After two votes in June and August 2010 at the Milbank American Evangelical Lutheran Church to leave the ELCA failed narrowly to achieve the required two-thirds majority, many of those church members were frustrated and needed a meeting to talk and express their feelings. They could not in good conscience belong to a denomination or congregation which did not believe, teach, and accept the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the sole authoritative source and norm of our proclamation, faith, and life. Six people gathered on Monday evening, August 9th and prayerfully decided to call a meeting for the following Sunday, August 15th in the Milbank City Visitors Center. They really had no idea of what to expect, hoping that perhaps 20 people would attend but fearing that there might be far fewer. There were 95 people in attendance at that first meeting from Milbank, Ortonville, and the surrounding area, and they decided to form a new congregation.
The congregation joined Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) and incorporated. The congregation voted to name itself "Living Word Lutheran Church", joined the LCMC Augustana District, and called Rev. N. Craig Werling as pastor. Rev. Werling and his wife Janine Rew-Werling had been the pastors at the American Lutheran Church. Janine now serves as pastor for the Hosanna Lutheran Church LCMC in Watertown.
After worshiping for over three months at the Milbank Visitor Center, the congregation became known as the "Strip Mall Church" by renting empty retail space previously leased by the Dollar Store at the Whetstone Mall on HWY 12. They began worship there on November 28th, 2010. Adjacent office/retail suites on both sides of the former Dollar Store were rented for Sunday School and meeting rooms and for church offices. On September 11th, 2011, the congregation voted to ratify a constitution and to accept a gift of about five acres of land along HWY 15 to build a new church.
On March 27th, 2013, a special congregational meeting approved the following resolution by a vote of 93-2: “The congregation approves the building design/plans for our new church building, realizing that there might be some necessary minor revisions and to authorize the Church council to negotiate and consummate the necessary financial contracts for the construction of our church building.” This vote was the culmination of a two year process of prayer and congregational study to determine what was necessary and feasible for a new building, and a successful pledge drive. The Building Committee selected Reeves Construction in Sioux Falls to provide the pre-manufactured walls and trusses with John Englehardt as architect, and Rise, Inc. of Harrisburg as general contractor. A building loan was obtained from First Bank and Trust of Milbank.
On Sunday, May 19th, 2013, Pastor Craig Werling, Council President Ardell Nelson, and Building Committee Chairman Mike Campbell led the congregation in turning the first spades of dirt at the groundbreaking ceremony for the $1,400,000 project. The building was finished and the congregation moved in on the first day of spring, March 20th, 2014. The first service was on Sunday, March 23rd, the Third Sunday in Lent, with 234 in attendance. On July 27th, 210 members and friends of Living Word attended the dedication service and enjoyed a catered breakfast in the fellowship hall afterwards.
The Living Word congregation has been richly and abundantly blessed in our time together, gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments, first in the Milbank Visitor Center Community Room (and occasionally at the MHS Theater) for almost four months and then at the Whetstone Mall for almost three and a half years. Being the “Strip Mall Church” reminded us of what is most important in a church: God’s Word and each other. A guiding principle during the life of this congregation has been from Article VII of the Augsburg Confession: “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the sacraments are correctly administered.” During the months and years of planning, fund-raising, and building we experienced the promises from Hebrews 3, that “the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything,” and from Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”
We pray that our Lord and Savior who has led us to this place will continue to bless us, that His Word will abide among all who enter here, and that we may bring glory and honor to Him as the master of this household of faith and the defender of this congregation as He sends us out to be His faithful witnesses and instruments of His grace and peace.