Dinkytown church to close, make room for new complex

The University Lutheran Chapel has fought for a year to stay open.

Congregation members Bill and Rosa Summers sing hymns during Sunday worship at University Lutheran Chapel.  Rosa Summers has attended services at ULC since she started school at Hamline University School of Law in 2005.

Mark Vancleave

Congregation members Bill and Rosa Summers sing hymns during Sunday worship at University Lutheran Chapel. Rosa Summers has attended services at ULC since she started school at Hamline University School of Law in 2005.

Anissa Stocks


Hundreds of emails and phone calls flooded Pastor David KindâÄôs University Lutheran Chapel office Wednesday after his congregation heard the church will close by the end of the year.

The board of directors at the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which owns the Dinkytown building, voted in favor of the $3.2 million property sale last week.

The church has been fighting to save its University Avenue space for almost a year. Plans to demolish the building and replace it with a new apartment complex are in progress.

Right now, the building is likely to go to Doran Construction, the company behind Sydney Hall and 412 Lofts, Kind said.

More than 100 University of Minnesota students regularly visit the church, making up roughly half of the congregationâÄôs members.

Church members say the main objective of the campus ministry is to provide community outreach to students.

 âÄúWe have always been a congregation rooted in campus ministry. We grew out of it. If we relocate even five miles away, our dynamic would change,âÄù Kind said.

University senior James Vieregge has attended the church for more than three years. The chapel is one of the only three Lutheran churches near campus.

âÄúItâÄôs incredibly valuable to have a [church] thatâÄôs about three blocks away from my apartment,âÄù he said.

Church member Monica Elsesser said the student population is the churchâÄôs core.

âÄúWhen campus clears out during holidays and summers, the church clears out,âÄù Vieregge said.

A faithful split

The church has struggled with the threat of possible closure for several years, Kind said.

The South District voted to sell the property in 2008, but failed when offers didnâÄôt come knocking.

Though church members say they know a future sale was inevitable, it didnâÄôt seem like an immediate threat.

Last year, the churchâÄôs council started another committee to sell the building, but two resolutions Kind dug up in church archives earlier this year seemed to bring hope for the churchâÄôs survival.

The two documents established specific provision for the propertyâÄôs sale. Kind presented those to the committee earlier this summer, but the appeal was ultimately dismissed.

The South District Synod could not be reached for comment.

Congregation member James Bolt said the recent events are âÄúsad reflections on the Synod.âÄù

HeâÄôs seen disconnect between the Synod and many churches throughout the years.

âÄúIâÄôm not surprised it happened, but I am in the manner it was [conducted],âÄù said Bolt, who has been a University Lutheran Chapel member since 1985.

Theological âÄòvendettaâÄô

Some church members believe the disagreement stems from long time controversy of how to practice faith.

âÄúThe sale is not an isolated incident,âÄù said Matthew Rieddle, a University junior who attends weekly services at the church.

The University Lutheran Chapel practices a more traditional faith model, which Kind says isnâÄôt popular with the Synod. Church members say there has been a push in the past 25 years for a more liberal faith doctrine.

Vieregge said he believes some churches have been âÄúruinedâÄù by the district in the past.

âÄúI know people who have switched denominations because of the SynodâÄôs shenanigans,âÄù he said.

Kind said he believes the struggle is part of a theological vendetta against several confessional Lutheran churches.

âÄúThis isnâÄôt a challenge coming from outside the church. ItâÄôs an obstacle coming from those who are supposed to be our brothers and sisters,âÄù he said. âÄúThatâÄôs a hard thing to bear.âÄù

Despite this, Vieregge said, âÄúKind is able to draw in people without âÄúgimmicks.âÄù

One of his biggest feats is his ability to draw people into a congregation with an old-time feel, he said.

In response to the sale efforts, the congregation has started several committees, including a national fundraising campaign, to fight the closing. Despite the SynodâÄôs decision, Kind believes the church still has a chance.

âÄúThis is going to be a long process,âÄù Kind said. âÄúI donâÄôt see it getting resolved soon.âÄù