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Bethel Lutheran starts construction of a second church campus

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River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
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River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

The congregation of Bethel Lutheran Church celebrated the long-awaited start of construction of a second church campus on Saturday.

Standing on a wide expanse of sand where the Bethel Highlands facility will rise, church members participated in a "rite of laying a foundation." They praised God for his goodness and asked him to bless the ground upon which the 28,000-square-foot worship and educational facility will be built over the next year.

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Then young Brannan Jenkinson carried a box of written prayers into a trench and set it on the ground, symbolizing the petitions of the people being incorporated into the very foundation of the building.

"With faith in Jesus Christ, this work was begun in hope, as a God-given dream captured our imagination and set us on the way to accomplish a task that is greater than our strength," read the Rev. Dennis Nelson, Bethel's senior pastor. "Through every step of the journey to this day, we have sought God's guidance and prayed for his blessing that God's will might be done."

The $5.5 million project has been about 11 years in the making, Nelson said in an interview prior to Saturday's foundation-laying service.

In 2001, the congregation purchased 40 acres at the south end of Crosby Drive in the town of Hudson as the location for its second church campus. The site is perched above I-94 on the north side of the freeway, where Hwy. 35 bends toward River Falls.

Access to the church campus will be from a new I-94 frontage road extending eastward from Carmichael Road in Hudson and westward from Hwy. 12 in the town of Hudson.

People also will continue to use Crosby Drive to reach the campus. Crosby Drive runs south from County UU from an intersection just west of the Hudson Soccer Association fields.

The focal point of the building will be a cupola-topped, octagon-shaped worship and multi-purpose room able to seat 450 to 550 people. When not being used for worship or meetings, the room will function as a gymnasium and dining hall.

The more informal setting will lend itself to the church's contemporary worship services that will be held at Bethel Highlands.

Bethel's existing sanctuary at 920 Third St. is where the church's traditional Lutheran services will be held.

Pastor Nelson said the existing church, now known as Bethel Downtown, also will provide a traditional setting for weddings and funerals. The downtown church serves well for many family celebrations, he said.

The second cupola on the Bethel Highlands building will cap an octagon-shaped children's theater -- a junior version of the large worship and multi-purpose room.

The facility also will have a preschool, classrooms, rooms for a variety of activities and a kitchen.

Bob Wall chaired the building committee that worked with Station 19 Architects of Minneapolis on the design of the facility. Other members of the committee are Pastor Nelson, Marilyn Henderson, Missy Austreng, Marj Sandford, Dave Kreye and Roger Pavlis.

Jamie Johnson and Doug and Kriss Barlow headed a capital campaign that has raised $2.4 million for the project so far.

Thrivent is providing the long-term financing for the project and First National Bank of Hudson is handling the construction financing.

Derrick Commercial Contracting of New Richmond is the general contractor.

Saturday's event wasn't called a ground-breaking celebration because Zappa Bros. Excavating of Hudson has already prepared the site for the start of construction. Zappa Bros. also is building the parking lot, driveways and frontage road leading to the church building.

Gary Zappa of Zappa Bros. attended Saturday's service, along with Bill Derrick of Derrick Commercial Contracting and representatives of Station 19 Architects.

Work on the footings and foundations for the building is underway. Construction will proceed through the summer and winter with the goal of having the facility completed by early March 2007.

About 100 members of the Bethel congregation gathered at the Third Street church Saturday afternoon and traveled together (as many as possible taking the church bus) to Bethel Highlands for the foundation-laying service.

A reception was held at Bethel Downtown following the service.

Bethel Lutheran Church was formed 133 years ago (March 15, 1873) by a group of Norwegian families that had settled in Hudson.

The congregation organized under the name Norsk Evangelisk Luthersk Menighed av Hudson og Omegnen (the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Hudson and Vicinity). The first services were held at Olson Hall on First Street.

The congregation moved into its first church building on Third Street in October 1873.

The present sanctuary, completed in 1960, was built just north of the original church. The building has been expanded twice. In 1972, the educational wing was enlarged. A second addition was completed in March 1989, expanding the narthex and fellowship hall, and adding Sunday school rooms and conference rooms, offices and an elevator.

The church had close to 2,000 members when it celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1998. The congregation is now made up of people of diverse heritages and backgrounds. It is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

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Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.
(715) 426-1066
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