- Associated Press - Friday, May 27, 2016

HOWARD, S.D. (AP) - A 134-year-old rural church outside of Howard is closing, but not before a daylong bash expected to draw people from several states.

Belleview Lutheran Church has 37 registered members and an average attendance of only 14 people. Parishioners will merge with Bethany Lutheran Church in Howard, The Daily Republic reported (http://bit.ly/1TLOy86 ).

“People have been talking for the last 20 years that: ‘Oh, boy. We’re only going to be able to keep our doors open for five more years.’ Then it was another five and another five,” church President Chloe Andenas said. “People just kept reaching deeper into their pockets to pay more to support the church and its mission.”

But the funds are running out and the church has scheduled its last service for June 5. It will include a dinner and a social and is expected to draw about 350 people from across the country. Former church members who now live in Washington, California, Wyoming and Texas plan to attend, according to Andenas.

“When they heard about (the event), a lot of people wanted to be there,” she said. “Over more than 100 years, the church obviously has made an impact.”

Also scheduled to attend is the Rev. David Zellmer, bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Some parts of the church will live on. The baptismal font is being given to a church in Minnesota that recently suffered a fire, and five stained glass windows will be given to Bethany Lutheran in Harold. The altar, pulpit and hymn board will be gifted to the South Dakota State Historical Society in Pierre.

“A curator came out to look at (the altar) and thought it was amazing,” Andenas said. “They will take very good care of our beloved items.”

The building will be empty but for now will remain standing.

“It is a landmark that people from miles around like to look at as they go by,” Andenas said.

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Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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