When Pastor Keith Thompson and his wife, Darla, first arrived at the Living Hope Assembly of God Church in Little Falls in 1991, they never anticipated they’d still be there, Keith said.
This year, they’re celebrating the church’s 75th anniversary.
“I was the youth pastor and youth pastors back then would maybe stay two to five years at a time,” Keith said.
At that time, Pastor Jarrol Cole was the senior pastor and had served since 1981. When he resigned in 1993 to pastor at another church, the Thompsons thought it was time for them to pack up and leave, as well.
“It was normally protocol that when the senior pastor leaves, the youth pastor resigns and leaves, too. We didn’t really want to leave, but thought it was something we had to,” Keith said.
At that time, the Thompsons had an opportunity to pastor at a large church in Wisconsin. As Darla holds a music degree, she would lead worship.
Since then the Thompsons believe that God knew they wouldn’t have made the change to becoming lead pastors on their own, but that they needed it to “fall into their laps,” Keith said.
“God just clearly spoke to me and said I needed to call them (the church in Wisconsin) and tell them that we weren’t coming and that we were to just wait and see what would happen here (at the Living Hope Assembly of God Church),” Keith said.
Not long afterward, the Thompsons were approached by several people at the church, asking him to become the church’s new senior pastor.
It was a task the Thompsons were not so sure of at first.
“They were listing all the things you would be responsible for when you’re the lead pastor. I was wondering if we weren’t making a big mistake at first,” Darla said.
After going through several interviews with various church members, Keith became the new senior pastor.
“God gives you strength and anointing to do what he wants you to do,” Keith said.
Looking back, the Thompson’s are excited that by staying, their children Mark, Kelsey, Alyssa and Andrew have had the opportunity to have grown up in the same church.
“That’s very unusual in ministry,” Keith said.
The Thompsons are excited to celebrate the church’s 75th anniversary. Even though the church has endured many changes throughout the years, the church has remained strong, Keith said.
The Living Hope Assembly of God church in Little Falls was the result of several special services that were held by the Rev. Arvid Kingsriter and the Rev. James Nicholson as evangelists, from Nov. 2, 1942 to Nov. 29, 1942.
Nearly a year later, in August 1943, an advisory board made up of Kingsriter, Ben Klapel, David Scherling and Alfred Olson, was appointed to help with the administration of the church.
In October 1943, the lots on the corner of Third Street and East Broadway were purchased .
However, it wasn’t until Jan. 18, 1944 that the church was incorporated into the Assemblies of God. A member, the Rev. Bartlett Peterson officiated the incorporation.
By this time, the congregation had grown. Additional charter members were Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Klapel, Mrs. William Klapel, Mrs. T.M. McDonnell, Minnie Klapel, Mrs. Floyd Kilian, Mrs. David Scherling, Mr. and Mrs. T.R. Durkee, Ruth Durkee, Mrs. Albert Kingsriter and Mrs. Georgia Pearson.
The first church building was built at 300 E. Broadway in Little Falls in 1946-47 and was dedicated in the spring of 1948.
After some more property was purchased, a parsonage was built nearby, at 304 E. Broadway in 1960.
In 1988, the church sold its property to Morrison County to make way for what today is known as the Morrison County Government Center. Once the county had taken possession of the property, March 1, 1989, church services were temporarily held at the Little Falls Community High School until Dec. 24, 1989.
That same year, groundbreaking at the church’s current location at 17389 Haven Rd. in Little Falls was held in April. The building of a new church began about a month later, Keith said.
About five years ago, the church was remodeled and recently received another upgrade. This time to remove the office area and nurseries to a separate section to allow the building of a coffee bar and a large foyer.
“The people who had been coming to the church for quite some time knew that we had fellowship in the back after the worship service was done. But newcomers didn’t and ended up often missing out on connecting with other people,” Keith said.
Just the first month after the foyer was expanded, both Keith and Darla noticed that significantly more people fellowshipped and had a chance to connect with one another, Keith said.
A handicapped accessible bathroom and a larger preschool area were added, as well.
Since Kingsriter became the first senior pastor of the Living Hope Assembly of God Church (1942-1952), the church has seen nine pastors. Of all the pastors, Thompson has served the longest with 24 years.
Some of the founding members, relatives and early church goers remain faithful to the church to this day.
Elene Tonder, 61, of Little Falls has attended the church since her parents, Bud and Enola Norwood brought her there as a baby, she said.
“I’ve seen many pastors and speakers through the years. The different things we’ve had has helped me in my faith and growth in my spiritual walk with Christ. You go through changes in life and the people there are like family,” Tonder said.
Wayne Scherling, 91, of Little Falls was 16 when his parents, David and Doris Scherling helped found the church. He also recalls listening to the sermons of Kingsriter.
“Kingsriter was a very dedicated pastor. He also collected and split the wood to heat the church. The church was heated with four barrel stoves,” Scherling said.
Scherling still attends the church to this day. Since he started going 75 years ago, it has been a large part of his spiritual foundation, he said.
A special event to celebrate the church’s 75th anniversary will be held Sunday, Oct. 8, starting at 10:30 a.m. During the morning worship service, Cole will share his memories of the church. Many others who have attended the church will “come home” to partake in the celebration, Keith said.
Mark Dean, superintendent of the Minnesota District Council of Assemblies of God will have a word to share, as well.
Lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m. An open house will be held at 1 p.m. with a video show presentation, tour, ribbon cutting and a dessert reception.