Colman, Midway churches split as two-point parish

Two Moody County churches that shared a pastor are each going on their own starting this month.

Colman Lutheran Church and Midway Lutheran Church ended their agreement as a two-point parish as of April 1. The two had shared pastors on and off since 1891.

The cost of a full-time pastor between the two was more than either could really afford, they said.

“Between both of us, we could just not afford a full-time pastor. We didn’t think a three-point parish would fly either,” said Ron Gelderman, president of the Midway church.

Midway has about 25 worshippers in attendance each Sunday, and Colman has about 55 people in its pews. Colman continues to offer Sunday school and confirmation, while both churches have women’s organizations. For now, the churches are hiring supply pastors to fill in.

Colman hopes to find a half-time pastor but sees there is a shortage of available pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America South Dakota synod.

“We’re kind of hoping that we are able to get another pastor,” said Jackie Voelker, president of the congregation. “We’re probably going to have to try and share with somebody again.”

Midway has asked Our Savior’s Lutheran in Flandreau to allow them to contract for a pastor for worship services, a decision that parish planned to talk about this week. The Rev. Alan Blankenfield at Our Savior’s is the former pastor at Colman and Midway.

Midway was founded in 1878 by Norwegian immigrants who lived in the area that is now near the Ward exit on Interstate 29, said Todd Gulbranson, a member whose ancestors on his mother’s side were charter members. The church itself was built starting in 1924 with completion in 1925.

“I feel honored that we’re still around. A lot of the country churches, if you drive around, there’s not many left,” he said. The church is able to make it because members volunteer. “Everybody’s got to be active; otherwise, it won’t take long until it’s gone.”

Many of the members are in their 70s or 80s, said Gulbranson, 55.

“We’ve got a strong congregation,” he said. “We still can reach out in mission work. We’re really strong on helping the community out.”

Gelderman said Midway gained about a dozen members a few months ago, although some were people who had been attending for a long time. His family joined in the 1980s and lives in the area, as do most of those who attend the quaint country church.

“Somebody described it when you come in, it’s like coming home. I think that pretty much describes it,” he said.

Both churches want to continue to be the church home for worshippers and to remain open for their members and the community.

“We really don’t want to see our doors close,” Voelker said.

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