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St. John Lutheran Church in Ely begins new addition

A billboard announces St. John Lutheran Church’s exciting news, and trees are cleared away to make room for a new addition. (Photo by Jen Corrigan)

SOLON– To accommodate the incredible growth in population within the Ely community, St. John Lutheran Church is taking steps to create more space for worship, fellowship and classroom learning.
“Our mission is to be a presence in Ely and to provide services for the needs of this community,” explained Pastor Erika Uthe. “Our hope and goal really is to let people know that there is a place for them and that they will always be welcome here no matter what. This addition helps us to provide the space.”
After proposing the idea to the congregation and receiving approval three years ago, plans for design and fundraising began. The monetary goal was initially $750,000. Donations from the congregation alone have given the building committee $350,000 to put towards the cost of the addition, which is now estimated to be $1.6 million.
“We haven’t had any official fundraisers yet other than asking the congregation, which is really incredible what we’ve gotten so far,” said Uthe. “We have a fundraising committee, and we’re working on several ideas.”
“There are various ways to raise the money,” added Rob Smith, who is a member of both the building committee and church council. “In the near term, it’ll be financed with debt financing. We have raised a substantial amount of money from our congregation in the form of immediate gifts and longer term pledges. We will continue to look toward our growing congregation to fund that expansion.”
Despite the continual support of the congregation, the process of beginning construction was time consuming and complex.
“It was a very meticulous process,” explained Smith. “We started out with a property use committee where we did an extensive survey of the way we’re using the property, our growth rate, how we expect to use the property in the future, and what our overall mission is. When we determined that we could expand, we set up a committee for site selection where we looked at other sites in town and outside of town and devised a set of criteria for what we wanted. After looking at the pros and cons, we decided that staying where we are was the best.”
A big reason for remaining at the current location is the history behind the building. The church congregation was assembled in 1851 and worshipped in a log cabin before moving to the current location in 1886.
“Staying in that spot provides a sense of history and continuity, and growth there is important,” stated Smith.
After a site was selected, the building committee turned its focus on finding an architect and contractor, ultimately settling on Solum Lang Architect, which designed the last expansion in 1995, and Miron Construction Co., Inc. The congregation approved the proposal of utilizing a design/build process for the project.
“We interviewed three architectural firms and three contractors,” said Uthe. “Out of those interviews and the proposals that they came with, the building committee selected them and presented it to the congregation. The congregation one hundred percent approved the decision to move forward.”
The building committee “looked at (the candidates’) experience specifically with churches and working with congregations,” explained Smith. “Working with churches is a little different than a business with a CEO or board of directors. We really are one large committee. Every group is working together to meet the needs of the congregation. In both cases, we are quite happy with our choice.”
The congregation has a vision timeline detailing potential plans until the year 2050 with some of the upcoming focuses involving providing services for senior citizens as well as offering childcare.
The main goal is to not only provide space and services for the congregation but for the Ely community as well, emphasized both Uthe and Smith.
“We really would like to reach out to the community and invite people to come and visit us and worship with us,” said Smith. “We’re going to have open house opportunities throughout the course of the construction as soon as we can get people in there safely to come and see how we’re growing.”
“What people who come to St. John most frequently say about it is that it feels like home to them,” said Uthe. “We’re a small enough community that you can get to know your neighbors, but we are growing, which is why we are adding the space. We’re keeping that small feel while creating a better, more comfortable space. Everybody is welcome. We like people to come as they are.”
To make a donation, contact St. John Lutheran Church directly at 319-848-4510.