The members of Joyful Spirit United Methodist Church certainly hope to be rejoicing together as a church body for many more years to come.

These members are in the process of selling their church building in Deer Creek and hope to sell the Wadena church in an effort to complete a merger of the two bodies.

But the process of bringing two unique congregations, the Wadena United Methodist Church, and the Deer Creek United Methodist Church into one church body and possibly one new location has been an interesting process.

It's a process that started years ago and has been helped by Reverend Lee Kantonen who was selected to serve the churches in 2016 to help in the transition. Since that time, the churches went through discussions of steps they need to take to continue to exist. With numbers not exactly on the rise, and an aging membership, the two churches agreed on merging, effective January 2018. Hewitt and Wrightstown United Methodist Churches were also a part of early conversations, but they chose not to move ahead.

"The whole idea is to hopefully to be able to establish a new sense of purpose and more effectively do mission and outreach," Pastor Kantonen said.

For a true merger of the two churches, it was deemed necessary for both churches to put their buildings up for sale. If the buildings sold, they would then use the funds to either buy or build a new building. They pray that church would be located on Hwy 29 in a neutral location between both towns, according to member Kathy Techam, who along with husband Steve, has been a member of the United Methodist Church in Deer Creek for 45 years.

"There are those who understand that taking care of the buildings that we have gets to be too much of a challenge and too much of an expense and we need to do something that hopefully is a little more within our economic abilities," Joyful Spirit member Norma Lee said. "Then there are those feelings of people that dont want to give up where they have been all of their lives, and that makes it really hard. There are a lot of mixed feelings."

Lee, who has been a member of the Wadena church for about 78 years, noted that much of the congregation is made up of seniors on fixed incomes, so funds for maintaining the building are not likely available.

In June, the Deer Creek Church had an agreement to sell and church members are planning to be out of the church in August. The new owner plans to live in and run a business out of the building.

Moving on

This is no easy process for those who've been members, building and maintaining the structures their entire lives. The concept that the people are the church and the building is just a building is hard to swallow when looking at these places that have been the place of worship for so long. But it's that idea that current members believe will take them into the future.

"There's a lot of memories in that church for many people," Techam said. "But if a congregation is to survive, they have to move forward. The Lord has led us down this path."

Lee agreed that it is about looking ahead and continuing to share the message of hope.

"You have to look ahead and think that this is going to be a whole new opportunity for us and whole new opportunity for us to grow," Lee said.

Members are praying that the merger and move to one location strengthens the church body to be able to reach those unserved and younger families that may need a church family to join.

"We knew that our church would not be able to stand on its own," Techam said. "We had to make a decision to combine with Wadena and move forward from there."

The congregation was around 25-30 in Deer Creek with a few more youth than the Wadena location. But since merging the church averages 50-70 in attendance, that, Techam said makes them stronger and better able to reach out and serve. And if they are able to build a new structure to worship, Techam feels it will be even better.

"We feel this is going to be a glorification to God," Techam said.

The process of merging was made smoother by the Reverend Lee Kantonen. Kantonen said the church has been supportive of the future, wherever the Lord would have them land.

"Our first goal is not what works best for us as far as where we worship, you want to focus on the mission," Kantonen said. "Who are the people you are trying to reach? How can you most effectively reach out to the people who have no church?

"But it's not easy to do, these roots run deep."

The buildings

Great family history is engrained in both structures. The Wadena building, has had numerous donations spanning over a hundred years including memorial funds from families who lost family members. Some of those funds have gone to buy huge stained-glass windows depicting images of Jesus Christ and sharing messages of hope. While the church has looked into removing them, these priceless artworks may not be able to be removed as it's cost prohibitive.

The Wadena building has gone through various additions, the latest added office and conference room space on the western side of the main building. The main building was built in 1912, according to an article from the Pioneer Journal Centennial Edition.

The Deer Creek location has served as the food shelf location in Deer Creek and members say they are still considering where the new food shelf location could be moved to. Techam said it's the place their daughters were baptised and it's a place that has drawn them into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Techam said the building in Deer Creek was the Evangelical United Brethren Church, before a merger in 1967 that brought the United Methodist Church to the site from across the street. Before it was a EUB Church it was called the Deer Creek Salem Evangelical Church built in 1892 and moved into the city in 1909. Trinity Lutheran Church will be the only remaining active church building in Deer Creek with the UMC move.

Several people have looked at the Wadena UMC building but no concrete offer has been made. It's being listed by The Gore's Company in Wadena.

Looking to go to church?

The churches were meeting at each location every other Sunday, but as a goodbye to the Deer Creek location, they will be meeting there every Sunday in July then moving to the Wadena location until the next move.

Techam said they are still planning a gathering at some point to bring back people that have some history in the Deer Creek church to say their goodbyes. More information is coming on this event.

The name of the church was changed to Joyful Spirit because the church believes if anyone should be joyful it should be followers of Christ.

"We've got the best story there is and we've got the most hope that there is," Kantonen said. "We really ought to be a joyful people."

Other areas Kantonen said he hopes to head is to be a church where people can ask the tough questions, not feel judged and openly talk about the issues of their lives and faith.