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Finding Faith: Minnesota church has a close-out auction

The Scandia Lutheran Church in Averill, Minnesota, held its last worship service on July 17. It sold off everything that was accumulated in 123 years of service, from the altar to the communion service set to even the metal coat racks that hung in the vestibule.

Devlyn Brooks 2021
Devlyn Brooks
Contributed
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This past Sunday, I attended the close-out auction of Scandia Lutheran Church in Averill, Minnesota, about 40 miles northeast of my home parish in northwestern Minnesota.

You heard that right … close-out auction. The first in this particular auction house’s nearly 40-year history.

The church, which held its last worship service on July 17, sold off everything that was accumulated in 123 years of service, from the altar to the communion service set to even the metal coat racks that hung in the vestibule.

I didn’t have a personal connection to the church, but I had seen a TV news story about its last service in July, and then a couple of weeks later I saw notice of the auction in our synod newsletter.

Given that I serve a small, rural parish that faces many of the same issues that Scandia faced, I was drawn to the church auction partly out of journalistic curiosity, partly because I enjoy auctions, and partly because I have empathy for those who voted to close their church.

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As I sat in a front pew and watched this quaint prairie church be sold a piece at a time — pews, hymnals, the altar, the pulpit, kitchenware — I felt a mixture of sadness and awe.

The good people of the congregation turned out in droves to give the church its final hurrah. In fact, there were even 200-plus online bidders participating. And their bidding, it seemed, was fueled by nostalgia as even ordinary household items fetched $100 or more. The altar sold for more than $1,000, and the pastor’s chair for $600.

But there was also a quiet sadness present. Multiple times during the four-hour sale, the auctioneers mentioned that this was one of the quietest sales they’d ever hosted. Try as they might, they never succeeded in lifting the crowd’s mood past a subdued reverence.

I came away from the auction with a box of antique catechism books and a porcelain statue of Jesus on the cross with the Roman Centurion bowing below. My $27.50 — and the rest that was raised at the auction — will be used to keep up the nearby Scandia Lutheran Church Cemetery, just 3 miles north of the church. A similar story that is repeating itself all across the country.

I plan to display the statue in my pastor’s office at our church to remind me of how fortunate we are to still be in operation, something none of us rural parishes should take for granted.

I offer a blessing to the fine folks who made the heartbreaking decision to close their church, and I tip my cap to the countless saints who came before them to carve a sacred house of worship out of the middle of a prairie. I will think of you all every time I see your statue of Jesus in my office.

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Related Topics: FAITH
Opinion by Devlyn Brooks
Devlyn Brooks is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and serves Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minn. He also works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at devlyn.brooks@forumcomm.com for comments and story ideas.
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