Grand Forks County church raising from the dead this Easter

East Walle Lutheran Church was down to just a handful of members. Now it has close to 100.

A church service at East Walle Luthern Church.
Matt Henson / WDAY News

THOMPSON, N.D. — A small Grand Forks County church has a lot to celebrate Easter weekend.

Like many churches, the East Walle Lutheran Church in rural Thompson will celebrate Easter and Jesus rising from the dead.

The church itself is also rising from the dead.

"What's happening here is above and beyond our highest dreams or hopes," said church member Elvira Sannes.

Her and her husband Ardell are considered two of the original 14 church members. They have been members of the church for more than 60 years.


They remember when 50 kids alone would fill the church, not counting their parents and other community members. But as recent as two years ago, Sunday attendance could be counted on one hand. The church was on the verge of voting to close.

"So many of these old churches in the country are closing up and they burn them down and, you know, it's just not good," said Ardell.

That's when Pastor Keith Becker and most recently Pastor Jerry King stepped in to help save the church.

"I felt like God wanted this little country church to be a beacon on the open prairie out here," said Becker.

The pastors worked to blend a traditional and contemporary service together for a congregation that serves rural Grand Forks and Polk Counties.

"There's something about a community rural church that somehow ties into a lot of people's desires to experience faith in their more agriculture roots," said Becker.

That quickly grabbed the attention of new members.

"(A) small town country church vibe that we were looking for and we were so welcomed as soon as we stepped foot in," said member Stacie Nelson.


Not only was the congregation once sinking so was the church itself. The foundation was sinking. The flooring was redone, the pews were re-sanded and re-stained, the church was repainted.

Many other projects were also done, work that would have cost well over $100,000. However, volunteers helped reduced that to less than $50,000. Some of those volunteers stuck around.

"A lot of these farmer guys found a place to serve when we started to redo some of the building of the church," Becker said.

Now the church has up to 100 members, along with a men's group, a women's group, confirmation, children ministry, and bible school.

"They always come ready to learn and they're interested in the word, they really want to get involved," said Sunday school teacher Emma Baasch.

This Sunday's Easter Service will be at 10 a.m. It will feature live baby animals to pet and treats for the kids.

A church singing hymns of praise this Easter weekend, thankful that the church has been saved.

"I hope to fill it and beyond if we could," said Sannes.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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