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Iowa church turned into a parsonage

FORT DODGE (AP) — It’s far more than you’d expect for a parsonage.

The Rev. Dan Prochaska preaches at By the Grace of God Church in Barnum every Sunday. And every night during the week, he comes home to a restored 91-year-old church building in Fort Dodge where he lives.

The sanctuary is filled with instruments, antiques, and a table for entertaining guests. A recliner sits at one side, while the open space connected with the sanctuary is set up as a living room, complete with couches and TV.

The goal in this unique parsonage was to preserve history — to make sure the old Slavic Lutheran church wasn’t torn down.

“We wanted to save it,” said Millie Nordeen, who is a member of Prochaska’s church. “It probably would have been demolished... we wanted to show you can do something with something old.”

A member of the Lauderdale Questers, Nordeen invited all the area Questers to have coffee at the parsonage and learn about its history in October. The Questers are an international organization focused on appreciation of antiques and restoring old buildings.

Prochaska gave a presentation on the history of the church. In the 1900s, he said, there were Slavic families who worked in the gypsum mills.

“They did not speak English, but they had a strong desire for spiritual upbringing. They started to meet in people’s homes,” Prochaska told. “Finally they decided they needed a permanent place to worship.”

In 1924 the Rev. Hronek organized the first service, Prochaska said, but this was at St. Paul’s Lutheran School. By 1926, the families had raised more money, and the church was completed.

A team of horses hoisted the church bell up into the tower, which is no longer there. The people also hoisted an organ into the balcony.

“It was the Slavic Evangelical Lutheran St. Peter and Paul Church,” he said. “It was connected with St. Paul Lutheran Church as well.”

The Slavic church disbanded, and the building became Trinity Evangelical Lutheran, which hosted between 25 to 30 student preachers who would come through month after month, Prochaska said. As that congregation grew, the people built what is now Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.

After that, the little church went to Pentecostals. Then it was Methodist.

“As we delved into the history, I found out my grandmother went to church here in 1930,” Prochaska said. “My uncle went here in 1938. My aunt was baptized here in 1929. All my family on my mother’s side went to church here. My mother went to church here, and I went to church here when it was New Christian Covenant.”

Prochaska said many members of his family were married in the church.

“From 1934 on, a lot on my mom’s side married here,” he said. “When I went to church here I remember I sang a lot of solos over in that corner.”

The building was unused for a while, before they bought it in early 2015, Prochaska said. He moved in on Dec. 31, 2015.

“I really bought this just to save it. I thought it was going to be torn down,” Nordeen said. “But it cost a lot more to restore it than it did to buy it.”

The flat roof leaked like a sieve, she said, and the ceilings had all kinds of problems. They also put in a new bathroom on the main floor. The man they hired to help them actually lived in the church during some of the work, and at times would work during all hours of the night, she said.

Nordeen and Prochaska had a lot to do as well.

“She helped with a lot of this out here working. She was a climbing monkey,” Prochaska said.

They also had to rent a sander to restore the wood floor in the basement.

Nordeen wanted Prochaska to have this house because he preaches for the church for no pay.

“He does everything at the church. Bulletins, music, preaching,” she said.

It took some time getting used to living in such a space, Prochaska said. Of course, he’s not unfamiliar with large old buildings; he’s also the caretaker for the Vincent House.

“For the first month, I kept the lights on,” he said.

The Sunday school kids from Prochaska’s church come out at the end of the year for a party, and use the gym in the basement.

“I’ve acquired many family functions,” he said. “In December I’m having my mother’s 80th birthday party here.”

With Prochaska’s large collection of antiques, it was also a good place to host the Questers.

“I wonder what the old Slavic Germans would think of us all here eating pie,” Pat Crumley said.

They have also opened the church up to former members of the old congregations.

“The first year I was here, Millie and I opened it for a woman who used to go to church here,” Prochaska said.

Nordeen said the woman was ill at the time.

“She had cancer,” Prochaska said. “So we had a tea party here for her. She died just afterward.”

She was very appreciative, he said.

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