Pastor Cindy Johnson and Bishop Rodger Prois celebrate with a hug after the St. John Lutheran Church mortgage-burning.
Pastor Cindy Johnson and Bishop Rodger Prois celebrate with a hug after the St. John Lutheran Church mortgage-burning.
April 28, 2014

St. John Lutheran Church members had extra reason to rejoice Sunday morning. They made their miracle happen.

Propelled by their "Miracle Weekend" fundraising initiative two years ago, the congregation recently paid off debt on the 1992 sanctuary and classrooms addition. They celebrated with a mortgage-burning during Sunday's service.

Rodger Prois, of Storm Lake, bishop of the Western Iowa Synod Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and St. John Pastor, the Rev. Cindy Johnson, did the honors on the altar, and worshipers, who nearly filled the church, cheered.

On a day when the main Scripture recounted the story of St. Thomas and his questioning of Jesus' resurrection, Prois delivered messages of the Holy Spirit, faith, peace and healing. He talked about exciting opportunities open to the Carroll church, one of 133 in the synod, now that the burden of debt has been erased.

He said in an interview after the service, "It means freedom for this congregation to then explore without a financial debt what they can do, and it also helps them feel good about accomplishing something really significant. I know they have been working on this for a long time."

A number of former St. John pastors joined the celebration: the Rev. Myron Herzberg (1989-93), now at Memorial Lutheran Church in Nevada, Iowa; the Rev. Charles Bichel, 2006-07 interim, retired,; the Rev. Vic Johnson, 2012-13 interim, retired; and the Rev. David Bergstrom (2009-12), Estherville. Also in attendance was Irene McKenney, of Rochester, Minn., widow of the Rev. Paul Floy, who was pastor when the mortgage for the first portion of the church, located at 801 E. 18th St., was paid off in 1984. Floy died in a traffic accident the next spring.

The 122-year-old St. John Lutheran started in 1892, holding services in a church located between Lidderdale and Glidden, before opening in Carroll, under Pastor Floy, in 1977. The current sanctuary and classrooms were added in 1992.

The expansion cost $435,750 and left the church with mortgage of approximately $345,000. Bergstrom recalled that the goal of Miracle Weekend in March 2012 was to raise enough in cash and pledges to pay the mortgage in two years.

Johnson commented of the congregation's success, "People just stepped forward. They caught that vision of 'Hey, we can get this albatross off our necks.' Some with the means gave extra, and some without the means also gave a little more."

"Miracle Weekend" generated $88,000. The initiative was called "Miracle Weekend," Johnson added, because 10 percent of the funds raised were designated for God's work, with 10 percent of the first $50,000 going to local charities and 10 percent of the remainder going to national-level charities.

Johnson said the church, which has about 350 members, has no major new plans to tackle immediately - just taking care of some delayed maintenance with doors and windows.

"Right now we're just breathing," she said, punctuated with a sigh.

She added, "I have dreams like maybe an intern down the line, training a pastor here."

Johnson said with a laugh, "It's good news and bad news. The good news is that the mortgage is paid. The bad news is that the pastor now knows 'you can raise this much money in two years.'"

Prois observed, "It's a wonderful thing. Now they can say, 'We've done this, and now we can do more.'"

Herzberg said it was important that 20 students from a world religion course at Kuemper Catholic High School taught by John Kitch, a St. John member, attended Sunday's service.

Students in the class attend services at different churches in the community and make comparisons to Catholicism.

"The congregation has made a commitment to an ecumenical ministry and has had a partnership with the Kuemper community," he said, also noting that over the years various Kuemper groups have used St. John for meetings.

"It's significant because it reflects a partnership St. John has had with the Carroll community," he said.