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Old church free — if you can haul it away

Dave Wallis / Forum News Service Alvin Swanson and his grandson Alex stand near Oak Mound Congregational Church Friday, near Kragnes, Minnesota.

KRAGNES, Minn. — It’s a classified ad much like those seeking a new owner for a cat or a dog.

But the ad running in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead the past several days is offering something unusual — one old church, free to a good home.

“It cost too much to fix up, not enough members to do it,” said longtime Oak Mound Congregational Church member Alvin Swanson, who lives about a mile away from the now-defunct church just north of Moorhead. “We had insurance, but it didn’t cover seepage.”

The church, built in 1896, had attendance hovering at 30 to 35 people when it finally was forced to close after the 2011 flood.

“I was pretty proud of that,” said the Rev. Jo Cassiday-Mahoney, who had been pastor at Oak Mound for about five years when it closed. “Such a beautiful group of people, very dedicated to the church.”

At one of the last events held there, Cassiday-Mahoney recalled, one of the keynote speakers referred to himself as a newcomer — at only 30 years with the congregation.

When the flood hit, even the most dedicated were forced to stay away. Roads to the church were covered in floodwaters, making them impassable for most of the congregation.

As its members did their worshipping elsewhere, praying for the rest of the valley to be spared, they didn’t realize it was the old church they should be praying for.

And it wasn’t until the floodwaters receded that they finally got inside it and realized the basement sump pumps had failed, filling it with 3 to 4 feet of water.

“It had been in the back of our minds, how could we go on,” Cassiday-Mahoney said, considering the dwindling numbers in the pews.

The congregation was down to just two Sunday-school-age children. And it had no flood rider on the church’s insurance.

The church hasn’t found a home since.

Various organizations have expressed interest, but one deal after another failed to come to a close.

Now the church is free to anyone willing to come and remove it, so that the land beneath it can be deeded over to the adjacent Oak Mound cemetery.

“We just want it moved away,” Swanson said. “Don’t want to see it sit there.”

That comes with a caveat, however.

The old congregation still gathers each summer for the Oak Mound school reunion, which is followed this year by a church service.

Cassiday-Mahoney is likely to attend July 27, even though she’s a Sanford chaplain now.

Whether the old church will still be there that day is anyone’s guess.

“Everybody’s been so reluctant to have this end,” she said.

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