Pastor Bob Kemper knows he has a lot to be thankful for.
Kemper, who has ministered in the Brainerd area for 16 years, pastors a congregation of about 60 members in Brainerd in a church rich with history. His office sits in the basement level of the building and doesn’t have electricity.
But it does let in a lot of sunlight.
“It’s kind of roughing it,” Kemper said. “But it’s good.”
On Nov. 21, 2010, Kemper was preparing for Sunday morning services at South Long Lake Presbyterian Church when the tiny church in rural Brainerd caught fire.
Church members arrived expecting to attend the service, and were instead greeted by firefighters who were working to put out the flames.
“There were a lot of tears shed this morning,” Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Stunek said in an interview last fall.
There were no injuries from the fire that was determined to have been sparked by a short in electrical wiring above the church’s kitchen. Kemper lost five years worth of sermon notes, furniture, his college diplomas and the majority of the church’s library.
The Brainerd Fire Department said the South Long Lake building was a total loss, leaving the congregation homeless.
The 60 or so members met that Sunday morning, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, at nearby Long Lake Town Hall.
“We still smelled like smoke,” Kemper recalled. “The sentiment that was going around that morning was that the building burned, but the church didn’t.
“We are the church.”
Kemper said before the fire the church had wrestled for nearly a decade with the idea of parting ways with the Presbyterian denomination, “but no one wanted to leave the building.”
“God is always in the details,” Kemper said.
Nearly six months later, the church body that met at the South Long Lake Presbyterian Church is still meeting, but no longer as South Long Lake Presbyterian. The new name is rather appropriate considering their experience — New Beginnings.
“It actually came over the span of about a month,” said Kemper who first saw the words after his wife wrote them on a box of books to be moved to the new church. “It just kind of stuck.”
Still without a building, the church continued to meet at Long Lake Town Hall until February when the opportunity arose for members to become tenants in the former Temple Baptist Church facility. The Brainerd church moved their meeting location to downtown Brainerd and re-branded their congregation “Communitas.”
“To just leave it sitting would be really sad,” Kemper said of the 100-year-old Temple Baptist building. “The timing worked out perfect.”
A small group of members of the church continue to meet at Long Lake Town Hall, but the majority of the former congregation have moved to New Beginnings.
Kemper said New Beginnings Bible Church is non-denominational. He resigned his ordination as a Presbyterian minister.
“This is obviously a new physical beginning for us in a new building,” Kemper said. “But it’s also a new spiritual beginning.”
Kemper said it is not his intention to grow a larger church, but rather to empower his members to serve the community and other churches. “We’re not ever going to be a big church,” Kemper said. “We’re not feeling like that’s where we’re supposed to go.
“We are really trying to partner with the other evangelical churches in the community to pastor the community, not just this church.”
Kemper said the church will continue to meet at the Temple Baptist location until at least March 2012. After that, he’s not certain.
“We’re just happy walking one week at a time.”
SARAH NELSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.