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New beginning for First Lutheran

Pastor Laurie Natwick from the Northwestern Minnesota Synod ELCA spoke during Sunday's groundbreaking ceremony for the new First Lutheran Church, which will be built along County Road 46 near Woodland Elementary School. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 1 / 6
On Sunday afternoon, Pastor Greg Billberg addresses the large crowd at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new First Lutheran Church. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)2 / 6
During the groundbreaking ceremony for the new First Lutheran Church Sunday, May 6, kids got in on the shoveling action with a dirt pile just for them. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press)3 / 6
Hard hats hung on golden shovels before the groundbreaking ceremony for the new First Lutheran Church, which will soon be built along County Road 46 in Alexandria. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 4 / 6
This drawing shows what the new First Lutheran Church will look like when it is complete. (Drawing courtesy of Zerr-Berg Architects) 5 / 6
During the groundbreaking ceremony Sunday, May 6, for the new First Lutheran Church, several groups, including members of the Vision Team, donned hard hats and took their turn at the shovel. (Celeste Edenloff / Echo Press) 6 / 6

Pastor Greg Billberg told the large crowd that gathered at the site of the new First Lutheran Church in Alexandria that it takes a village to raise a church.

Billberg was among several people who spoke Sunday afternoon at a groundbreaking ceremony for the new church. The new First Lutheran will soon be built along County Road 46 (South McKay Avenue), near Woodland Elementary School.

First Lutheran Church — originally known as The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation — was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1872. It wasn't until 1876, however, that the very first church building was built.

It was erected at the present location, 822 Douglas St., in Alexandria. In 1907, that church was torn down and a new one, at a cost of $3,797, was built.

The new church on County Road 46 will be the First Lutheran's fourth building project in 142 years. The current church was built in 1950 — 68 years ago.

After thanking everyone for attending the ceremony, Billberg said, "Today, God is seeing our vision for a new church here at this location and we couldn't be more blessed."

According to Greg Tvrdik, director of church administration, the estimated date of completion for the $9.1-million project is August 2019.

Tvrdik said the land for the new church was purchased 10 years ago, but the building process began about four years ago.

"We wanted to get the plan to work just right and be fiscally responsible," Tvrdik said. "We wanted to get as much paid for as we could."

Several teams were involved in the planning process, but Tvrdik said the building committee did most of the main leg work. The building committee, he said, was formed about five years ago and put together a plan for what the church would need, such as more handicapped accessible spaces as well as more fellowship space.

"The building was designed for more hospitality space as right now, we are kind of shuffled in and out after each service because of lack of space," said Tvrdik.

The church will also include larger, multi-purpose rooms instead of all individual classrooms, as the church is looking at changing the curriculum for its Wednesday and Sunday schools. The multi-purpose rooms will create more opportunity for larger group sessions.

The current total membership at First Lutheran is about 2,600 members, according to Tvrdik, but with the new, larger church, the membership will be able to continue to grow.

"Our mission is bigger than our building," he said. "We are just excited about this opportunity."

The church is served by Billberg, who is the lead pastor, as well as two associate pastors, Kari van Wakeren and Ben Jacobson. For more information, visit

Just the facts

Here's a look at the numbers:

Size of current facility — 30,306 square feet

Size of new facility — 37,135 square feet

Total cost of the project — $9.1 million

Plan includes gathering area, office suite, worship space, kitchen and multi-purpose rooms, two of which would be used for preschool.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. Besides writing articles for the Echo Press, she has a blog, “Newspaper Girl on the Run.” Celeste is on a continuous healthy living journey and loves to teach bootcamp fitness classes and run. She has participated in more than 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

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