Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Newly Renovated Egan Church Is Ready For Worship

Egan Church
Inside the newly renovated Egan Church

Although Egan Methodist Church officially closed earlier this year, the 110-year-old building will open to the public during the holiday season.

On Christmas Eve, from noon to 10 p.m., the church's new owners are opening the doors for a look inside. They have renovated the building's outside and readied the sanctuary with holiday decorations and treats to welcome home families who have worshipped there for years.

For Californians LiAnne Larson and Richard Maher, the first step to saving a small-town South Dakota church was buying the parsonage next door.

The couple manages businesses remotely and commutes back and forth to Egan from the west coast. They decided several years ago that the house was a way LiAnne could return to her hometown to visit. In 2015, Larson and Maher also married in the Egan Methodist Church next door to the former parsonage.

Earlier this year, the church became their labor of love and a history lesson for Larson.

“We've always talked about how beautiful the church is and that the congregation was getting small and if it was difficult, we were thinking about even maybe they could do a reverse mortgage or something, and we could still keep it going. My dad said that they were looking at closing it. I talked to my husband, and we both looked at each other like awwww.”

After meeting with congregation members, they came to an agreement and a promise to preserve the building and rent it out for events as a community center. The offer would give members the chance to have weddings, funerals and Christmas Eve services.

“It's been exciting, but it's also been interesting just to see the history and all of the different repairs that needed to happen.”

For lifelong member, Diane Olson, 72, watching the progress on the church improvements has been rewarding and has revealed its beauty once again. She went to Sunday School in the church, was married there 53 years ago and raised her family at Egan Methodist.

“When we made the decision to sell it, we just weren't able as a small group to keep it up and everything.”

At last Christmas Eve's candlelight service, pews were filled with about 120 people, families who had attended over the years and wanted to come back one last time.

Knowing it was the last time in the church as a Methodist Church and yet so happy to know that Rich and LiAnne were the ones that were going to take over the reins and run with it.”

That community history is important to Larson, too, who has dug into church records, getting to know the church legacy through births, baptisms, deaths and detailed accounts of events.

“We hope we can keep a part of history alive for the community to enjoy and hopefully to bring the community together to do different types of events.”

Work started this past summer on the outside, and plans are to continue improvements this winter on the inside. With the help of a contractor and some sweat equity, Larson, 40, and Maher, 48, have replaced windows and doors, rebuilt steps and a handicap-accessible ramp, scraped and painted the entire outside, replaced gutters, repaired rotten siding and cut down overgrown trees.

“We just wanted to paint and what we called button up the outside.”

After roughly $40,000, Larson and Maher plan to do more as they can afford it. Inside, they hope to remove outdated carpets and wall paneling. They would like to reveal what is under a false ceiling, too. But the rest of the sanctuary largely will remain the same, with it's half-moon-style seating and 14-foot high pocket doors that span a 30-foot opening. Protecting the building is important, Maher said.

“This church means a lot to generations of families. And we hear that whether it's Facebook message or what people tell us. It's been in a lot of people's lives for many years.”

The church's life is perhaps best preserved in the sound of its bell, which rings clearly throughout town. No one seems to mind.

“I do get a lump in my throat seeing how people react to this church and what we're doing to it. It feels good.”

Maher said he didn't realize how rewarding the project would be, an appreciation that has been revealed over and over on the couple's journey that turned into something unexpected.

“When we purchased the parsonage next door, I don't think we ever had in mind that we would be married here or own a church for that matter. That was all a surprise but being in a small town is really nice.”