When three ELCA churches in Hildreth, Neb., merged, they picked an appropriate name--Trinity. The name was revealed when Emmanuel, St. Paul and St. Peter broke ground for a new building Sept. 21.
The churches often shared pastors, planned special worship services and periodically combined confirmation classes, benevolence projects and youth programs.
"We've come to the point that we do a lot of things together anyway, why don't we worship together?" said Jerome Fritz, who served on the merger steering committee. "Economics played a big part in the decision too."
The effort to merge began in 1995 and concluded with the consolidation vote in February 1997.
The Bridgebuilder Process, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America program that helps churches consider significant change, was instrumental in leading to the consolidation.
The process consisted of education, interviews, feedback, planning and decision-making.
After the churches voted to merge, a combined church council was formed. Since the vote carried a stipulation that the merger wouldn't occur until the ground was broken for the new facility, the council's first job was to pursue a building project. Then committees were chosen for fund raising and building and site selection.
The site is a story in itself. In 1887 Jens Quadhamer gave the southwest portion of his homestead for Emmanuel's building. Now, 110 years later, his great-grandson, Gary Sanders, gave 2.8 acres on the east side of town for Trinity's church.
Until the new facility is built, Trinity members will worship one month at each church.
While members admit it isn't easy to give up the separate identities, they are excited about the future. "This way we can take the strength from all three congregations and make a very good congregation from it," Fritz said.
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