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A gift for everyone

St. John Lutheran Church in Ely has more room to welcome all

ELY– St. John Lutheran Church in Ely has a lot to celebrate this spring.
The church recently completed a building project that brought a new sanctuary, office space, Sunday school rooms and updates to the existing fellowship hall. A dedication of the new space will be held on Sunday, April 26, and everyone is welcome.
St. John pastor Erika Uthe said the expansion was the result of an extensive self-study conducted by the entire congregation, which began in 2011.
“The number one thing that came up was a need for space. As a growing community there is a need for space for families to hold activities; showers, weddings, receptions, funerals,” said Uthe. “And within the congregation, we needed space for the ministries we have planned.”
For example, St. John recently partnered with the senior dining program in Ely, maintains the community food pantry in the church basement and is currently planning a preschool program.
“We knew we needed to build in order to continue living our mission,” Uthe said.
After identifying the need, architect Dale Solum, of Solum Lang Architects, met with 11 different groups of people with a wide range of ages, interests and hobbies to discuss the use of the space before he even started working on the design.
“The congregation was in on it from the beginning,” said Uthe. “The building committee was instrumental and essential to what we have now.”
The committee maintained the most important thing was for the new building to look like a church, yet incorporate modern updates. The combination of traditional aesthetic and new technology can be seen throughout the building. New, large windows let in natural light while the stained glass windows depicting Bible scenes remain in place in the old sanctuary. The new library will have a flat screen television and conference table to accommodate smaller meetings. One of its walls is entirely glass, and it is situated adjacent to the main church entrance.
“We love that it is the first thing you see when you come in because it is such an inviting space. The library gets heavily used,” said Uthe.
Instead of wood floors and wooden pews that held 80 people, the new sanctuary is carpeted and has upholstered chairs with a seating capacity of 250; it’s a design element that works particularly well for acoustics. The extra-wide chancellery is backed by plenty of wall space for big screens, allowing for music to be projected, so worshipers can go paperless if they choose. One of the biggest considerations, Uthe said, was the sanctuary’s versatility. The altar, pulpit, font, chairs and musical instruments are all easy to move.
“Nothing is permanently fixed, so we can use this space as it is needed,” Uthe said. “One thought was maybe doing community theater in Ely, and this is the perfect place for it because it has the technology, the seating and the space.”
In fact, Uthe said, St. John’s congregation planned the facility so it could be used by all.
“Ely is unique as a small town because we don’t have our own school; it has been a consolidated district for 60 years now so there wasn’t a hub to speak of,” Uthe said. “So part of the vision for this space was that we could become that ‘hub’ a little bit more.”
It was a need recognized and embraced by the whole community, Uthe said. In just one year of a capital campaign, $447,000 has been raised in pledges and donations toward the $1.6 million project.
“To be where we are after just a year is really astounding. It really speaks to the need of the project in the first place, and people stepped up to make it happen,” Uthe said. “It’s really a gift, and we are very excited about it.”
Perhaps as another testament to the success of the project, the first worship service in the new sanctuary, on Christmas Eve, required additional chairs to be set up for all those who came to share in the celebration.
Uthe hopes everyone will be equally enthusiastic about joining St. John for its upcoming dedication service April 26. Worship will begin at 10:30 a.m., with special guests Bishop Michael Burke from the South Eastern Iowa Synod and Bishop Charles Mjema from Tanzania. A luncheon will follow at noon, with a short program at 1:30 p.m. acknowledging and giving thanks for all who made the new building possible.
“It’s a lot of people,” Uthe said.
The new building’s design fits perfectly with the church’s welcoming doctrine, Uthe said.
“At St. John we believe that who you are is who God created you to be, and that is perfect and we welcome you that way. We are a come-as-you-are place with a relaxed atmosphere. The number one thing people say when they join is that it feels like home to them,” Uthe said. “We really consider this as a community building now. We hope people will feel comfortable coming in and gathering here.”