Herald JournalHerald Journal, March 15, 2004

New Winsted church provides another opportunity to express faith

By Ryan Gueningsman

Winsted residents and people from surrounding communities are being presented with another option when it comes to expressing, growing, and sharing their faith.

Harvest Community Church is a new church starting in Winsted. Led by Pastor Tom Starkjohn and a core-group of about 20 local residents, it is the hope of the new church to be open for public worship shortly after Easter.

The church has been meeting at the old Millerbernd/Sterner office building at 421 6th Street South.

Starkjohn encouraged people to stop in and see what they are about. Sunday morning services have been at 10 a.m.

“There have been people praying for years that a church would open up, because not everybody’s Lutheran, and not everybody’s Catholic, and a lot of people are traveling away to go to church,” Starkjohn said.

About two years ago, Celebration Community Church began worshiping in Montrose. Winsted residents John and Laura Paurus attended that church and thought, “Man, we wish we had something like this here,’” he said.

The Pauruses conducted a meeting, and from that about five families became interested in starting a similar church in Winsted, and began meeting in small groups.

The Evangelical Free Church of America helped the organization find a pastor for the new church, pointing them in the direction of Starkjohn.

“I had just graduated from seminary and I was looking at several different things,” Starkjohn said. “We came out here just over a year ago. We liked the town and met with the group that was wanting to start the church. We felt a similar passion, interest, and hope.”

Starkjohn went back to his home in Illinois, and with his wife, Elaine, and daughter Ella, they decided that Winsted would be the place for them.

“I called back, hoping to get a formal interview, but they said ‘Skip it, we want you as our pastor,’” he said. The Starkjohns moved to Winsted last May and began working with the core group.

The next step was talking to people and seeing if there was more interest in Winsted.

“Really, we focus on just getting to know some people in the area rather than doing a lot of advertising,” Starkjohn said. “We want to reach people that don’t know about relationships with God. We don’t want to take away from the other churches in town, but we won’t turn anyone down, either.”

The group began a “core group training” process last September, and also established bylaws and a constitution.

“The way we do church planting in Minnesota, we do a lot of training. One thing we look at is scripture and see what a church is really supposed to be. A lot of churches do things just because of tradition, or do things just because it seems right. We really want to not accept anything. We want to go back and look at some of the principles, Starkjohn said.

“The group also took a hard look at its passions, and discovering what each member in the group was good at, asking, “How has God gifted us?”

Out of that came three core values – pursuing God, valuing the Bible, and valuing relationships.

Starkjohn sees the groups primary purpose is finding those that do not have a church home and bringing them into a relationship with God.

“We want to follow Christ and empty ourselves of personal agendas, and abide in Christ,” Starkjohn said. He wants to make people become more like Christ.

Mary Neff, who is Harvest Community Church’s prayer coordinator, said that a spiritual inventory was done just to see what people are good at and what God created people for.

“Every one of us has some roles that we play,” she said.

“We are learning together,” Starkjohn said. “Spending a lot of time in prayer led to our core values and to our mission statement: Building loving relationships through Christ for the glory of God.”

The group has enjoyed several events together such as a dessert party, with “no other agenda other than to get to know each other,” he said. “We want to provide a forum where people can come to meet neighbors and not have any other agenda. It’s a community thing.”

“We joke a lot of times that our biggest core value is food,” he said laughing.

Now the group is meeting at “pilot worships” and working out the kinks, and also is encouraging people to join them.

“Because we value relationships, we do fellowship-oriented worship. We sing together, then break right there for coffee and snacks and talk for 20 minutes. If there is somebody new there, we go and talk to them rather than just look at them, Starkjohn explained.

“After the fellowship time there is scripture time and thinking about how it applies to us. Sunday morning meetings generally last about an hour and a half.”

“We love people, and we take it seriously that Christ died for people and that they’re valuable to him. If they’re valuable to him, they’re valuable to us,” he said. “We have people that come that have problems, and that doesn’t offend us in the least. We all have problems, and we want to provide for them what we can, and that’s relationships.”

What is the EFCA?

The Evangelical Free Church of America is an association of about 1,400 churches that are united by a commitment to serve the Lord, according to literature.

The organization believes the scriptures, both old and new testament, believes that all things were created in God, and has a 12-article statement of faith.

The EFCA was founded in 1950 by the merger of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church and the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church. The national office for EFCA has been located in Minneapolis since that merger.


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