Havre Daily News
After being parted for years, Mildred
Schmidt was excited to be reunited with
the church in which she was confirmed.
Schmidt was a member of the Faith
Lutheran Church in Box Elder for years
and the 97-year-old was residing in a
Billings assisted-living facility when she
heard the good news her church was
coming to her, from 277 miles away.
After deciding to close the church’s
doors due to low membership and housing
its last service in October, the
church will be moved to its new home at
a planned senior community in Billings,
owned by St. John’s Lutheran
Ministries, which also runs the facility
Schmidt called home. The relocation,
which will take place in August, is estimated
to cost about $60,000. Fundraising
efforts raised $10,000 and a benefit dinner
held Sunday raised another $5,946
for the move. Donors can sponsor a mile
of travel for $100.
Thrivent Financial for Lutherans has
stepped in with a $30,000 matching grant
for the funds raised.
Lee Christianson, financial associate
for Thrivent Financial for Lutherans in
Havre, said the response from the public
“gives you a warm fuzzy” especially
when one thinks of the small churches
along the Hi-Line that are closing or
Unfortunately, Schmidt died a few
weeks ago and won’t be able to see her
church in its new home.
“One of the sad notes of all is that
one of the last remaining charter members
passed away,” congregation member
Alvin Bitz said in an interview at his
Havre home Thursday.
Although the saga of the church
began nearly 100 years ago, the story of
the monumental move started last summer.
Congregation members announced
the closing of the church and displayed
a message on the Internet asking other
Montana church members if any needed
items from the church like pews. Kent
Burgess, president of St. John’s
Lutheran Ministries, saw the listing and
called Deanna Bitz to enquire about the
status of the church building itself and
came up with a “hair-brained idea.”
Burgess asked Faith Lutheran
Church member Deanna Bitz what she
thought of the idea of moving the entire
church to a Billings location to be used
as the centerpiece of a planned senior
She responded that all of the four
remaining families of the congregation
must meet with Burgess to discuss the
“It started to feel like an adoption
story,” Burgess said.
The building will be used for worship
services, weddings, funerals, bible studies
and other activities. It will be moved
by a house mover on a low-bed trailer.
The steeple will be removed for the journey
and the rest of the building will stay
intact. The journey will take about five
days. The church will travel from Box
Elder through Big Sandy, Winifred,
Lewistown and Roundup before reaching
Schmidt’s 90-year-old cousin, Helen
Kallenberger, who was baptized at the
Faith Lutheran Church, said she is
pleased with the congregation’s decision
to move the building.
“It would break my heart if I saw it
sit out there in Box Elder with the windows
broken out,” Kallenberger said at
the benefit dinner.
She recalled when she was confirmed
at the church as a teenager.
Kallenberger said she rode horse back
10 miles each way to attend the ceremony.
Sharlene Molyneaux, Kallenberger’s
daughter, who now lives in Billings and
attends Atonement Lutheran Church,
who owns the 27-acre lot on which the
housing community will sit, said her
first reaction was “Why are they moving
it clear to Billings, Montana?”
Molyneaux came to the Hi-Line to
visit her mother in April and listened to
Kallenberger voice her concern over the
fate of the church’s basement and then
at a memorial service for Schmidt, people
informed her that Schmidt had the
“What do you suppose they did in
that basement?” she said with a laugh.
The church and its basement was the
community center for the town for
years, Molyneaux added.