Church reflects on flood turmoilThe Rev. Ted Schuldt came to town last month to serve the church hit worse than any other in Grand Forks by the flood of 1997.
By: Stephen J. Lee, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
The Rev. Ted Schuldt came to town last month to serve the church hit worse than any other in Grand Forks by the flood of 1997.
The new shepherd of First Presbyterian Church, he said he quickly realized that the 15th anniversary this week of the disaster seems a big deal, even this far down the road.
“It’s the anniversary of the flood and there was a lot of loss involved,” Schuldt said, while taking his first close look at the outer walls of the 101-year-old building on South Fifth Street ruined enough by the flood to spark the congregation to move to a new site at 5555 S. Washington St.
“And yet we made it and God brought us through these things and opened up new opportunities for us.”
As interim pastor of First Presbyterian since March 19, Schuldt has been given tours of the city and how it’s changed since April 1997.
The only church slugged harder than First Presbyterian by the Red River’s highest rise on record was Bible Baptist Church in Sherlock Park in East Grand Forks. It rebuilt west of Grand Forks along U.S. Highway 2.
“There were some really major losses that some people have not been able to totally bounce back from,” he said.
The flood poured 12 feet of water into First Presbyterian’s basement downtown, and nearly a foot rose on the lower part of the sloped sanctuary floor, wrecking much of the furniture.
Although moving had been talked about before the flood — because many members had moved to the south end of town and there was little parking downtown — the decision to move out of the old building was controversial.
The church broke ground for the new building in August 1998 and moved into it in the summer of 1999. It sold the old building to the Dakota Science Center, a nonprofit, for $235,000 in 1997. In 2004, Cottonwood Community Church obtained it and turned it back into a worship sanctuary.
First Presbyterian took on a lot of debt in building a multi-million-dollar new church in two stages.
The flood serves as a metaphor for the still-constant threat facing First Presbyterian since 1997.
“We are struggling to stay above water, financially,” he said.
With the help of an interest-free loan from the regional Presbyterian body, the Synod of Lakes and Prairies based in the Twin Cities, the congregation recently paid off the remainder of the $800,000 loan it took after the flood from the Small Business Administration, Schuldt said.
But the troubles of the congregation have been more “relational” than financial, said Schuldt, who lives near Seattle and has been an interim pastor for 18 years, helping congregations move between one permanent shepherd and the next.
First Presbyterian has lost about 70 percent of its membership in the past 20 years and has fewer than 200, say longtime members and Schuldt.
After 18 years in the pulpit, the Rev. Gretchen Graf left suddenly last fall, in the midst of long turmoil in the congregation.
Earlier last year, five members of First Presbyterian were brought up on church charges, brought by Graf and others, of hindering the congregation’s work and causing conflict. Instead of facing a church trial before leaders of the regional Presbytery, the five resigned.
Some had seen a last straw when in August 2010, Graf announced the congregation would sell its 40-year-old pipe organ to help pay bills, a decision that hurt many members and caused some to leave.
It’s still for sale, through a broker, said Schuldt.
“I personally think the congregation needs to keep the organ,” he said, adding that sometimes the emotional value of such parts of a congregation outweigh the fiscal bottom line.
Schuldt said he already has begun reaching out to the five forced-out members, and anyone else who has quit going to church, to make clear they are welcome back.
One of the former members said it good to hear.
His message Sunday will be unity and hope, Schuldt said.
“God is faithful and He opens new opportunities.”
He’s going to read from Psalms 69:
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my soul.
“I have sunk in deep mire and there is no foothold.
“I have come into deep waters and a flood overflows me.”
Schuldt will share from his own life, about being forced out himself years ago as the pastor of a church over differences in leadership style.
“It was totally devastating to me,” he said this week. But he learned the power of God’s faithfulness and of fellowship, he says.
“We can be healed and it’s up to us to decide. If we decide are going to get along, we can get along.”
Lee is a reporter at the
Grand Forks Herald, which
is owned by Forum