Biwabik Celebrates 50 Years, Reflects on Arson Fire

Post a Comment » Written on July 18th, 2007     
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BIWABIK, MN (July 18, 2007) – When Biwabik Covenant Church celebrated its 50th anniversary recently, the congregation honored its founding woman “pastor.” They also held the event in their new sanctuary, which was constructed with volunteers from many congregations after the church was destroyed by an arson fire.

Jones and DanielsonThe original church was started when a prayer group that met at a local IGA grocery store was interested in beginning a new work. In 1956, the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Northwest Conference asked its local district parish worker, Alice Kramer Danielson, to survey the need for a church and its viability.

Danielson, now 88 years old, discerned that the area, where mining companies were being started, was fertile soil. People were flooding to the area to fill jobs. She started Bible studies, coordinated worship, helped begin vacation Bible schools and did whatever else was necessary.

“In 1955, I and two high school girls went door to door inviting kids to VBS,” Danielson says. “By the end of the second week we had 30. After the VBS was over, I stayed in Biwabik and followed up with the parents.”

Raymond Gustafson, a full-time developer pastor, eventually arrived to help plant the church. He is listed as the church’s first minister, but his son, Covenant minister Keith Gustafson, says Danielson really deserves to be considered the first. (The Covenant did not affirm the ordination of women until 1976.) The accompanying photo shows Danielson with pastor Jeffrey Jones.

“It was awesome, absolutely awesome!” Danielson says of festivities surrounding the anniversary. “I predict you are going to hear many more wonderful things happening at the church. They are really reaching out to their community.”

The church of roughly 50 members faced one of its greatest challenges in 1998, when two juveniles set fire to the building, making it unusable. The people met in several locations and decided they would rebuild in a more visible part of town. “When I first came here, I couldn’t find it,” quips Jones.

ExteriorJones arrived just nine months before the fire and has been guiding the congregation since. He says the people have been determined to build the new facility without incurring any debt.

In 2002, area churches of different denominations raised more than $10,000 through a series of barbecues, Jones says. The first section of the church was completed in 2003, and the congregation met in the fellowship hall. The sanctuary was finished only recently. To read previously published stories, see “construction” and “dedication.”

The congregation built a 200-seat sanctuary to plan for growth, Jones says, adding that having that many seats also will enable people to have weddings at the church. More than $400,000 has been spent on construction, but the congregation has incurred no debt. Volunteers from a number of congregations have constructed the entire building except for part of the foundation and plumbing, Jones notes.

Members from Grace Covenant Church in Little Falls, Minnesota, have sent at least eight construction crews to help. Mission Covenant Church from Poplar, Wisconsin, “has done a ton of work,” Jones says. First Covenant Church in Virginia, Minnesota, and the New London, Minnesota, congregation all have contributed labor as well.

Half of the inside of the church remains to be finished, but the walls already were constructed with the rest of the building (accompanying photo shows the exterior of the new building). The church remains adamant about not going into debt to complete the building.

Contributing to the celebration was the Harmony Four, former members of the Biwabik church who began singing together in 1964. They came from different states to sing again. Conference Superintendent Jim Fretheim preached during the Sunday worship service.

To see additional photos from the celebration, please visit “50th Anniversary.”

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