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Historic Howard church to hold last service June 5

HOWARD--Howard residents for years questioned when the Belleview Lutheran Church would close. They no longer have to wonder, as the 134-year-old church, located in rural Howard, is scheduled to hold its last service June 5. "People have been talk...

The Belleview Lutheran church in Howard is gifting its altar, pictured, to the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre. (Submitted photo)
The Belleview Lutheran church in Howard is gifting its altar, pictured, to the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre. (Submitted photo)

HOWARD-Howard residents for years questioned when the Belleview Lutheran Church would close.

They no longer have to wonder, as the 134-year-old church, located in rural Howard, is scheduled to hold its last service June 5.

"People have been talking for the last 20 years that, 'Oh, boy. We're only going to be able to keep our doors open for five more years.' Then it was another five and another five," church president Chloe Andenas said Wednesday. "People just kept reaching deeper into their pockets to pay more to support the church and its mission."

Last year, the South Dakota Synod presented the church with a "Holy Cow" award, honoring the church for paying the most per capita to South Dakota Synod Missions.

But, with an average attendance of 14 people, and a total of 37 registered members, no amount of digging for funds went deep enough, and the award will be soon be passed on to another congregation.

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About a year and a half ago, Andenas said, the decision was made to end services at Belleview Lutheran. Members who attend Belleview Lutheran will merge with Bethany Lutheran Church in Howard following the church's closing.

But before that happens, on June 5, Belleview Lutheran will hold one final service and celebration, expected to span much of the day and draw in approximately 350 people from across the country.

Former church members who have since moved, from Washington, California, Wyoming and Texas, are planning to attend, Andenas said.

"When they heard about (the event), a lot of people wanted to be there," Andenas said. "Over more than 100 years, the church obviously has made an impact."

Also among the crowd will be Rev. David Zellmer, bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Zellmer will start the day's events by leading the service, set to begin at 10:45 a.m. Following the service will be a catered dinner, and at 1:30 p.m. the Maplewood Men, of Madison, will sing. At 2 p.m., former ministers of the church will speak. The day will end with a coffee and cookie social beginning around 3:30 p.m.

Books outlining the history of Belleview Lutheran will be available for $15, while DVDs with a slideshow presentation depicting important facets of the building's history and photos of its interior will be sold for $10.

Money raised will, for the most part, go toward paying for the day's events, like the rental of a large tent, publishing costs of the books and meal costs. What is left over will cover what Andenas called "closing costs," like hiring a professional to board up the windows. When that is taken care of, if there is money still leftover, the church plans to donate it to an undetermined local organization.

As for the future of the church building itself, some of its historical features will live on. The baptismal font is being given to a church in Minnesota that was recently destroyed in a fire, and five stained glass windows will be given to Bethany Lutheran in town. Other windows will be "going elsewhere," Andenas said, but those plans are not yet finalized.

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The altar, pulpit and hymn board will be gifted to the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre.

"A curator came out to look at (the altar) and thought it was amazing," Andenas said. "They will take very good care of our beloved items."

The building will remain empty, and, for now, remain standing.

"At this point, it will stay there, as it is a landmark that people from miles around like to look at as they go by," Andenas said. "Even when it's gone, it's so much a part of Howard's history that it won't ever really be gone."

Belleview Lutheran church, in Howard, will be closing June 5 after 134 years of services. (Submitted photo)
Belleview Lutheran church, in Howard, will be closing June 5 after 134 years of services. (Submitted photo)

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