With dwindling membership, northeast North Dakota church seeks support through GoFundMe

Members of Faith Lutheran Church in Inkster, from left: Betty Grabanski, Chance Grabanski, Joann Moreland and Marlene Olmstead are hoping that a GoFundMe page will raise the $25,000 needed to make repairs to the 134 year old church. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

INKSTER, N.D. — Faith Lutheran Church, a stately white church with a soaring belltower and quintessential sanctuary, has stood as a beacon for the faithful for 134 years, but now it is in danger of closing.

Members recently launched a GoFundMe website in hopes of raising $25,000 to make property improvements and keep the church open in Inkster, a village of about 50 residents located 40 miles northwest of Grand Forks.

“As our congregation is aging and dwindling, we struggle to attract young families because we lack some of the basic necessities,” Denise Karley, the church’s president, said on the website. “We need to install plumbing for a new bathroom and kitchen, as well as handicap accessibility so anyone can come to worship.”

Faith Lutheran joined with two other churches in the area to share ministry services, “and yet we struggle to pay for our one-third share of that, along with our winter heating bills,” Karley said.

About two years ago, church members “put on a new roof, painted, and fixed basement water damage, but our funds are now depleted,” she said.

“We would be so grateful for your help,” she said. “We had nowhere else to turn.”

Fewer members

Members of Faith Lutheran are dealing with problems that are common to many small, rural congregations, said Betty Grabanski, church organist and a member for 60 years.

Betty Grabanski, organist at Faith Lutheran Church in Inkster, holds a framed photograph from the 125th anniversary celebration of the Inkster parish in the church basement. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service

She said she saw the church swell to 35 to 40 families in the mid-1970s, but these days it’s difficult to attract and maintain membership.

“It’s hard to get ahold of new people,” Grabanski said. “You have to get on social media.”

Young families “are looking for young people to associate with in the community,” she said.

“The biggest association is at the bar, and I don’t how to turn that around,” she said.

Church members have done what they can with available resources.

About two years ago, they put a new roof on the structure after damage wrought by a fierce summer windstorm, she said. “That was about a $10,000 job.”

They would also like to welcome theological seminary students as interns and restart a Sunday School program for children.

Joann Moreland, treasurer of the church council and member for nearly 50 years, said, “the memories and the fact that this is our local church” fuel her desire to see Faith Lutheran remain open.

Moreland is impressed that the church, despite its age, “is still standing and in as good a shape as it is,” she said.

“And we have a very good minister,” she said, referring to Mari Nyberg.

“She’s very kind,” said Grabanski.

In 2003, Faith Lutheran joined a few other churches in the area to form Turtle River Ministry, which shares in the cost of employing a minister to lead services at Lutheran churches in Inkster, Emerado, Honeyford and Mekinock.

Nyberg said the challenges that Faith Lutheran is dealing with are not unusual in the rural landscape.

“Like every country church in the country, there have been a lot of deaths and population changes,” Nyberg said.

Church Council Secretary Marlene Olmstead said she wants the church to continue because “this has been our home for a long time.” She was baptized and has been a member at Faith Lutheran for about 25 years.

Membership has dipped to 10 families, she said, but “we don’t always get that many there (for services).

“I like the location; I don’t want to travel to Grafton” to attend church, Olmstead said. “Everything I know I learned from Betty and Joann, and no one is coming up behind me. People in town say they hate to see the church close, but we say, ‘Well, come on in.’”