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, many of church members were frustrated and needed a meeting to talk and express their feelings. They also had a vague concept of perhaps starting a church someday. However, it quickly became obvious to that they needed the Holy Spirit to guide them as they had no firm ideas of what to do or where to go. They only knew that they could not in good conscience uphold their faith and at the same time remain in the ELCA or at American Lutheran.
Six people met 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. Those who had circulated the petitions for a second "first" ELCA vote at American Lutheran contacted people and notified them of the meeting and from there it was spread through word of mouth. To our delight there were 95 people in attendance at our first meeting!
After worshiping for three months at the Milbank Visitor Center, the congregation became the "Strip Mall Church" by renting empty retail space at the Whetstone Mall on Highway 12, and began worship there on 28 November 2010. On 11 September 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 2 October 2011 the congregation voted to fund a part-time Youth Worker.
As of November 2011, one year later, we have 320 baptized members. Many members of neighboring ELCA congregations in South Dakota and Minnesota have joined with us. The congregation joined LCMC and incorporated, voted to name itself "Living Word Lutheran Church", joined the Augustana District, and called Rev. N. Craig Werling (who had been one of the pastors at American Lutheran along with his wife, Janine Rew-Werling, who is also LCMC and serves Hosanna Lutheran in Watertown) as pastor.
Weekly attendance at the 10AM service averages around 200, and 312 attended the Easter service (we used every available chair and every inch of space). There are over fifty children, pre-school through High School, in the Sunday School, and we have had to rent the neighboring retail space for classes. Seventh and Eighth grade confirmation meets at the pastors home, and the first class of four was confirmed on May 1st. The women of the congregation are organized into Circles and are part of LCMC Women of the Word.A founding member says:
This is the most exciting and wonderful church I have ever belonged to. I can hardly wait for Sunday morning worship, everyone seems so happy and friendly and willing to serve Christ. The congregation of the Living Word has a hunger for the Word of God!
The volunteer workers are wonderful and there is a giving spirit among our members. We have received many wonderful items donated to the church. Certainly we are all united in Christ and in serving Him. All of the glory and honor for what has been accomplished and the success that we have enjoyed most certainly belongs to God! I pray that our search for the TRUTH remains strong and our focus will always remain on God and His Word. If we are not watchful, we can quickly get sidetracked by small issues. We must keep our eyes on God.
The conflict over God's Word and the stand taken by those who left ELCA congregations to form Living Word has been a powerful witness in the Milbank community and throughout this area. God has used a painful process and what some might consider a "failed" vote to teach us what is truly important and what it means to discern His will and follow it. We are reminded that the Church is God's people gathered around Word and Sacrament, and not a building or human institution. God has strengthened our faith and blessed us beyond measure as we have learned to trust in Him and His plan for us, our congregation, and our mission as His faithful disciples where He has put us in this time and place. We continue to seek His will for us as we prayerfully begin a building project, study and proclaim His Word, and seek to be His good and faithful disciple servants.
May God continue to bless our church and may we always be in His word.