A country church, giving in its closing

News | March 2, 2017

A woman unable to afford a plane ticket was able to fly to the East Coast after all, to visit her only child in the hours before he died. A grandmother raising her three teen-aged grandchildren has a car again after necessary repairs were made. A nearby congregation will have air conditioning, and another congregation hundreds of miles away on a Native American reservation will have new pews.

A cemetery, area camps, a local food bank, an agency that serves those with disabilities, a prison ministry – and many other efforts – are counted among those that the people of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church gave to over the past several months. 

The members of this tiny church in Spragueville, Iowa, knew it was time that they let go of their congregation. But they also knew that in closing, they would give to organizations and people in some really big and meaningful ways.

“The church is the people in it,” said Jodi Helmle, a member who guided the effort. She just wrote the final check last week, she said. “We gave toward organizations and people who were special to our congregation.”

The church began in 1872, and the building was built in 1884. The last service was on August 28, 2016. Salem is connected with St. Paul by their pastor, Ron Huber, who also serves as St. Paul’s visitation pastor.

All of this giving is deeply rooted in the spirits of the people of Salem. But it specifically began with the story of Geraldine Lambert, a lifelong member of the church, who died in 2014. She left behind money to her beloved congregation.

“She kept in contact with every former pastor. She had traveled to every continent. She was such an interesting woman. I could listen to her stories for days,” Jodi said. “I hope she’s happy with what we did.”

The money was enough to keep the church going for a few years, Jodi said. Instead, the congregation decided it was time to close and share all of the church’s money and as many possessions as possible with others.

The church’s cemetery received a gift for its ongoing care. Camp Shalom and Camp Ewalu were recipients, as was DAC, Inc., an organization for those with disabilities. A new prison ministry at the state penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa, and a food pantry got some money, as did a playground fund in nearby Preston, Iowa. Work in Haiti, a country near and dear to the people of Salem, was funded, too.

They helped some families with Christmas, in addition to the mom who had the chance to see her dying son and the grandmother with a repaired car.

Contents of the church went to nearby Iron Hill church, and a congregation in West Burlington, Iowa. Pews, a piano, and altar chairs, will be heading to a Native American reservation in Utah next month. A kind volunteer stepped forward to haul it out there by truck.

The members at Spragueville now go to two different churches, one in Andrew and another in Preston. Members had the installation of central air in mind for the church in Andrew, and repairs to the parsonage for the church in Preston.

The property includes the church and an old school building, purchased by a local couple. Since Geraldine was a dedicated teacher (she spent many years teaching at Monroe Elementary in Davenport), the schoolhouse had some work done to it so it can be kept for the community. The church will be used for businesses. “It’s so nice seeing someone with pride in ownership have the building,” Jodi said.

And as for the church members?

“We’ve all adjusted, maybe easier than we thought we would,” she said.


3 Comments on “A country church, giving in its closing”

  • Don Garrison

    March 9, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    A perfect example of why I love Iowa and the the ELC. There are great people every where, but we seem to have been blessed just a bit more so.

  • Jill Schulz

    March 6, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    This article was passed along to me by my aunt; this church was a beloved part of generations in my family. It is such a sweet sentiment, a truly gentle take on the beauty of change and passing of time, which can be hard to see sometimes. Tearful reading your words, but grateful for them and what they say about this community of people. Thank you so much for this.

  • Ron Huber

    March 2, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you Ann! Well done!

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Daniel 12:1-3

The Time of the End

1“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.2“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.3“Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Psalm 16

1Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You.

2I said to the LORD, “You are my Lord;

I have no good besides You.”

3As for the saints who are in the earth,

They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.

4The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied;

I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood,

Nor will I take their names upon my lips.

5The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;

You support my lot.

6The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;

Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.

7I will bless the LORD who has counseled me;

Indeed, my mind instructs me in the night.

8I have set the LORD continually before me;

Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

9Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;

My flesh also will dwell securely.

10For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;

Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.

11You will make known to me the path of life;

In Your presence is fullness of joy;

In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Hebrews 10:11-25

11Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins;12but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,13waiting from that time onward UNTIL HISENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET.14For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying,





He then says,



18Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.

A New and Living Way

19Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus,20by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh,21and since we have a great priest over the house of God,22let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;24and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

Christ or Judgment

Mark 13:1-8

Things to Come

1As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples *said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!”2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

3As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately,4“Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?”5And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you.6“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.7“When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end.8“For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

Daniel 7:9-14

9“I kept looking

Until thrones were set up,

And the Ancient of Days took His seat;

His vesture was like white snow

And the hair of His head like pure wool.

His throne was ablaze with flames,

Its wheels were a burning fire.

10“A river of fire was flowing

And coming out from before Him;

Thousands upon thousands were attending Him,

And myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;

The court sat,

And the books were opened.

11“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire.12“As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but an extension of life was granted to them for an appointed period of time.

The Son of Man Presented

13“I kept looking in the night visions,

And behold, with the clouds of heaven

One like a Son of Man was coming,

And He came up to the Ancient of Days

And was presented before Him.

14“And to Him was given dominion,

Glory and a kingdom,

That all the peoples, nations and men of every language

Might serve Him.

His dominion is an everlasting dominion

Which will not pass away;

And His kingdom is one

Which will not be destroyed.

The Vision Interpreted

Psalm 93

1The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;

The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength;

Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

2Your throne is established from of old;

You are from everlasting.

3The floods have lifted up, O LORD,

The floods have lifted up their voice,

The floods lift up their pounding waves.

4More than the sounds of many waters,

Than the mighty breakers of the sea,

The LORD on high is mighty.

5Your testimonies are fully confirmed;

Holiness befits Your house,

O LORD, forevermore.

Revelation 1:-4-8

John 18:33-37

33Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”34Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”35Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?”36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”37Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”