A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
SNAPSHOTS OF CONGREGATIONS FROM AROUND THE CHURCH OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSION
In 1623, the hymn writer, Georg Weissel wrote,
“Seek where ye may To find a way That leads to your salvation . . .”
For the Bereans in Macedonia, that way was found in only one place: the Holy Scriptures. So, when the Apostle Paul arrived at this crossroads of Greek learning preaching Christ crucified, “[The Bereans] received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Because of the Spirit-given reputation of the “fair-minded” Bereans, congregations down through the ages have found the name Berea to be not only a fitting but also a descriptive name for a congregation. The confessional Lutherans who settled on East Madison Street in Sioux Falls are no exception. Blessed by the Holy Spirit with a faith founded on Holy Scripture, the Bereans of Sioux Falls have been striving with God’s help to live up to the name since 1978.
That year, Pastor Vernon Greve of Watertown, South Dakota, began holding Sunday evening services in a home in Sioux Falls. By 1981 services were being held every other Sunday at the Valley National Bank. Pastor Robert Wehrwein of Okabena, Minnesota, also conducted some of these services. On June 3, 1984, seminary graduate Roland H. Gurgel was ordained and installed as Berea’s first resident pastor. At the time, the congregation numbered twenty-three souls and was received into voting membership of the CLC at the 1984 Synod Convention.
In 1986, four acres were purchased in the northeast area of Sioux Falls. In the fall of 1987 the congregation began to construct a chapel/parsonage combination. The building was put to use in February of 1988, and on July 24th that same year it was dedicated to the glory of the Lord. Under Pastor Lawrence Bade, a large sign was put up in 1991 to let travelers know the building was a church.
The congregation experienced a temporary setback in 1997 when Pastor James Shrader, after being there only a brief time, was removed from office because of doctrinal disagreement. Some members of the congregation left with Pastor Shrader. It remains the prayer of the congregation that one day the Lord would lead those parishioners home to Berea. The Spirit provided the Bereans with a replacement shepherd in Pastor John Hein in 1998. While Pastor Hein was in Sioux Falls for only two years, the congregation still remembers with thanks his leadership during that time.
In 2001, Pastor Mark Gurath replaced Pastor Hein, and spearheaded outreach efforts by beginning a program known as “Friends on Fridays,” conducting services for the developmentally disabled two Fridays a month at the South Dakota Achieve Center in Sioux Falls.
In August of 2007, the congregation began the project of enlarging the parsonage to meet the needs of a growing family. Another temporary setback occurred in 2013 when Pastor Gurath was led to resign his pastoral call for health reasons. But the Lord blessed the Bereans richly with capable lay-people. Rather than calling a vacancy pastor, members of the congregation shouldered the burden of conducting services and ministering to Berea’s membership themselves during the interim, until the Holy Spirit answered their call for a new pastor in 2014.
Pastor Joel Fleischer arrived in September of 2014 to find a congregation that had continued to grow in spite of vacancy. While many other Midwestern towns are declining in population, Sioux Falls—at the crossroad of Interstates 29 and 90, literally on the road to everywhere—has been experiencing a population and construction boom. In a city that has grown from 150,000 in 2010 to 180,000 in 2018, God has brought in CLC members from across the Midwest to fill the little church on East Madison Street to overflowing, with a membership of sixty-two souls, and an average attendance of forty to fifty.
While Berea has, in the last few years, become a self-supporting congregation, it remains a dedicated mission church. With the rapid growth of the Sioux Falls area, the congregation is embarking on a program to reach out to new Sioux Falls residents, confident that the Lord of the Church will use the beacon of His Word to bring in souls who are eager to search the Scriptures.
As it is God who has given (and will continue to give) the increase in souls, it is the prayer of the Bereans that He would also lead them to see how He plans for the congregation to provide seating for these souls. Having paid off Berea’s mortgage in 2016, the congregation is now exploring plans for the addition of a larger sanctuary and fellowship hall. The hope is to convert the current sanctuary into classrooms for Sunday School and, one day, a Christian Day School for the twenty-three preschool and grade-school aged Bereans.
As one might expect in a congregation named “Berea,” Christian education is a priority. There were twenty-four pre-confirmation children enrolled in Vacation Bible School this year, and a similar number enrolled in Sunday school, with three students undergoing instruction in the catechism with Pastor Fleischer.
With that many children, one may wonder if the congregation has any trouble finding teachers. Thankfully, the Lord has blessed Berea with dedicated teachers and substitute teachers for each class. The ladies of Berea make up the majority of the teachers, and they also stay very active in the congregation through the ladies’ group “S.I.N.G.” (Sisters In the Name of God) and enjoy many activities together, including attending the various women’s conferences in the CLC.
The men, too, find themselves fully occupied, not only with voters’ meetings, building committee, elders, and so on, but also with an informal men’s group.
Services are held on Sunday mornings at 10:00 A.M, with Bible class and Sunday school preceding at 9:00 A.M. during the school year.
If you find yourself at the crossroads of America on I-29 and I-90, we hope that you will find your way to the little church on East Madison Street, and join us to search the Scriptures!
Seek where ye may To find a way / That leads to your salvation; / My heart is stilled, On Christ I build,
He is the one Foundation. / His Word is sure, His works endure; / He doth o’erthrow My every foe; / Through Him I more than conquer. (TLH 383:1)
Joel Fleischer is pastor of Berea Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.