The history of Grace Church begins with the origins of the Evangelical Church in St. Cloud in 1861. In the fall of that year, John Baitinger of Zion Evangelical church near Paynesville brought Rev. Conrad Lahr, a preacher in the Evangelical Church, to this community. The Rev. Lahr preached in the Stanger home, about six miles west of St. Cloud, where meetings were held on a regular basis. The St. Cloud mission moved into the city in 1873 when Rev. H Henzel was the minister. Two years later a parsonage was purchased on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Sixth Street, which then served as the meeting place for the congregation until 1888, when a fifty-five foot lot at the corner of Seventh Avenue South and Sixth Street was purchased. A church building was erected that same year with Rev. A.C. Schmidt as the minister. The church was a one-room wooden structure with no basement.
In 1920 a parsonage was built to the rear of the church, and during the ensuing decade the work continued to prosper with an increase in church membership. During the pastorate of Rev. D.C. Trapp, plans were formulated for a new church edifice. The old church was now in bad repair and the facilities it offered prohibited a modern church program. That year, our congregation requested that the annual Conference grant permission to build a new building. The 1928 Conference session gave permission to proceed with the building and made a generous gift of $5000 to the project. At this time twenty feet of the adjacent south lot was purchased. (A religious educational unit was omitted from the original plans because of the estimated high cost.) The cost of this church building was $32,000. To raise money to finance the repayment of the debt, the ladies served many public suppers, sponsored food and rummage sales, while the young people gave plays and other programs. The dedication services for the building were held April 7, 1929.
During the pastorate of Rev. Lowell Gess (1945-46) the church became debt free. In November 1946, the Evangelical and United Brethren denominations merged to form the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB), and in January 1954, our name was changed from First Evangelical Church to Grace EUB church. In 1958, Grace Church received a bequest, and 90 feet of property south of our church was purchased. In 1966, a new parsonage was built with the former parsonage being utilized for Christian Education classrooms. In 1968 the Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist denominations merged to form the United Methodist church.
In 1982, Graham Church became independent from Grace, and Grace gained a fulltime pastor.
In 1991, the people of Grace came to grips with the reality that through a period of decline this outpost of God’s ministry was at the critical point of Life or Death.
Choosing life through a renewed faith and commitment, Grace has taken steps to be a vibrant ministry outpost in St. Cloud. This renewal has not been an easy one, leading the Minnesota Annual Conference’s Congregations Development Action Team to call Grace the “Lazarus Model” of church revitalization.
In November of 1994, a congregational vote determined that we move forward to build a new church. We realized that our 68 year old facility was no longer sufficient to meet the needs of the community or a modern church program. In March of 1995, with the encouragement of the Congregational Development Action Team, we purchased 4.7 acres of land in a highly visible area in the southern part of the city between Clearwater Road and County Road 75 at a cost of $156,250. By the grace of God, this leap of faith was met when the five year note on the land loan, which had a balloon payment at the end, was paid in full in less than three years and the mortgage on the property was burned on Palm Sunday, April 5, 1998.
Many in-depth plans were made by a 2-Phase Building Committee, and a groundbreaking service was held on June 5, 1999 at the land site. A Capital Campaign was completed with a strong financial commitment from the congregation; the resulting plans for a total square footage of 11,721 square feet at a cost of approximately $1,200,000. Leonard and Dorothy Plaster donated their home to the church, with the entire proceeds to be used toward furnishing central air conditioning for the building. A grant of $20,000 was awarded from the Lake Harriet United Methodist Church Foundation, and over the course of the project, the congregational Developmental Action Team of the Minnesota Annual Conference generously gave grants totaling $100,000.
The ground for construction was broken in May of 2000, and the footing laid in early June and construction was off and running. A “Prayer Wall Service” was held at the construction site on September 24, 2000. Prayers of the congregation for the life and work of Grace Church were sealed within the east sanctuary wall to be opened and read at that future date when the wall is opened for the expansion of the sanctuary. The unfinished sanctuary was filled with the sounds of prayer and song and it was a high, holy moment. Tours of the structure were given following the service.
The cornerstone of the new building was laid on November 12, 2000 on a snowy day. Members worshipped at the old building where a picture was taken of the congregants in attendance that day. A meal was shared during which the contents of the old building’s cornerstone box were revealed. The congregation then proceeded to the new building where the cornerstone was set in a service officiated by Pastor Praetorius.
The last services in the old building were held on December 17, 2000. The hard work of many members investing their “sweat equity” made it possible for the church to celebrate Christmas in the new building. A combined service was held at 10:00 a.m. in a celebratory service. The promise of new life symbolized in the birth of Jesus at Christmas was mirrored by the new life given to Grace to serve the Lord in this new building. This great day was capped by a very meaningful Christmas Eve candlelight service in the evening.
As Grace United Methodist Church enters its 150th year of ministry, we are ever mindful that, beautiful as it is, it is only a building – a tool – for us to better reach out to our community with the life-changing message of salvation through the personal acceptance of Jesus as our Forgiven and Leader for life. We praise and thank our God who is faithful to His people as they take steps, even great leaps of faith to serve Him and follow His will. Each time something has seemed impossible to do from the human viewpoint, God has honored steps of faith with the provision needed.
United Methodist Church