An Unexpected Gift

 Members of River of life wrote bible verses on the concrete floor of the new sanctuary before carpet was installed.

Members of River of life wrote bible verses on the concrete floor of the new sanctuary before carpet was installed.

It was once a nursing home, but now it’s home to a growing congregation—River of Life, St. Peter—filled with all ages. And now they’re preparing to celebrate the dedication of a new worship space.

In some ways, this exciting development is unexpected. However, God’s work has been obvious and unsurprising in how this ministry has been able to expand its capacity to serve the people of St. Peter.

In the summer of 2013, Pastor Tom Braun was called to Our Savior, Mankato to plant what became River of Life in St. Peter, a town of 11,000 on the Minnesota River and home to Gustavus Adolphus College. An experienced church planter, Braun was eager to begin working in this community.

River of Life held their first worship service in the fall of 2013. Originally, they worshipped in the apartment complex that Braun and his wife lived in at the time. They also held worship for three Sundays at the Linneaus Auditorium on the Gustavus Adolphus campus before being asked to find another location. This led the church to worship at the Nicollet County Historical Society’s Treaty Center museum for just under a year. 

After not being to stay that space due to a conflict of the organizations’ missions, a Christian business owner offered up space for the church to use for worship beginning in October of 2014. However, the growing number of River of Life members and attendees quickly filled that space.

Throughout this process, Braun and the leadership of River of Life prayed for a permanent location to call home. In the fall of 2014, Good Samaritan Society, a provider of eldercare services, offered to sell a former nursing home building in St. Peter to the church, offering it at two different prices. However, the Spirit led River of Life to decline both offers. 

But God was at work the whole time. In November 2014, Braun received a call from Good Samaritan: they were now offering to donate the building to River of Life. 

After consulting with district leadership and legal counsel to ensure everything was done properly, the gift was finally closed and the property transferred in February 2015.

Establishing a permanent location for River of Life to proclaim the Gospel and to do ministry they couldn’t do in other locations was essential. As Braun puts it, the Gospel message “is not actively proclaimed in St. Peter” by many of the churches in town.

Member Sarah Peterson noted that River of Life also has a welcoming, family atmosphere other churches in town lack. “There are a lot of churches in St. Peter that are set in their ways...we’re a community.”

 Members of River of life wrote bible verses on the concrete floor of the new sanctuary before carpet was installed.

Members of River of life wrote bible verses on the concrete floor of the new sanctuary before carpet was installed.

Her husband, Steve Peterson, agrees. “To see what God has done and how much He has grown this congregation is awesome. So many people have been touched and brought in here.”

Since opening the space for worship in May 2015, the congregation grew to a point that the original worship space, the nursing home dining hall, was too small. So River of Life moved forward with plans to add a permanent worship space.

Funded in part by a grant from the District, this new sanctuary will seat 200 people comfortably. Members of River of Life are excited about this new space, and have seen God at work through the building process.

“Every time we turned around, whatever we needed, the need was met,” observed Arvin VanderPlas, a River of Life member. 

The sanctuary chairs are one example of this need being met. In just a few short weeks, River of Life went from having no funding for chairs to funding for more than 150. Braun also added that craftsmen from other LCMS churches will fabricate and donate altar furnishings.

These continued unexpected gifts have given River of Life more and more opportunities to engage in God’s mission and share Christ with people in St. Peter and beyond. “Our sanctuary is going to allow us to share our mission and bring more people to Christ, partly because we have the room, but partly because we’re being good stewards of what’s been given to us,” says member Heather Magelee.