Rejoicing in the blessings of a Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) Capital Funding Services (CFS) stewardship campaign that surpassed their goal, members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church north-central Wisconsin saw an opportunity to “carry that energy to the next level.” They participated in LCEF’s Laborers For Christ to build their new church home in Milan, an unincorporated community near Athens.
“Laborers worship with you, they have fellowship with you,” said Randy Reynolds, Bethlehem’s congregation president. “There’s a sense of energy and the Holy Spirit [with Laborers For Christ], and it was very important to us to continue that energy from our capital campaign into building.”
Steady Supply of Volunteers
Bethlehem’s current facility is more than 100 years old and less than “user friendly.” The kitchen and fellowship hall are in the basement, a challenge for many older adults. With no room to expand in their current location, the congregation is building on five acres a mile to the north.
“We want to broaden our ministry to our own congregation and also expand to others,” Reynolds said of the 6,963-square-foot facility that will enable activities to be on one main level that includes a larger sanctuary, classrooms, fellowship hall and kitchen.
Another advantage will be increased parking and an outdoor breezeway for easier drop- off and picking up.
A steady supply of volunteers is working alongside Laborers, who have been in Milan since the spring. The dedication of the new church is tentatively set for Oct. 18.
“The congregation has been great about helping out – retired folks as well as younger folks, during the week and on Saturdays,” said Bill Sliva, a Laborer and retired college professor from Livingston, Texas.
“A blessing” is what Laborer LeRoy Reif, of Columbiaville, Michigan, calls the congregants. “They are excited about their new sanctuary, and that’s why we’re here,” he said of the Laborers team, headed by project manager Bob Natzke, of Greenleaf, Wisconsin.
This fall marks Natzke’s 19th year serving as a Laborer. The former farmer and lay minister says the opportunity to help strengthen Christian education is one reason he joined Laborers For Christ. “When we help support our churches, we help support Christian education,” Natzke said.
Spurred to action
Bethlehem’s building project has been in the works for more than15 years, but the success of their capital stewardship campaign helped spur the congregation to action.
Members appreciated how their Capital Funding Services consultant customized the church’s three-year campaign to fit their needs, Reynolds said.
“For a congregation our size, we weren’t expected to do as well as we did!” he said.
Along with reaping the benefits of their capital campaign, the congregation used additional LCEF resources to strengthen their ministry as affordably and efficiently as possible.
Dennis Johnson, LCEF vice president in the North Wisconsin District, got the ball rolling on a construction loan that offered a more attractive rate than the congregation could get from a commercial institution.
Any concern about working “from the middle of Wisconsin” with the LCEF headquarters in St. Louis quickly dissolved, Reynolds said, calling the LCEF staff “very helpful and supportive.”
When the congregation was ready to build, participating in Laborers For Christ proved an easy decision. Laborers previously worked for Bethlehem’s sister congregation, St. John “High Steeple” Lutheran Church in nearby Edgar. The Rev. Jeffrey Lambrecht serves as pastor for both congregations in this dual parish.
“We knew they had a wonderful experience,” Reynolds said of St. John’s expansion.
‘Lord Gives Tons Back’
This is the 14th construction project for Laborers Michael and Marcia Steckelberg, of Missouri Valley, Iowa, and Marcia calls Bethlehem congregants “some of the nicest” to work and worship with.
“They are so excited about getting their new church,” said Marcia, who, with other Laborers wives, has gotten involved with congregational activities, including volunteering at the Bethesda Lutheran Communities thrift shop in Wausau, about 30 miles east of Milan.
As members count the days until worship begins in their new church, LeRoy Reif says he feels blessed that Laborers are helping turn Bethlehem’s longtime ministry vision into a reality. “For the little effort we put in, the Lord gives tons back,” said the longtime Laborer. “We’re here to serve Him.”