RUGBY, N.D. (KXNET) — Nearly all the paint had weathered off the church and the steeple was on the verge of collapse. There hadn’t been a worship service held in the building since 1988.

Now, thanks to a group of volunteers, the Tunbridge Lutheran Church five miles west of Rugby has a new look and a new lease on life.

On May 28, the Tunbridge Lutheran Church Preservation Society will host an open house celebrating the completion of phase I repairs to the building.

“The first priority was to secure the outside of the building,” said Preservation Society President Terry Jelsing. “We hired contractors to replace beat-up shingles with a metal roof, repair and replace rotting siding, paint the exterior, and rebuild the steeple. We were sensitive to the historic nature of the building. Based on our resources and maintenance considerations, we translated that aesthetic through modern materials.”

With the exception of the front entry – where the ceiling and floor had to be replaced – the interior of the church was in pretty good shape, Jelsing said.

The restored structure is actually the second church to occupy the location. In 1906, Jelsing’s great-grandfather Afin Jelsing donated three acres of land to the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tunbridge for a church and cemetery. The original church was struck by lightning in 1911 and burned to the ground. The current structure was built in 1914.

“And when you think about North Dakota in general, these are like– there are so many churches and historical kinds of structures that can be refitted for an adapted reuse project. It really takes that energy from the community to say ‘this is worth it’ and if they say ‘this is worth it, we’re going to do it,’ you can find ways to do it,” said Jelsing.

Several members of the Preservation Society board share ancestral connections to the church. Phase I repairs were financed for the most part by contributions from Jason Bednarz, Horace. Bednarz, is also a great-grandson of Afin Jelsing.

“We formed the Preservation Society to preserve the church and keep it as a historic landmark,” Bednarz said. “We don’t want people to think this is a little club, it’s for use by everybody.”

The restored church is available for rent for cultural events, family reunions, concerts and meetings. Last year it was used for a wedding and a funeral.

The May 28 open house will be the first public event hosted by the Tunbridge Lutheran Church Preservation Society. Hamburgers, hotdogs and beverages will be served from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A brief program is planned for 1 p.m.

The Preservation Society will continue its restoration efforts with funds donated to the 501(c)3 nonprofit. Terry Jelsing said Phase II restoration projects include installing railings on the church steps, protecting stained glass windows, securing the foundation, and creating interpretive panels to tell the story of Tunbridge Lutheran Church.

Interior of the restored Tunbridge Lutheran Church

For more information and photos, visit the Facebook page for the Tunbridge Lutheran Church Preservation Society.