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Faithful until the end - Osakis United Methodist Church to close

United Methodist Church of Osakis will close on June 2 after operating in the community for 144 years. The church is located at 211 East First Avenue. Logistically, Methodist Church onference trustees will take ownership of the property in June. (Photo by Amy Chaffins)1 / 2
United Methodist Church of Osakis will close after its final worship service on June 2. It was the first church recorded in Douglas County in 1869. This is an early photo of the church, which originally appeared in the centennial booklet in 1969. (Contributed)2 / 2

After 144 years, the first church recorded in Douglas County is closing. United Methodist Church (UMC) of Osakis dates back to 1869. Its last service is scheduled for June 2.

According to Pastor Alan Bolte, it was a difficult decision, but after much discussion, the congregation voted on February 17 to discontinue the church.

"Our attendance has been small and it's an older congregation and we're running out of energy and people power," Bolte explained. "Financially, we're paying our bills and doing OK there, but there's more to it than that. With a smaller congregation, even to care for the building, it becomes more difficult. You get to that place where it's hard to attract new folks, too. We haven't been able to offer Sunday school for a few years. It's all that stuff together."

"The thing I remind folks of is that over the course of 100-some years, they have touched hundreds and hundreds of people, so the ministry that has happened at Osakis UMC is spread out further than any of us understand or imagine, so we have to remember that," he added.


"One thing I've learned is that a church has a life cycle, like people. It's born, it grows and flourishes and it's fruitful and if there isn't a time of rebirth and revisioning, you end up moving toward the end of that cycle and that's OK; it's hard, but it's also part of reality," Bolte said.

A celebration of the church is in the planning stages, but the church's farewell worship service is set for Sunday, June 2.

"It's like a death of a family member. You grieve the passing, but you celebrate the life," Bolte said. "One of the big challenges is that everybody in that church, for the most part, has grown up there or been part of the church for a long time, so it's 'I remember when... my baby was baptized, my grandchild was baptized, our wedding was there...' Those emotions make it difficult. People are grieving, remembering those special moments in their lives and they associate it with the building, so that really makes it more powerful."

Evelyn Jensen of Alexandria has been a member of UMC of Osakis since 1951.

"The church has certainly been a very stable staple in my life," she said. "I'm feeling very sad about it. I buried both my parents there and two brothers. I have connections there, and feelings for [the church]."


Logistically, Methodist Church conference trustees will take ownership of the property in June. Bolte said the goal would be for the building to be used as a church again. In that case, the contents stay. If that's not feasible, the property would be listed with a realtor.

If people had given memorials over the years, like a painting that hangs at the church, attempts will be made to contact relatives to try to return those sentimental items.

Bolte served the Osakis and Villard Methodist churches for four years and also works full-time as the district superintendent, supervising the Northstar District of United Methodist Church. In the eight years he's served as superintendent, he has supervised other churches closing, but said "... it's different being the pastor."


When asked what he hopes the congregation learns from this experience, Bolte said, "I hope they learn and remember that this is God's church, God is in charge. God loves them and they didn't fail. They've been faithful to the very end. Sometimes, the hard part is being faithful when you're in a hospice situation. You know you're moving toward that end so how can we be faithful even then? And they have been. I hope...they will continue to know God's love for them."

In June, Bolte will move on to serve Grand Rapids United Methodist Church.

United Methodist Church of Osakis 1869-2013:

--February 24, 1869 - First Methodist Episcopal Church of Osakis Articles of Incorporation established.

--January 9, 1871 - Present church site purchased from John Rinehart and wife.

--1869 to 1885 - Gap in church records after a fire at the Alfred Anderson farm destroyed the files.

--November 8, 1881 - Church construction started. Before then, meetings were probably held in homes, schoolhouses or other public places.

--October 1898 - I.N. Goodell appointed pastor of Osakis and English Grove Methodist.

--May 1903 - Remodeled Osakis Methodist Episcopal Church dedicated.

--1922 - Church was remodeled.

--1930 - Church had no pastor; services were led by lay people for several years.

--1957 - Church was again remodeled.

--1968 - Name legally changed to Osakis United Methodist Church as result of the union of Evangelical United Brethern Church and Methodist Church.

--August 31-September 1, 1969 - Centennial Celebration included morning worship, evening service, dinner, program, awards, skit and cake.

--June 2, 2013 - Last service will be held.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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