“To live is Christ; to die is gain” said a joyful Apostle Paul in the ﬁrst chapter of Philippians. Yet what applies joyfully to Paul we avoid at all costs when it comes to legacy congregations. Without any hope that dying could be gain, many congregations spend every last bit of their resources attempting to keep their own ministry alive. What if what Paul said about himself applies to faithful congregations too, that dying can be gain?
The Bethany Center is one such resurrection story. It is the story of Bethany Lutheran Church in Osburn, Idaho embracing its own closure intentionally and seeding all of its resources into a new ministry. Bethany Lutheran Church served the booming mining community of the Silver Valley in Idaho for 80 years, although the boon of the mining industry only lasted for 50 of those years. For the last 30 years the community, and with it Bethany Lutheran Church, have been in steady economic and population decline. Bethany Lutheran Church in its hay day hosted bustling vacation Bible schools and busy Sunday School classes, but it had dwindled to a group of eight widows in their super senior years, along with one retired couple, all served faithfully week-in and week-out by Licensed Lay Deacon, Jeff Arthurs whose wife Marta grew up in that congregation. Jeff’s ministry was approved yearly by the LCMS Council of Presidents to keep this isolated mountain ministry alive.
Meanwhile, Lutherhaven Ministries in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho has spent the last 14 years hosting over 6,600 teens and young adults at Shoshone Mountain Retreat, just north of the Silver Valley, teaching them leadership skills as they engage in servant events throughout the depressed mining district. Volunteer teams patch roofs, mend fences, cut ﬁrewood, do yard work, replace windows, repair steps, and most importantly build relationships with the people they serve while sharing the love of Christ. The program, called Idaho Servant Adventures, has laid a foundation for ministry building substantial trust in the community.
The Spirit inspired foresight of the people of Bethany Lutheran Church prompted them to begin asking, “How could our resources be of use to a ministry like Idaho Servant Adventures?”
Also stirring through the Spirit of God was a new mission endeavor in the joint circuits of which Bethany Lutheran Church was a part. That mission effort, called Ignite-90, was a partnership of the LCMS circuit churches in starting new mission plants across the Interstate 90 (I-90) corridor. Bethany Lutheran Church sits just blocks from I-90 and within eyesight of the local elementary school which held tremendous opportunities for potential ministry. The Ignite-90 churches, led by Christ The King Lutheran Church in Coeur d’Alene, stepped up to help the people of Bethany Lutheran Church to envision the possibilities.
After two years of prayerful meetings, dreaming, networking, and planning in the fall of 2021 Bethany Lutheran Church, Osburn, Idaho closed. But it is not a sad occasion; for Bethany Lutheran Church to die is gain. The members gifted all their property and a good portion of their savings to Lutherhaven Ministries for the start of a new ministry called The Bethany Center. The remaining members of Bethany Lutheran Church joined Christ the King Lutheran Church forty-ﬁve minutes away across the mountain pass. Deacon Jeff Arthurs joined the ministry team of Christ the King Lutheran, which will continue to provide ministry to those folks while Lutherhaven launches The Bethany Center. The Bethany Center will take the Idaho Servant Adventures model and run it year round with local volunteers from the Ignite-90 LCMS churches. In addition, Lutherhaven Ministries is already securing additional grant funding to launch Bethany Center afterschool programs for the kids in the local elementary school, blocks away, to assist seniors with independent living, and to renovate the downstairs of Bethany’s building into apartment housing for interns who will learn servant-leadership though a process of preparation, action, reﬂection, and celebration. Agreements between all the players in The Bethany Center keep the door open for the Ignite-90 congregations to work alongside these new ministries to plant a new LCMS worshiping community in that historic space as well.
The Bethany Center is a broad partnership that is breathing new life into a dying community in North Idaho. It sprang out of the hope of a congregation that like Paul did not fear death, but rather understood that to live is Christ and to die is gain!