Pastor Bruce Bogar of Gospel Fellowship Church in Wolf Point, Mont., was listening to the radio Nov. 28, 2014, when he heard that the fire department was responding to a fire at his church.
Though the outside of the building remained intact, inside, smoke and water had damaged even areas untouched by the fire. This loss marked the beginning of three years of tough decisions for the Wolf Point congregation.
Insurance adjusters assessed the damage to determine whether the church could fix the existing building.
“They said, ‘It’s doable, but it’s really not feasible,’” Bogar says. “It would cost as much to fix it as it would to rebuild.”
Once the decision was made to rebuild, the next question was where and how. Members looked into purchasing a house next door to the church to expand the available land. However, the decision was made to look at other potential locations and contractors. The search went on for about a year before an investment group donated three and one-half acres of land on the edge of town.
This new piece of land afforded Gospel Fellowship expanded space and room to grow. Because the acreage is located on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, the church had to complete a lengthy process with the Environmental Protection Agency. During this time, a church member visiting Malta, Mont., discovered Maranatha Custom Churches, a contractor out of Jamestown, N.D.
Signs of progress
After settling on Maranatha as the contractor, the congregation began to see the first signs of progress, with dirt being moved in November 2016. The exterior of the building was fully enclosed in the fall of 2017, allowing work inside to continue through the winter. As of mid-March 2018, the plumbing was finished and the church was waiting on the electrician to conclude his work.
Bogar says that men from the church have done quite a bit of the interior work, such as adding drywall. He is praying for completion of the building sometime in fall 2018 but says it all depends on the contractors.
Additionally, finances are “starting to become an issue,” according to Bogar.
The church applied for and received a $500,000 grant from the John C. Lasko Foundation Trust, which offers grants exclusively for church worship spaces or sanctuaries.
Even with the grant and an insurance payment of over $950,000, Bogar estimates the church will need an additional $500,000 to cover the total cost of the rebuild, including the purchase of things such as furnishings, a sound system and appliances.
“It’s been quite a bit more expensive than we had ever hoped for with the engineering costs and getting the land ready even before we poured the foundation,” he says. “We’ve been able to pay the bills up until now. We are seeing the end of our financial means without God’s help, and I believe God will help.”
Anxious for completion
Since the fire, the Gospel Fellowship congregation has been meeting for services with another Wolf Point congregation. Bible Community Church is a small congregation, just a few families, with no pastor at the time that members of Gospel Fellowship began meeting with them.
“We’re very thankful for it,” says Bogar of the arrangement. “It’s been a real blessing.”
Sunday morning attendance has remained consistent at around 80.
Bogar says that in addition to the church members, many in the community are anxious for the new building to be completed.
The city of Wolf Point has a large Native American population, and Bogar says there is a sense of a cultural divide within the community. He sees part of the church’s mission as being a place where anyone in the community can find Christ.
“There has to be a place for people who want to find salvation, find life,” says Bogar.
In the past, the church’s programs for children have been especially well-received.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity here in the community, and we really do need prayer to get in the building and start some programs, because we’ve kind of been on hold,” he says.
Walking in obedience
Back in October 2014, about a month before the fire, Bogar had announced that he would retire sometime before the coming summer. He has been the pastor at Gospel Fellowship for over 25 years and felt that the church could benefit from a younger pastor.
After the fire, church members asked Bogar to stay to help lead them through the coming period of decision-making and rebuilding. A search committee had been formed, but eventually dissolved, and Bogar has done much of the searching for new pastoral candidates, with help from Central District Conference (CDC) minister Rick Eshbaugh.
While he never expected to still be the pastor in 2018, Bogar says “you just seek to walk in obedience, serve how you can serve.”
Bogar is thankful for God’s provision and the support of fellow CDC churches. As he has said to his congregation over the past three and a half years, the old building may be gone, but the church—God’s people—is doing just fine.
Jessica Vix Allen is a freelance writer living in Blue Springs, Missouri. She and her husband, Joel, are both graduates of Tabor College. The couple has two children.