It’s a sad time for the members of the Zion Lutheran Church in LeRoy.
The church will be closing its doors this fall, after 100 years of servicing the area.
“We will be having a closing service on October 2 at 2 p.m.,” said Brenda Paetsch, a member of the church. “Past members and anyone interested can come to the church and socialize afterwards.”
The closing service will be similar to a regular service, but after it, many items of significance will be carried out of the church.
“The idea is the church is its people, so it continues through its people,” said Paetsch.
She explained they will still be part of the church even if there is no building.
The church was started by H.L. Urness, who was sent to the region by the United Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1908 to see if there was interest in the region for a Lutheran Church.
“On June 6, 1910, the founding meeting was held for Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of LeRoy,” said Paetsch.
“The Lutheran congregation did not erect a building until 1917-1918. Before that time worship services were conducted in homes and country schools. When the church was built, it was located on land donated by Charles Thoen.”
At the beginning, all church services were conducted in Norwegian.
“Council minutes and congregational records were kept in English for the first time in 1920,” said Paetsch.
Members were expected to donate a set amount when the church started. Then in 1921, the rate increased — from $1.50 to $10 for single men and $5 to $25 for married men.
The church was relocated from outside of the town limits to within the town in 1928.
“The old site of the church is presently occupied by Paul and Sabrina Bendel,” said Paetsch.
The church may have started out as a Norwegian church, but the ethnic dynamic shifted in 1949, when many German families moved into the area from Jansen, Esk and Dafoe. After this shift, the congregation changed the name of the church to Zion Lutheran Church.
The church went through many changes after the name change, including a new building in 1961.
“Philip and Ralph Hansen were appointed to supervise the construction of the new building,” said Paetsch. “Locals will find this interesting as they were a couple of bachelors who lived in LeRoy their entire lives.”
The church also produced two feminist trailblazers in the area.
“In 1945 the first women, Knute Knudsen, was elected to the church council,” said Paetsch. “Her daughter was commissioned as a missionary to Africa in 1954.”
Finances for the church were always challenging. In the 1930s the minister’s salary dropped due to lack of funds,
“In 1934, Mrs. Sondrall gave $400 to Zion Congregation from the estate of her late husband, Lars Sondrall,” said Paetsch. “This gift was used to help pay the minister’s salary for three years and to finance some property improvements on the church building.”
Finances were fairly stable until the 1970s when they began to decline which eventually contributed to the church closing.
“Finances, aging and declining membership continued to be a concern,” said Paetsch. “However the church survived another 40 years after concerns began, a testament to the strength and character of its members. However in 2011, with a membership of only 11, we felt no longer able to carry on.”
A small, older congregation also added to the stress of keeping the church open.
“There are no younger members coming in which makes it too difficult to continue,” said Paetsch.
The other problem the church faced was attracting a minister to stay in LeRoy. In 1967, they held a meeting to discuss joining the Jansen Parish.
The Wynyard Lutheran Church also joined with Jansen and LeRoy two years ago. All three churches shared one minister, explained Paetsch.
“Once our church is closed, our memberships will be transferred to the Jansen church,” said Paetsch.
She explained it doesn’t just seem to be the Lutheran church that is suffering in the town.
“The United Church closed down and the Catholic one is struggling,” said Paetsch. “Young people don’t seem to go to church like they used to.”
The church site has been sold to the Town of LeRoy and the church has been donating items to different organizations.
“A lot of stuff, including the pulpit and stereo system, is going to a new Bible camp near Estevan,” said Paetsch.
They are also donating many items to the museum in LeRoy.
“They are taking a lot — the hymn board, candle snuffer, antique books, plaques, Zion banner, Baptismal font, and the record book and stand,” said Paetsch. “The record book is the original one that has been there since the church started... It has interesting visitors in it.”
Many pews from the church have been donated to the school in Lake Lenore.
Members of the church were not forgotten.
“The church members actually had first dibs on all the items in the church,” said Paetsch. “Everything is now spoken for except the organ and bench.”
Paetsch also mentioned that the proceeds from the sale of the land will be donated to local and affiliated charities.
The town has bought both the church and the land. They have not yet determined what they will use it for in the future.