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Saints preserve us! DL church will be 100 years old next year -- if it's not torn down first

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After nearly 100 years, the county and city are pondering whether to tear down the Berean Church, at the corner of Lake Avenue and Frazee Street, to build a parking lot.

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There's a lot of history in those walls.

According to records at the Becker County Historical Society, the "new, dark red concrete and wood church" was built in 1908 "on a plot of ground used for a potato garden" by the congregation that would become the United Methodist Church. John Mercer was contracted to build the wooden part of the church.

To celebrate the building of the church, the ladies served workers an oyster supper.

The Methodists were the fourth church to organize in the city of Detroit Lakes, April 4, 1873. The first three were the First Baptist, Congregational and St. Luke's Episcopal churches.

After building the new establishment at Lake Avenue and Frazee Street, the old church building was sold to church member Jesse Nunn. He used the building for a furniture store and funeral home. Fire destroyed the structure in 1914.

Between 1912-17, the new parsonage south of the church was built at 101 Lake Avenue.

In 1922-25, the church basement was remodeled. The coal furnace was removed, and the church was hooked up to city heat. A kitchen was also included in the plan.

On Sept. 24, 1940, there was a reunion of the north and south Methodist churches. And on April 11, 1952, the new Methodist Episcopal Church remodeled. The chancel was redesigned to include a new alter and lighting. The church was completely insulated and redecorated at the time. Dr. Enos Windsor, district superintendent, gave the memorial dedication on May 11, 1952.

Then, in 1964, the church decided it needed more space for education -- Sunday School rooms and meetings. The church parsonage was converted for these purposes. In 1967-68, the Wesley House (the parsonage) was used for nursery classes with an intercom between the basement, pastor's study, office, church and kitchen. The church women donated furniture for the living room to make an informal meeting place.

In 1968, the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren churches joined, and on June 23, 1968, the church voted for construction of a new parsonage. Later that year, Oct. 20, the church adopted a new name -- First Methodist Church of Detroit Lakes, which would eventually become the United Methodist Church.

Across town, the Berean Baptist Church was established in 1968 by Rev. Harold E. Marcilliott. The church spilt from First Baptist over basic disagreement in church practices and policies. The small group of eight or nine people asked the assistance of the Minnesota Baptist Convention in establishing a second Baptist church in Detroit Lakes.

The first full-time pastor was Pastor Gerald Webber of Minneapolis. "Webber will be the young leader of a young church," the church records read. Harold (Toni) Angus served as part-time youth director.

Only a couple years after those nine people began a church, in 1971, numbers for the church population increased 10 times that amount. "This progress has led the church to adopt a new by-line 'The Fastest Growing Church in Detroit Lakes.'"

The group first met in a storefront at 513 North Washington Avenue, with Marcilliott commuting from Minneapolis each weekend. Soon after, the group moved to the basement of 514 North Washington Avenue, which was the former VFW Club. On Sept. 10, 1969, Berean Baptist took over the former Seventh Day Adventist building on the corner of Willow Street and Lake Avenue.

"This property purchase was financed, as many residents will remember, by an all out drive to sell a bond issue of nearly $20,000." That was completed in three months.

In April of 1970, the United Methodist congregation decided to sell its church and parsonage, and Jan. 6, 1972, it was sold to Berean Baptist Church. Those present at the signing of sale papers (and for a photo that ran in the Becker County Record) were Pastor Gerald Webber, Methodist pastor Rev. Alex Ramos, Methodist Church representatives Jack Renner and Dr. Robert Watson, and Berean representatives George Nash, LeRoy Shaleen, E. Duane Johnston and Sid Sycks.

After the sale of the building, the Methodist Church shared the Episcopal Congregation Church building until its own structure was completed. First services in the new building were Jan. 29, 1973.

The Berean's first service in the new, used building was Feb. 6, 1972.

Though the idea of a courthouse parking ramp is "still an option," according to Becker County Administrator Brian Berg, the county board approved a purchase agreement recently that makes it an unlikely one.

While the purchase won't become final until certain conditions are met, the board approved an agreement Aug. 28 to purchase the property currently occupied by the Berean Baptist Church and one adjacent home to the south, for a price of $553,717 with $20,000 earnest money.

In addition, the county has purchased an option on two additional homes south of the church property from Berean Baptist Church, at a cost of $2,000. Both the $2,000 option and the $20,000 earnest money were to be paid by the end of the month, according to board action.

Eventual plans call for a 125-foot by 312-foot parking lot on the property, which is located on the corner of Lake Avenue and Frazee Street, directly across from the Detroit Lakes Public Library and approximately a half block from the courthouse entrance.

However, the sale is contingent upon a couple of things falling into place first: First, the city must agree to allow a parking lot to be placed on the property, and approve all necessary permits, and second, the county will only take possession after the church itself has been demolished.

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