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Rural churches offer traditional options with view of the outdoors

The natural beauty of the church and surrounding grounds is what attracted Matthew and Ashley Kroneberger to the Green Lake Stave Chapel in Spicer. Submitted photo1 / 5
Matthew and Ashley (Zondervan) Kroneberger were married in August at the Green Lake Stave Chapel at the Green Lake Bible Camp in Spicer. Submitted photo2 / 5
Marble Church in New London. Submitted photo3 / 5
First Lutheran Church of Norway Lake in New London. Tribune photo by Ashley White4 / 5
East Norway Lake Lutheran Church in New London. Tribune photo by Ashley White5 / 5

No matter how impressive an outdoor wedding ceremony may be, some couples just can’t imagine being married anywhere but inside a church.

Fortunately, in the west central Minnesota area, several smaller churches offer couples a taste of both – a traditional wedding set against a gorgeous natural backdrop in the country. 

For Willmar natives and high school sweethearts Matthew and Ashley (Zondervan) Kroneberger, the Green Lake Stave Chapel at the Green Lake Bible Camp in Spicer was the perfect place for the rustic, simple wedding they wanted.

“This church fit perfectly for what I was envisioning,” Ashley Kroneberger said. “We knew we wanted to be married in a church, because marriage is something before God, and it’s important to recognize that. This church had the perfect location as well.”

Matthew and Ashley were married at the Green Lake chapel at the end of August. To complement the church’s rustic feel — with its cedar siding and large stained glass windows — the couple opted to keep the decorations simple. They lined the aisles with dogwood branches and metal buckets filled with wax flowers, similar to wildflowers. They also chose some taller arrangements for the front of the church, comprised of forsythia branches and other natural flowers.

“It felt very comfortable, cozy and intimate,” Kroneberger said. “It was simple and beautiful.”

The Green Lake Stave Church, built in 1940 for $3,000, has retained many of its original features, including the roof, windows and pews. A large stained glass window in the front of the chapel isn’t original to the church, but does add to its ambiance. During Kroneberger’s wedding, she said the natural daylight shining through the window made for “beautiful lighting during the ceremony.”

As part of a major renovation and expansion project in the mid-1990s, the camp also added two man-made ponds in front of the church, connected by a bridge. According to Gwen Steffen, wedding hostess at Green Lake Lutheran Ministries, the ponds have become a popular place for couples to take pictures, especially in the fall. Couples can also take photos on the campgrounds and on the beach at Green Lake.

Because the church offers so much character as well as outdoor scenery, many couples don’t feel the need to add their own embellishments, Steffen said.

“It’s rustic, which is what many of them are going for,” she said. “They don’t need to do a lot of decorating. It’s beautiful the way it is.”

The natural beauty of the church and surrounding grounds is what attracted Matthew and Ashley Kroneberger to the Green Lake chapel in the first place. It was important to the couple that their love be the focus of the wedding, rather than the drama that can sometimes come with a large, over-the-top ceremony.

“Our goal was to keep our wedding small and intimate,” Kroneberger said. “It’s important for not only the bride and groom to have the focus be on them, but it also eases stress for family members. It brings more attention to the couple and the commitment they’re making to each other.”

For Matthew and Ashley, there was no other place to make that commitment than the Green Lake Stave Chapel.

“The church made the wedding, it really did,” Kroneberger said. “I look at my wedding pictures now, and I’m so happy that we were able to have it at the Green Lake Bible Camp. It’s something that I’ll look back at for many years and be appreciative of how beautiful it was.”

Items of note about Green Lake Stave Chapel:

n The church is available for weddings year-round, with the exception of holiday weekends.

n The chapel holds 250 people, and the balcony seats an additional 25.

n The fee for the church covers a wedding host, who will oversee maintenance of the building before and after the wedding.

n To reserve the Green Lake Stave Chapel for a wedding, call 320-796-2181.

Marble Church, Shores of St. Andrew Bible Camp in New London

Located on the edge of Sibley State Park, the Marble Church in New London has many of its original features still intact, giving it a quintessential church-on-the-prairie feel.

“It looks exactly how you would imagine a typical white country church that sits on the prairie in the middle of nowhere,” said Sonya Erickson, marketing and communications director at Green Lake Lutheran Ministries in Spicer. “It’s very quaint and rich in history.”

While the church may appear to have been built on the New London land, it was actually moved from rural Canby in 2004, a nearly 100-mile trip. The Shores of St. Andrew Bible Camp, part of the Green Lake Lutheran Ministries system, purchased the church for $1 and opened it as a designated worship space in 2005. It’s primarily used by campers in the summer months, but it also hosts two or three weddings a year from April through October, and the church “would love to do more,” Erickson said.

The church seats 150 people in 20 wooden pews. Its smaller size limits some couples, but would work well for those looking for a quiet ceremony, Erickson said.

“It’s a very private setting,” she said. “It’s the perfect setting for a simple wedding.”

The wooden shingle church still has its original steeple with an iron cross on top, along with the original organ, pews, communion rail and bell, which is still in operation. Stained glass windows line the tan walls of the church. The church has been left so untouched that it doesn’t even have indoor plumbing, although it does have heat and air conditioning.

The part that draws people to Marble Church, though, is the view it offers, Erickson said. It’s tucked inside the wooded setting of northern Kandiyohi County with a clear view of Lake Andrew and the Sibley State Park lakefront.

“It’s a whole other world once you get out there,” Erickson said. “People come here and they fall in love with the ambiance of the place. It’s just a beautiful place to get married.”

Items of note:

n An ordained clergy must perform the ceremony. Couples are responsible for finding an officiant.

n The church has an organ, grand piano, microphones and sound system available for use.

n The fee for the church covers the use of the chapel for rehearsal the evening before the wedding, the day of the wedding and a wedding host.

n To reserve Marble Church for a wedding, call 320-796-2181.

Norway Lake churches in New London

Less than a mile apart in rural New London are two churches that offer similar scenery, both set against the open prairie and close to the Norway chain of lakes. The atmosphere inside their walls, however, couldn’t be more different. 

Together, the First Lutheran Church of Norway Lake and East Norway Lake Lutheran Church make up the Norway Lake Parish, pastored by The Rev. Wayne Kopitzke. Both are available for weddings at most times of the year.  

Built in 1875, the East Norway Lake Lutheran Church seats around 220 people, with space for a few more in the balcony. While the cosmetics of the building have changed a bit since the 1800s, many of its features are still in original condition, including the roof trusses.

In the chapel, colored glass windows offer a striking contrast to the white tile walls, and above the altar, a large stained glass window depicts the word and sacrament. Deep hardwood floors and wooden pews are separated by a carpeted aisle. A simple wooden cross hangs in the front of the church. In the balcony, there is a piano and organ.

The First Lutheran Church of Norway Lake, on the other hand, offers couples a more contemporary feel. With space for 300 people, a sloped aisle leads to a large altar area, where wedding banners based on the liturgical season can hang. A lofted wooden ceiling with flood lights gives the church a more open feel. An impressive pipe organ sits in the back of the church.

In both churches, decorating is allowed for weddings, including pewabras, aisle runners, bows and flowers, although not on the altar, Kopitzke said. Couples may also decorate the churches’ fellowship halls for receptions, if they wish to have them there.

For most people, the choice of having their wedding at First Lutheran or East Norway Lake depends on their personal preference, Kopitzke said.

Though whether drawn to the rustic simplicity of East Norway Lake or the more modern feel of First Lutheran, both chapels offer couples a traditional church wedding in a rural area, surrounded by nothing but the open country.

Items of note:

n The Rev. Wayne Kopitzke must preside over wedding ceremonies in both churches. A couple may also have a co-presider if they wish.

n Both churches have space to host receptions or rehearsal dinners. No smoking or alcohol is allowed.

n All weddings must be approved by the church council, and couples must also complete a minimum of three premarital counseling sessions beginning six months before the wedding.

n To reserve either First Lutheran Church or East Norway Lake Lutheran Church for a wedding, call the parish office at 320-354-4222. 

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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