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GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Necessity mothered an invention of sorts for a handful of churches in the Nelson County area who joined this spring into one North Dakota parish, despite not all being of the same denomination.

The still-unnamed five-point parish was formed to deal with dwindling numbers and a sudden lack of pastors.

In September, the Rev. Joel Westby told his two congregations, Lakota Lutheran and United Lutheran in Brocket, that he was taking another call to a parish in Montana.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Sue Kana Mackey decided to retire after the small United Methodist congregation she served in Edmore for 30 years - for the past decade meeting in a nursing home after the church burned down - closed last year.

That meant the three other congregations Kana Mackey also has served for years were without a pastor: Michigan Lutheran, Sarnia Lutheran in Whitman and United Church of Christ in Lakota.

"We were all going to be looking for pastors," Scott Nelson, a farmer and member of Lakota Lutheran, said about how the five became one. "The point wasn't to save churches or save money. It was to hopefully use the synergy of all the congregations to become a stronger, more vibrant parish for all of us."

Nelson is chairman of a committee to form one parish out of the five congregations that make up a rough square of a little more than 10 miles-by-10 miles bordered on the south by U.S. Highway 2.

"We are really looking to broaden our evangelism and our worship," he said.

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Four of the congregations are members of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, so they got advice and counsel from synod leaders.

The fact that the ELCA has forged joint communion compacts with several other Protestant denominations, including the United Church of Christ, makes it simpler, because clergy can be shared between the churches without any problems.

"We don't anticipate that to be any kind of stumbling block," Nelson said of having two denominations. "Each church maintains its own identity."

It's become almost typical in this region for the dominant ELCA to form such mega-parishes.

The new parish based in Lakota got ideas from the Rev. Don Reynolds, pastor of a six-congregation parish based in Edmore.

"I just told them they have to be careful to listen to every voice and not let tradition kind of dictate, but you have to be open to doing things in a new and different way," Reynolds said. "You have to be kind of inventive. If something doesn't work, you have to try something else."

His High Plains Ministry had five congregations for six years; then another, Faith Lutheran in Hampden, wanted in and joined in January. It just makes sense in rural North Dakota these days, Reynolds said.

"It's kind of silly to have six youth groups, so we can do that together in our parish," he said.

Even together, the High Plains youth group has only about a dozen members.

Sunday school and confirmation classes are held together in Edmore, where all the students go to public school, anyway. One bulletin is printed for all the congregations.

All five congregations approved the idea April 25. The deal becomes final May 25, and a parish council will start running things.

"The first order of business will be calling a new pastor," said Mary Bucher, a member of Michigan Lutheran who is on the new parish committee.

A name also must be chosen. Some of the suggested names include "New Horizons," "Bright Star" and "Five-Point Northern Star," Bucher said.

 

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