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First Lutheran Church starts anew

Rich Swanson (left) and Bob Olson unload tables in front of the new First Lutheran Church facility in New Richmond. The congregation held its last service in its old building on Sunday, and then everyone piled into their vehicles and traveled to the new church for a Palm Sunday meal.

It's somewhat fitting that First Lutheran Church's move to its new facilities happened during the Easter season. Easter, after all, is all about starting fresh and rebirth.

The local congregation said goodbye to its old facility and held its first official event at its new facility on Palm Sunday, March 24. Morning services were conducted in the building where First Lutheran has gathered since the late 1940s and 1950s.

Following the 9:15 a.m. service, congregation members piled into their vehicles and drove to the new 20,166-square-foot facility. They shared a meal and held a brief ceremony. Upwards of about 350 people took part in the meal and special service at the new building.

"We are thrilled to move our mission forward in our new church home," said Andrea Riberrich, church member, "while honoring the heritage from which our mission grew. Both services were emotion-filled and beautiful."

First Lutheran purchased the land for the new facility about 15 years ago. After years of planning, the church leadership voted unanimously to move forward with the project, according to Bob Olson, building committee chairman for the past five years.

As the finishing touches were being completed at the new church building, about 60 volunteers helped complete most of the move on March 15.

Throughout much of last week, the final items were taken to the new church, the new appliances were installed, the sound system was finished and boxes were unpacked.

"Everybody has been real troopers," Olson said. "Now there just a lot of little stuff at the end."

Pastor James Bump said, thanks to many helpers, the transition from one church to the new building was seamless.

"It's been awesome," he said.

He said the closing service at the old facility was a helpful time to bring closure to that chapter of the church's history.

"There is some grieving going on," Bump said, adding that church members have celebrated many big events of their lives in the former facility and leaving those memories behind can be challenging.

By the time church members arrived at the new building on Sunday, Bump said, they were ready to celebrate a new beginning. The church pushed to have the move occur during the Easter season, to help symbolize the new start for the congregation, he said.

"It was fun to watch everybody walking around. I think people have been overwhlemed at how warm and inviting the new church is," Bump said. "And many commented about how much it felt like home already. It's exceeded everyone's expectations."

Last Thursday, as Olson walked through the new building, he spoke with pride about what the congregation had accomplished over the past year. The official groundbreaking for the project was on July 15, 2012, and less than a year later the church moved.

Olson said the project was completed two or three weeks ahead of schedule.

"I have to give Mark Johnson and Mike Mikla from Derrick Cos. a lot of credit," he said. "They did a super job of keeping things on track with the subcontractors."

Apart from a beautiful new sanctuary, which touts state-of-the-art sound and multimedia screens, the building includes nice office areas, expanded space for daycare and pre-school programs, and more fellowship areas.

"One of the big things about this facility is there are no steps," he said. "In the other facility, there were steps all over the place. We've eliminated the steps completely, except for the stage in the sanctuary."

Another added plus is natural lighting, that streams into the facility throughout the day, Olson said. A new organ, quilting space and energy-efficient systems also add to the building's allure.

Thanks to favorable construction costs, the congregation was able to add an extra 2,000-square-foot addition on the southern end of the structure for Sunday school classrooms and fellowship space.

The new kitchen includes equipment that meets state codes for a licensed daycare and for church functions, Olson said.

First Lutheran's daycare facility won't be moving into the new space until the summer, Olson reported. Church officials didn't want to mess up the current bus schedule by shifting this late in the year.

The new daycare facilities will be much improved, he noted, thanks to the many added features.

"Everything is geared toward the little tykes," Olson said.

The new church building, just off of Business Highway 64 and County Road K, was approved by a congregational vote in April 2012, according to Bump. The total cost of the first phase of construction was approximately $2.86 million. Most of the project is complete, but Bump there is some external painting to be done and the church's signage has yet to be installed. Those final items will be completed once warmer weather arrives.

Derrick Construction, New Richmond, and Station 19 were retained for construction and design of the new building.


First Lutheran Church has a long history in New Richmond, dating back to the late 1800's. Over recent years, increases in church membership, growth of the accredited child care program and accessibility for members created a need and interest for rebuilding the church.

First Lutheran Church (ELCA) was founded in 1945 after a merger of the Norwegian Lutheran Church (est. 1889) and the English Lutheran Church (est. 1891), on the north side of New Richmond. Since its origin, First Lutheran Church has grown from 200 baptized members to more than 2,000.