Jason Hommes | Staff Writer
Alvord’s only church is gearing up to celebrate its 125th anniversary next month. Christ Lutheran Church got its start in the late 1800s and officially became a church in 1893, with the church building being constructed late that year and completed by November. Throughout the last 125 years, the church has seen a number of changes, including new pastors as well as additions and restorations to the actual building itself.
Today, as members of the congregation look back on the last 125 years, they’re also keeping their eyes fixed on the future. “We’ve had our fair share of struggles over the years but we’re still very hopeful for the future,” said Irene Thielvoldt, a member of Christ Lutheran since 1972 who also currently serves as president of the church council. “I became involved in this church when I got married. My family moved to town back in 1963 and we had been going to a Presbyterian church in George. I met my husband here and when we got married we decided to start going to Christ Lutheran because we only lived a couple blocks from here. After I got married I went through some catechism classes and became a member of this church, which was in 1972. And my husband, Dennis, and his family have always been members.”
Thielvoldt addressed some of the struggles the church has faced over the years, including its current need to find a new pastor. “Our minister left in June but we’ve been lucky to work with the Augustana seminary out of Sioux Falls, and they’ve helped provide us with speakers. But we are still hoping to hire a part-time pastor. The difficult thing is that we just can’t do 40 hours a week.”
The church is hoping to hire a pastor to work 20 hours a week but, in the meantime, the congregation is still pressing forward. “The congregation size has fluctuated over the years due to people relocating. Some of the biggest congregations we had were in the 1980s because there were more young families in town at that time, and more Lutherans as well,” said Thielvoldt. “But we think it’s very important to celebrate these milestones.”
Christ Lutheran Church currently has about 65 families that are members, down from a peak of over 100 families in the 1980s. Thielvoldt said she believes the decrease in numbers is something a lot of small churches in small communities have to deal with.
“Alvord is kind of a ‘bedroom community’ in the sense that there are people who live here, but during the day many of them work outside of town, and so we have seen people either relocate or they’ll simply go to a different church outside of town,” explained Thielvoldt. “People used to only go to places like Sioux Falls once every two months or a few times a year, but nowadays it’s nothing for me to go two or three times a week. So when you have those outlets and those other places to go, you tend to feel that a bit, and when you’re a small community and a small church I think you notice it a little more quickly.”
When Thielvoldt first moved to Alvord, Christ Lutheran was one of three churches in town, along with a Reformed church and a Catholic church. She said the Reformed church closed in the late 1960s while the Catholic church held on until about eight to 10 years ago.
“There were times where we had some scares, too, especially if a minister left or something like that, and we’d think ‘Are we going to be able to keep going’?” explained Thielvoldt. “And even though the other churches in town closed, there were people that started going to Reformed or Catholic churches in other communities. But our perseverance prevailed and we’re going to continue pushing with that same initiative and continue to believe that things will work out.”
While she acknowledged the church’s struggles and smaller congregation, Thielvoldt also highlighted plenty of positives. “When the church was first formed, women were not involved in leadership roles at all but that’s changed today. And the people who are part of the church today are just as giving and committed as our members have always been. I love everyone who comes to church and I enjoy the music a lot as well. We’ve all got our eyes to the future and we’re just always hoping for the best. And, by the grace of God, we’re going to keep going.”
The building itself has seen upgraded over the years and will soon see another small facelift. Thielvoldt noted that handicap parking was added in the last 25 years as well as lift chairs for people who can’t get up the steps very easily. “We’ve done some things to make our church more accessible to people and to make it work better.”
She said the church will also be putting new shingles on the roof, a project that has been needed for some time. They’ll also be doing some cleaning on the inside of the church ahead of the 125th anniversary celebration. “We’re not having a huge celebration but it’s coming along pretty well,” said Thielvoldt. “We’ve had a lot of people let us know they’re coming, or tell us of other people who will be coming, and we’re hoping a lot of previous members that have moved will come back and we can renew old friendships and look back on memories together and just have a good time remembering what the church is.”
Christ Lutheran Church’s 125th anniversary celebration is set for Sept. 16. The day will consist of a church service at 10:30 and a catered meal at noon, followed by fellowship throughout the afternoon. All family members and friends are welcome to attend; the church simply requests that guests RSVP for the meal by Sept. 1.