Duluth church building gets New Life

The Rev. David Norland used to drive past the little brick church near the corner of Haines and Arrowhead roads and think about what a nice place it would be for his young and growing congregation.

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Northern City Baptist's membership had dwindled to seven or eight. New Life Lutheran, a startup congregation that was meeting in a warehouse in the Airpark, bought the church. Rev. David Norland (left) of New Life Lutheran and Rev. Dick Lemaster with Northern City Baptist became friends in the process. (Clint Austin /

The Rev. David Norland used to drive past the little brick church near the corner of Haines and Arrowhead roads and think about what a nice place it would be for his young and growing congregation.

"I started praying if it were possible for us to be able to worship there," Norland recalled during a phone conversation this week. "I thought: It will never happen."

New Life Lutheran Church, the congregation Norland leads, was having its worship services at GPM Inc. in Duluth's Airpark industrial area, a space made available by congregation members Pete and Judie Gemuenden. Starting six years ago with a dozen people, it was growing and needed a home of its own.

Norland said he stopped by that brick church, Northern City Baptist, from time to time. He got to know the pastor, and he expressed interest. "It just never went anywhere," Norland said.

But Northern City was dwindling.


"The members are older persons," Northern City member Dick Lemaster said.

Down to seven or eight regular attendees, the church hit a crisis point when its pastor left about a year ago, Lemaster said. Then, "we felt like we needed to close down."

Northern City stopped holding worship services, but four or five of its members continued to meet in their building for Bible study, said Lemaster, an ordained minister who works as a finish carpenter.

Last July, they sold their building to New Life Lutheran for a little over $300,000. On Sunday, after months of preparations, the New Life congregation will worship in the building at 4615 W. Arrowhead Road for the first time.

"Lo and behold, this somehow came about," Norland said.

In the process, friendships formed between the two congregations.

"We developed a new friend in Dick Lemaster," said Harry Podgorski, a semi-retired real estate broker and a New Life member.

The people of New Life have been "accepting and helpful," Lemaster said.


"They seem to be a very loving congregation," he said. "You can definitely tell if a group of people has a real loving, caring spirit. And I noticed that from my first interaction."

New Life Lutheran is the first Duluth congregation to be part of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC), an association of churches that first formed in 2001 and has grown to more than 700.

Norland, a Lutheran pastor for 25 years, moved here six years ago with his wife, who had accepted a faculty position at the College of St. Scholastica. He visited local churches that are part of the mainstream Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But he felt he could no longer stay with the larger denomination.

He joined the much smaller LCMC, Norland said, because it is more "religiously conservative."

"What it means for me religiously is that we're going back to the sources ... back to the Bible," Norland said.

Church members are involved in Bible studies six days a week and in other classes on Mondays, he said. The church also is heavily involved in mission work, investing 23 to 25 percent of its budget on missions. Members have gone on mission trips to places such as Russia, Haiti, Guatemala and Madagascar.

The church has an average attendance of about 85, he said. "We really have never broken that 100 barrier."

New Life's conservative values were appealing to members of Northern City, which is affiliated with the conservative Southern Baptist Convention.


"They are strongly Bible-based, and they have a heart for missions, and those are two very important things," said Lemaster, who is a former missionary.

Sunday's service is being called a "rededication service," Norland said, because the building already had been dedicated to God. At least three of the members of Northern City Baptist have said they will attend, including Lemaster, who will take part in the service.

Both groups are happy with what came about. Norland said New Life is happy with what it considers a prime location. Lemaster said the Baptists can use the money from the sale to invest in new outreach in Duluth.

Podgorski said it all went smoothly.

"It was a transaction based in heaven," he said.

If you go

The rededication service for New Life Lutheran Church will take place at 9 a.m. Sunday at the church’s new location, 4615 W. Arrowhead Road . In addition, Dr. Arndt Braaten will be installed as the church’s pastor of faith and health.  

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