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Village Evangelical Free Church History

Village Church began in 1975 when 12 families attending Family Camp at Camp Shamineau expressed an interest in meeting for Bible study and worship in the Loretto area. Formerly, some of them had been part of Delano Evangelical Free Church, (which formed the basis for our Free Church connection) but they came from many different church backgrounds. These founding members included Gregg Bergman, Margaret Bergman, Richard & Diane Bromstad, Gayle Davis, Marlys Davis, Allan Drinkwine, David Falk, Jerry & Joan Fredin, Vernon Gunderson, Alert & Linn Hammerlund, David & Darlene Jerde, James Klatke, and John & Jennette Madsen. Sunday evening services began in a rented one-room schoolhouse on County Road 11 in the fall of 1975.

Original Schoolhouse

In February 1976, 23 charter members called Pastor Tom Alford. Although his tenure was brief, Tom and his wife, Linda, were used by God to establish key elements of Village's ministry: our focus on teaching God's Word, and especially through Linda, our passion to disciple children and their families. Pastor Tom served until 1977.

After Pastor Tom left Village, John Eagen and Don Byerly both served for six months at Village, while they were teaching at St. Paul Bible College. Then in 1978 Pastor Don Lundeen arrived and served Village as an interim pastor until 1979.

In August 1979, we called Art Ramsland from one of the largest churches in the area. His desire was to help this small new work (less than 80 people attending at this time) develop into a significant ministry in the growing Twin Cities West area. He had a "pastor's heart" and was very relational, kind and set a strong example in his church as well as the community. His wife Pearl reflected on his time at Village, "His years at Village were a very special time. They were the highlight of his ministry with the Evangelical Free Church." In 1979, Village purchased 8.7 acres on County Road 11 from El Schefers for $24,000. Pearl Ramsland commented on the building processes, "The Lord continued to bless that small group and soon the thoughts of building a church were becoming a reality. Plans were decided on and the church building was started." Our original building in was completed in 1980 for approximately $300,000.

Values are better observed than chosen. Established under Tom Alford's ministry, our two core values continued under Pastor Art: a passion for God's Word and discipling children and youth (and their parents) to know Jesus. These can be seen in our first building, which under Pastor Art's leadership was specifically engineered to serve our kids and AWANA - the "temporary" sanctuary (which served in that capacity until 2014) was designed around an AWANA circle. In fact, records indicate that our morning worship and AWANA attendance were about equal in those days, both well over 100 each week.

Mike Thompson serve on staff with Pastor Ramsland. He began teaching Jr. High Sunday School, 1982 - 1983, as a Freshman at St. Paul Bible College. He also worked with the Youth Group during some of his college years from 1983-1985, with Pastor Ramsland. When Mike Thompson led youth, we had 50 - 75 students involved.

Pastor Art, along with early leaders like Monte Sholund, were known as excellent teachers of God's Word and their teaching was eagerly received by Village. At Village, Monte first established "Village Schools of the Bible," which is an ongoing ministry in our area, now out of Wayzata Free Church. Under Pastor Ramsland Village grew spiritually and numerically and when he left in 1984 he was missed deeply.

After a brief interim pastorate, Kevin Meyer was called February 15, 1985 when he was 27 years old. Kevin brought to us enthusiasm and vision. He was a dynamic and gifted speaker. He provided direction and leadership for our worship team and helped Village to clarify its purpose and mission statement. He had a strong desire to reach family and friends with the Good News of Christ and was gifted in evangelism. Pastor Kevin remembers coming to Village, "We had no idea that we would journey together for 13 years. What one remembers and what might actually be true is always the struggle of historians. I recall coming to a church with about 80-100 people. I was the solo staff member full of energy, ideas and youthful pride. I had a deep desire to build a church with a significant ministry in our surrounding communities."

His wife, Grace, was very gifted in music, played piano and lead and directed the music ministry. The average Sunday morning attendance when they arrived was 80 adults and children. The 1980's and 90's were years when the spectacular growth of Willow Creek resulted in the growth of many other churches, Village included. During this time Village emphasized contemporary worship music and formed a band. By 1989, Village added additional office and educational facilities. Due to this growth, staff was added to give leadership to various areas of ministry. In 1985, Pastor Gregg Bergman was hired as Associate Pastor and served until July/August of 1996. In 1988, Bea Guntzel was hired as the Church Secretary and she served until 1995.

In 1992, Pastor Donna Anderson was approved for licensing in ministry and began serving as the Children's Pastor. Pastor Kevin talked about hiring Pastor Donna, "One of the most naturally gifted leaders I was privileged to work with was Donna Anderson. In the early years with a strong AWANA ministry, we began to reach a number of younger families. As the church grew it was clear to the leaders that this ministry to children and families would never thrive and reach its potential without a Children's Pastor. Bringing Donna on staff to fill this role was a no-brainer. Sometimes it requires a great deal of prayer to discern the will of God. Sometimes it's plain as day."

Mike Thompson was hired as the youth pastor from August 1992- December 1995. He continued to work with the youth until he moved in 1996. Pastor Kevin says, "As the ministry continued to grow, our youth ministry needed staff oversight. We began with a Crown College student, Mike Thompson, on a part-time basis and then eventually added Randy "Spanky" Stensgard to the team. Randy had an unusual gift of putting ministry into the hands of the students. He created mission experiences that created environments for life change. His enthusiasm and passion for evangelism had a lasting impact on many who attended Village." Pastor Randy Stensgard was the Youth Pastor from 1995-1999. Pastor Kevin hired Mary Leffler as the Office Manager in June of 1996.

Under Kevin's leadership Village more than doubled in size and we moved our Sunday worship service to the Orono High School, both to accommodate the growth as well as to draw new people. Initially this was considered successful, and we saw many new families join us from Orono. This move was viewed as temporary until a new building program could be adopted. On April 19, 1998, after 13 years at Village, Pastor Kevin Meyer resigned his position as Senior Pastor.

In June, due to an expressed desire by the congregation, it was decided to move Sunday morning services back to our church home-site. Reasons seem to include that ownership of the Willow Creek model was not held in common among us, and our attendance had not continued to grow. Even so, Village attendance was still riding its peak, close to 400. However, the return to our facility and the failure to continue to grow was a discouragement to many. Leadership was also discouraged by the fact that almost all of our growth was transfer and not evangelistic growth.

In 1998, El Schefers donated an additional 2.4 acres of land, contiguous to or current property. Then in September 1998, Village called a pastor with a passion for people and preaching to serve as our Pastoral interim, Greg Donnelly. He had strong relational and shepherding skills and was committed to prayer and helping Village to grow deeper in their commitment to Christ. He served us until December 1999 when we hired Pastor Chuck Dake. A highlight from Pastor Donnelly's time at Village, "was the baptism service on Wednesday, November 25, 1998. Personally, it was a very memorable night as 14 were baptized that Thanksgiving Eve."

Pastor Dake began serving at Village in January 2000 and was also an excellent speaker (who also taught preaching in seminary) and a man who drew people to him and to Christ. Pastor Dake brought stability to the church. Pastor Chuck was a devoted prayer warrior and prayed for the church families on a daily basis. He developed the "Vine" plan whose purpose was to help individuals grow in the Lord from their first commitment to becoming disciple makers. His wife, Sharon, was involved in music as a worship team director and she played the piano.

During Pastor Chuck's time here, Dan Boeck was hired as the Youth Pastor in 2000. In 2002 Pastor Frank (Butch) Novitsky started as the Pastor of Discipleship and Connections. "I longed for us to become a disciple-making church. Many sermons were preached on various aspects of discipleship, especially the importance of small group ministry. Small groups were launched following that series and continued to develop and grow. Eventually, I encouraged the Elders to bring Butch Novitsky on staff to oversee small groups and discipleship," stated Chuck Dake. Under Pastor Dake, along with Butch Novitsky, Small Groups became even more important to us. This is perhaps the time when we can see a third thread of our values forming in us: discipleship.

On January 29, 2006 after a six year ministry, Pastor Chuck left Village. During his ministry the study of God's Word in the context of discipleship groups grew in importance to us so that more than 75% of our adults participated in Growth Groups, and sometimes almost 100%.

On June 1, 2006, Pastor Marvin Norlien arrived at Village as an Intentional Interim Sr. Pastor. Pastor Norlien reflected on his call, "I recall fondly receiving the phone call from Bryan Johnson asking me to come and be the Intentional Interim Pastor. The call came a short time after Linda left for her first one-year deployment to Iraq. The Village Church family was a wonderful blessing to both of us during this year of separation."

Pastor Marv finds interim ministry a very fulfilling way for him to live out his call to pastoral ministry. He desires to minister to and assist churches during their time of transition between pastors. His primary objective is to prepare the congregation for the coming of the new pastor and to work with the Elders to determine ministry focus during the interim period. He provided overall spiritual and administrative leadership for the church. His skills were used in teaching/preaching the Word of God, equipping the congregation to do the work of the ministry, and the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13). Marvin Norlien remembers his time at Village, "I also appreciated Pastor Dan Boeck and the ministry to Junior and Senior High School students. His emphasis on short-term missions to Czechoslovakia was truly outstanding. Without question, the most challenging time for me at Village was when finances were so difficult that we needed to make a staff change and ask Pastor Dan to resign so we could fill that role with a part-time youth director. I thought both Pastor Dan and the church handled this painful situation in a very Christ-like and God honoring manner."

Pastor Marvin, celebrated the many years of service that Pastor Donna gave to Village when she retired in May of 2007. He also was involved in hiring Abby Fletcher to replace Donna in January 2001. Abby and Donna worked together for many months. In July of 2007, John Patnode was hired as the part-time youth pastor.

Pastor Rick Shenk was called in 2007 to a church of about 200 attendance. He was asked to continue our focus on the Word in preaching and teaching and to help us continue to grow in discipleship with children and adults.

Pastor Butch Novitsky continues to be at the center of strengthening our adult discipleship ministry. In 2008, Sandi VandenEinde was hired as the Children's Director after Abby Fletcher stepped down. In 2009, John Patnode resigned from Village for a full-time youth pastor role in Michigan.

In 2010, Janice Van Arnam was hired to lead us in Family Discipleship. In the last few years, a fourth value has become clear; Community - the church as a family. This is seen in part in our "Discipleship Community" which is our monthly gathering of Small Group Pastors (including pastors of ministry teams for service and pastors of growth groups for Bible Study). This is also seen as we become a church who is not only friendly, but engaged in relationships that are stronger than the sin that works to divide any group of people who risks being close. It is even seen in how we now do World Discipleship (missions). God is growing us, slowly and over time, to be more like Him.

In 2013, a $1M sanctuary addition was added to Village Church. January 2015, Mary Leffler retired from Village after 19 years of dedicated ministry. At this time Janice Van Arnam transitioned into the role of Church Administrator.In 2015, we hired Brian Pearson to be our full-time pastor of Family Discipleship and Worship.

In January 2018, Pastor Butch Novitsky retired from staff at Village and Pastor Tim Huff was hired as our new Associate Pastor. In the meantime, Pastor Rick Shenk announced his retirement from pastoral ministry to take on a new role as full-time professor at a local seminary. Rick switched roles from full-time Lead pastor to part-time Interim Pastor for nine months, while a search committee was formed and started the process of seeking a new Lead Pastor. Pastor Rick officially retired from Village in May 2018. In July of 2018, Jeff Horch began as Senior Pastor.

We are grateful to God for each of the pastors and leaders he has given who have all helped us in the never-finished job of becoming more like Jesus. Attendance today is about 180.