Written by Gayle Starling-Melvin
A former Tulare, S.D., United Methodist Church makes its way through the South Dakota farmlands. David Spenst photo composite.
Ask around. Most people will probably admit to believing in guardian angels. If you ask the Rev. Marjie Brewton, she'll tell you her guardian angel showed up in the disguise of an out-of-state pheasant hunter.
Brewton, pastor of the 43-member Union Congregational UCC in Bryant, S.D., believes in miracles.
Seven years ago, she and her husband developed Prairie Retreat with the support of Union UCC. Located on 160 acres of beautiful South Dakota farmland near Union, the retreat's mission is "to provide a peaceful place of spiritual renewal for people beyond their church walls."
Catering to hundreds of people each year, the Prairie Retreat soon needed more space.
Enter the United Methodist Church in Tulare, S.D. Its church building, vacant, old and in need of repair, was still solid, built like Noah's Ark.
When Brewton was asked if she wanted to buy the building and use the extra space for Prairie Retreat, she wanted to jump at the chance. When told the building would cost her only one dollar, she did jump—and bought it on the spot.
"We needed a ground floor meeting space for the retreat," Brewton says. She figured it would be a nominal expense if she and her husband took the building apart, nail by nail, and transported it themselves to the retreat.
There was only one snag: Prairie Retreat in Bryant was 60 miles away. She and her husband would have to make many trips, back and forth, to get the building to Bryant.
Enter the pheasant hunter, a.k.a. Brewton's guardian angel.
A man from Michigan, a hunter who wishes to remain anonymous, is a frequent visitor to Prairie Retreat. Though he is not a UCC member, he told Brewton he would pay to have the Methodist building moved to Bryant.
"Just move it and send me the bill," he said.
After Brewton caught her breath, she thanked her guardian angel.
The building is 24 feet by 64 feet with a 16-by-16 adjacent room jutting from its side. This made it difficult to find the center of gravity to balance the building, says Joshua Wendland of Milbank House Movers. However, Wendland didn't see the undertaking as a big project.
The move of the 60-ton building took place June 28. The truck pulling the church averaged five miles an hour (15 on a good roll), plodding through back roads and Highway 28.
Since they passed through the territory of six different electrical companies, wires had to be lowered to allow the moving truck to get through. Spot cars rode ahead of and behind the "cargo," since the church spanned more than the width of the roads.
The last 10 miles took five hours to complete until, at 10:30 p.m., the building finally rested near a fertile field of soybeans. The next day the movers delicately piloted it through the soybean field and large trees to its new home.
The moving company's bill came to $26,000.
Although Brewton's guardian angel paid for moving the building, surprise expenses came from the various electrical companies.
"The unexpected electrical bills from the move have added up," admits Brewton. "However, I know God did not lead us to purchase this great building just to leave us now. Our spirit is undaunted. We know we made the right decision."
Brewton views the Methodist church building as a giant step forward. Plans are underway to turn the new space into a meeting room, a small chapel, a kitchen and two bathrooms.
She also sees it as an honored gift.
"To have the building as a gift is wonderful," she says. "But, within the walls are nearly a hundred years of songs, prayers and faith experiences from the pioneers who built it. I'm honored to receive that heritage and privileged that God thinks we can keep it going. To me, that is the best gift."
For more information about Prairie Retreat, call Brewton at 605-625-5085 or log onto the website, www.prairieretreat.com.