Local church still connecting to community after 75 years

SUBMITTED PHOTO Valley Christian Center welcomed the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge choir from Rochester to sing during a January service as part of the church's 75th anniversary observations.

SUBMITTED PHOTO Renovation of the Valley Christian Center sanctuary took place in January. Church member Steve Heusinkveld was one of many people doing the work when they had time to volunteer.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Valley Christian Center: 75 and still on the party line.

“Valley Christian Center connects people to God so they would know God’s love, grow in relationship with God and each other and go and serve Him.  If you drive past our property, visit our website, attend our church, you will see and hear the phrase ‘Connecting People to God,’” stated Valley Christian Center’s pastor, the Rev. James Leonard, pleased to be part of the community switchboard that helps people reach for spiritual growth, even as the church marks its 75th anniversary this year.   

The congregation to whom Leonard ministers has diversified and is thriving in conversation with one another, God and their community. 

“We have a great congregation,” he said. “If everyone shows up, we have around 150 people from just a few months old up into the ‘80s.  A typical Sunday has around 80 people.  One of the things I love about the church is the diversity in age.  Our largest demographic, by age, is our 4 to 11-year-olds.  Our second largest are 51 to 64 years old.  We see the beauty of a church diverse in the age of its congregants each Sunday morning.  The singing portion of our church services has all ages together, and we see 5-year-olds and 70-year-olds worshipping together.”   

The present generation of VCC attendees and members are able to join in worship each Sunday and during the week thanks to the willingness of approximately a dozen individuals answering a call to form an Assemblies of God church in Spring Valley during the World War II era. 

“Reminding the current generation of Valley Christian Center attenders that we stand on the shoulders of the ones who went before us is really exciting.  I am not the first pastor of this church, and I probably won’t be the last,” Leonard said. “There are 12 men whose ministry in Spring Valley set the stage for me to come in and minister.  I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of men and women who have served on the board over the last 75 years or who taught Sunday school, vacation Bible school, led worship, mowed the lawn or done any other volunteer position.  I can tell you each person who served in this church over the years are the shoulders we stand on today as we look to what God wants to do in our generation and beyond.” 

A church history Leonard shared outlines how Valley Christian Center came to be the mission and worship center it is today. Members began meeting at the Dr. Thornhill Office Building on Main Street in 1942 with the Rev. Graham as minister, but didn’t incorporate officially until 1944. Prayer meetings were held at the Henry Frazer, Jane Tabor and Mrs. Kennedy homes, the history noted.  When Graham moved away, Rosie Bumgarner carried on the Sunday school in the Thurston Long home, which was also opened as a place for worship services. 

The Rev. and Mrs. Allen Dean came in 1943.  Meeting continued in the homes, with about 10 in attendance.  In October of 1943, the house owned by Mrs. Kalb on the corner of Division Street and Park Avenue was purchased for $475.  This was remodeled and served as a church until 1948.  Attendance grew to over 90 in Sunday school. 

On Jan. 19, 1944, a meeting was held with Bartlett Peterson, Assemblies of God Minnesota District field secretary, and the church was incorporated as the Assemblies of God Church. Dean was elected pastor; George Hamlin was elected as treasurer; Earl Klingsheim was elected as secretary; and Berner Klingsheim was elected as trustee.

The 14 charter members were the Rev. Allen W. Dean, Ada Dean, Irene Long, George Hamlin, Helen Hamlin, Earl Klingsheim, Berner Klingsheim, Ida Klingsheim, Paul Klingsheim, Hildegarde Hongerholt, Gladys Martin, Henry Frazer, Mable Frazer and Rosie Bumgarner. 

The stone building located at 305 East Church Street, known as the L.C. Lobdill barn, was purchased for $5,000 in September of 1948.  This was remodeled with a cement block addition on the north side with Dean working as an electrician and various other responsibilities.  He was stricken with polio in November of 1948 but was retained as pastor, though he spent an extended period of time at the Keney Clinic in Minneapolis. The Rev. Ed Klaus came and served as pulpit supply and assistant during Dean’s absence. 

The first service was held in the new building in June 1949.  The dedication of the newly-remodeled stone building took place May 8, 1950. The Rev. Harland Kingsriter became the second pastor in June 1951 and ably served for approximately three years.  During this time, there was a definite growth in the church, especially in the work of the Sunday school, according to the church history. 

The Rev. Clayton Scharnberg served as pastor from August 1954 to 1958.  During his term as pastor, a basement parsonage was erected at 301 East Church Street.  In August of 1958, the Rev. Ronald Snider became the church’s fourth pastor.  During his ministry here, a new front was added to the church and a new steeple was erected on top of the building.  The Rev. Marvin Bontrager became the fifth pastor in September 1962 and served until late 1963. 

The Rev. Bruce Pope came as the sixth pastor in November 1963.  During his term as pastor, the present parsonage was completed with the superstructure. 

In December 1965, the Rev. Jerry Smith became the seventh pastor.  A garage was added to the parsonage during his term of ministry here.  An article in a 1968 Spring Valley Tribune noted that he added a basketball hoop in the loft of the church as an outreach ministry to local boys and some adults.  Most Saturdays during the winter, basketball was played on the second level of the stone church building.  The church also added floodlights to the front of the building, and when asked about this, he was quoted as saying, “We want to let people know we are here.” Smith also began a Big Brother program in Spring Valley to bring mentorship to fatherless boys.  He served for six years before taking a position with Southeast Minnesota Citizens Action Council.

The Rev. Roy Nanke became the eighth pastor in May 1972 and remained until the fall of the same year.  In the spring of 1973, the Rev. Charles Allman became the ninth pastor and served for about one year.  The Rev. Kenneth Lundeen became the 10th pastor of the church in March 1974 and he served until early in 1978. 

The arrival of the Rev. Tim Wilson in February 1978 brought continuity to the Assemblies pulpit. With a growing concern for the need of a larger and more adequate church building, it was decided to plan for a new structure. Dick Sheldon donated two acres of land for a new building location.  The church purchased five additional acres from Sheldon, and plans were underway for a new church building at the 610 Territorial Road site.  After raising finances, attaining plans, landscaping the property and actually erecting the building, completion of the new facility took place in early 1988 and dedicated took place in June.  The cost of the new structure was approximately $270,000.  The stone church building was sold in April of 1994.  The church maintains ownership of the parsonage that is next to the stone building on Church Street. 

The Rev. Steve Kuno and his wife, Lynette, came to Spring Valley in December 1999 to be the church’s 12th pastor.  The Rev. Dustin McCaleb and his wife, Rhoda, came to be the youth pastor.  Maria Kujawa, now Maria Klingsheim, joined the staff as worship director in August 2005, also serving as the children’s ministry director until 2016.  Derrick DeBoef joined the staff as youth pastor in October 2005, and he resigned in 2007. Justin Mlinar served as the youth pastor until July 2013. 

During Kuno’s tenure as pastor, the church officially changed its name from the Assemblies of God Church to Valley Christian Center. Kuno resigned in July 2013, after which the Rev. Greg Kalyvas served at Valley Christian Center as the interim pastor from July 2013 to May 2014.

Leonard and his wife, Emily, and their two sons arrived in Spring Valley in May 2014 after he was elected to serve as the church’s 13th pastor by a unanimous vote of the church’s membership.  This was the same year that Assemblies of God turned 100 years old.       

Leonard cited that he has excitement for the work set before him at Valley Christian Center – keeping people of all ages on a party line to their Creator. 

“I have had the privilege of being here five years,” he said. “We absolutely love being part of the Spring Valley community.  We have kids who attend Kingsland, my wife and I have been able to connect and build friendships with people in our city who are not part of our church, and although we are transplants to this area, we feel at home here. I am excited for many more good years of ministry in this area.

“I pray every Sunday morning, ‘Lord, help me to never forget the privilege it is to serve this church.’  Each day has its own unique challenges and victories.  Every day is a little different.  I could have never imagined the scope of the job description of a lead pastor, but each day is a privilege to serve.  My hope is people who are here will see the fruit of ministry here in Spring Valley over the years.  I think seeing the history and the faithfulness of God in our church these past 75 years will bring an expectation of what greater things could happen in the next 75 years.  I think what will help reconnect people with their church is the hope that our best days are not behind us but are ahead of us. 

“Our former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God once said about the Assemblies of God, ‘The vision of our future must be greater than the memories of our past.’  While it is fun and exciting to reminisce about what was, it brings me great joy to stand before our church each week and speak to what could be.  I hope people are reminded of God’s faithfulness as we look back to our past and to be encouraged to believe He continues to be faithful as we look to our future.”      

Valley Christian Center’s number – rotary or digital – is best known to be its mission work, which is driven by its vision statement, “Connecting people to God.” The church currently supports 20 missionaries or mission organizations monthly and has four to six missionaries into the church in any given year.  It has sent teams for short-term trips all over the world, such as China, Nicaragua and Estonia, and it is currently planning to take 13 people to Puerto Rico in February to help rebuild churches destroyed by Hurricane Maria. 

“The thing that excites me most about our church and missions is the resources we set aside to do missions work here locally.  We designate a portion of our general fund to do local projects.  In the last few years, we have been able to do home repairs for families in need, purchase Christmas presents for families who couldn’t do so on their own, we have given hotel rooms to families in need, provided meals for people with loved ones in the hospital.  We believe our missions work starts in Spring Valley and goes to the end of the earth.  If you were to come to our church, you would see a desire to connect people to God through missions,” Leonard said.  

The anniversary celebration for the church started in January. A big part of that celebration was using people from the church to revitalize the kitchen, foyer and sanctuary.  Between Sunday services, they were able to update and replace all the hardware and repaint all those spaces.  They also redesigned the missions’ display and the platform wall of the sanctuary. 

“In one week, we were able, as a team to create a beautiful place to gather and worship,” Leonard said. “In addition to our church people, we had about 10 men from the Rochester campus of Adult and Teen Challenge come and help us prep our building for paint.  The week ended with 60 men and women from Adult and Teen Challenge leading our service and enjoying a celebration of 75 years.” 

In the months since, members have replaced the kitchen countertops and sinks, repainted the outside of the building and updated the exterior signs. 

“It was important for me to use a milestone year as a year to create a fresh environment inside and outside of our building,” he said.  

The reconnection to the church’s history – one that doesn’t require change or a collect call – mostly happened Aug. 4 to 11, with reminiscing of the days gone by, a picnic and an outdoor movie – offering up a connection to the people who have been part of the Assemblies-VCC congregations, to those who have come home to mark the occasion and to those who have yet to pick up the receiver. 

Two ladies from the church — Florence Barcel and Dale Gehrking — gave reports on the history of the church as far back as they can remember. Both women began attending the church in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Photo albums and old pictures were set out to show people some of the history in Spring Valley.

“I hope this celebration gets the message out that Valley Christian Center loves the people of Spring Valley.  For 75 years, this church has been a part of the community and has demonstrated a desire to see our city become a better place,” Leonard said. “I look back to when our church met in the Lobdill stable on Church Street.  Rev. Graham – not Billy – was the pastor of the church, and he was instrumental in developing a boys’ club to help boys have mentorship in their lives.  They used to play basketball in the loft of the church.  Around that same time, a Head Start program was started, and it was first hosted in the church basement.  We have partnered with the city for music in the park for several years now.  These things were never done to bring in new people, but rather to show people we as a church love the city God has placed us in.  We love our city, and we will continue to do things that put this love into action.      

“Our desire is to connect people to God.  The best way for us to do that is by loving the community we are in.  Our church loves our city, and we are excited for each opportunity we have to meet new people and help them connect to God.” 

Valley Christian Center is located at 610 Territorial Road, Spring Valley.  For more information, call 507-346-2101.