the loss of the old wood-frame church I attended while growing up. It was replaced in the early 1970s by a brick building on the edge of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota.

The “new” church is more practical with no steep steps, everything on one level and more usable space. But it lacks the character of an ornate altar, a balcony, a pulpit looming above the congregation, aged pews, the history of generations worshiping under a roof raised by great grandparents.

Mostly, it lacks memories—of tinseled towering evergreens, singing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” every Easter, sweeping snow from overboots, men’s hats pegged on hooks in the entry, lining up on the basement steps on Christmas Eve, unwrapping wax paper wrapped sandwiches on the side church steps during Vacation Bible School, kneeling before the congregation in my white dress and white shoes for a blessing on my Confirmation Day…


Church in West Concord, minus steeple


What memories does this former church in West Concord hold? And why is it no longer a house of worship? Did membership decline/grow to the point that the doors were closed? Did upkeep and maintenance costs become unaffordable?

It appears the church has been repurposed as a home or perhaps apartments. Just like St. John’s Lutheran back in my hometown. That’s a better option than the alternative of a final amen.


Check back next week for a series of stories about the brick building on the right in these two photos. It’s West Concord’s treasure.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


29 Responses to “A shuttered church”

  1. I would love to live in an old church – though my mother would say that was sacrilege. c

  2. I have to wait a WEEK. Wow what a beautiful structure.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    Last month we received news that our church, Saint Mary’s in Geneva, will be closed. The church is every bit of what you described, a hundred year old white clapboard structure that rises above the pines, set among fields of corn and beans.

    To be honest, I detest most modern church architecture. Much of it reflects changes in the theology that embraces modernism without fully understanding the implications. [Sorry to go off on a rant here].

    • I am sorry to hear this, Greg. What are the plans for the Saint Mary’s church building? Where will you worship?

      I, too, feel more at home in an old church. There’s something about aged pews and stained glass windows and wood floors and church spires that comforts me and connects me to the faith of my forefathers. The church I attend, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, is relatively new, if you term a church constructed in the 90s as “new.” Stunning stained glass windows from the old church were built into the new one and are significant focal points in the sanctuary, narthex and fellowship hall. I am grateful for the deep appreciation for history held by my congregation.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        Saint Mary’s will be preserved and used for weddings and funerals.

        While I generally detest the design of most churches built after 1950, I admire how some new churches capture the essence of traditional architecture with new materials and a more modern design. It can be done and it can be done beautifully.

        I will summarize my opinions of modern church architecture with this short conversation.

        “Hey honey, pull in over there, I need to use the ATM.”

        “Uh, that’s not a bank, it’s a church.”

      • I am thrilled to hear that Saint Mary’s will be preserved. Excellent.

        Your two-line story makes your point in a way we can all understand. Thank you.

  4. Expectational Says:

    It is so very humbling to see a church like this closed. From the pictures I can tell that the building was constructed to give glory to God and with great care and sacrifice. Thousands of churches have closed across America in the last decade. This is a powerful reminder that, while church buildings are important, the most important part of any church is its people and that God works his wonders often in mysterious ways.

  5. What a lovely old structure. Sad that is is in disrepair. Looks like it used to have a large stained glass. Maybe someday it will be fixed up if it is indeed now a home. At least it hasn’t been torn down.

  6. Beautiful Church – brings back memories of childhood for me too 🙂 The church my grandfather helped build is like this one and it was torn down a few years back. At least my grandfather and grandmother got to renew their vows there for the 65th Wedding Anniversary as well as have their funeral services in that church before it was torn down. I have the memories. Take Care.

  7. Jackie Says:

    Love this Church and it saddens me as well to see them declining. My mom tells me this is the “old Baptist Church” that she sometimes attended, but only when the Preacher (who lived on a neighboring farm) would pick them up for Sunday school and take them along. My mom’s family otherwise did not attend church (which make me sad to know). I’m learning alot about my mom through your blog, thanks Audrey.

  8. norma Says:

    I understand your feelings about old church buildings. I was raised to believe that the church is the people. The first century Christians met in homes, according to scripture. Where the people are is where the church is.

  9. Beth Ann Says:

    I love old church buildings as well but so many of them are being abandoned or repurposed, aren’t they? There is one in Mooresville, NC that is now a Mexican restaurant which is a little odd but it somehow works.

  10. Thank you for “beautiful buildings- beautiful people” many are shuttered and or re-purposed. The apparent problem is the few con artists pretending to be ministers (or worse). Sad this exists. like a poorly trained and poorly skilled building contractor or a Police Officer caught committing crime, a Politician that covers how funds arrive—
    I’ve seen a couple church buildings that became Camp Bow Wow god or dog? people are choosing. a good dog is a treasure.

  11. Mel Moreland Says:

    I grew up in this old Baptist church. I have many many memories. They built a new church building on the outskirts of town. The basement became moldy to a point of unreasonable repair costs. Thus the reason for the move.

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