Window restoration project restores beauty in century-old Mitchell church

Apr. 30—MITCHELL — One of Mitchell's oldest houses of worship is shining brighter, thanks to new stained glass windows and a pastor with a big vision.

Since becoming the head pastor at the United Church of Christ, Matthew Richards has been on a mission to revive the church. Replacing the stained glass windows throughout the century-old church is the latest project that Richards has helped steer, and it filled him with pride.

"We wanted to maintain the beauty of the church and overall structure, and that was a huge part of the decision," Richards said.

Taking on a $93,000 window restoration project is a tall task for a small church like Mitchell's UCC. While former leaders of the UCC had been setting aside funds to help restore the windows, Richards said the congregation came together to raise over $40,000.

The project has left the church in a tight financial spot, Richards said, but he and the congregation felt it was time to restore the windows. In total, 12 windows were fully restored.

"We felt it was good diligence to have that restoration, and to honor the faith of those who have established those investments for future days," he said. "We really had to do something. On days with high winds from the east, you could actually see the stained glass window on the east side moving."

Unlike other local churches that are backed with much larger membership bases, the UCC doesn't have as much funds to make steady improvements to their houses of worship. Mitchell's UCC cogregation is hovering around 70, as of now.

As of 2023, there were 4,603 UCC congregations with a combined membership tilting a little over 712,000, according to UCC's statistics. To compare UCC's membership with other popular denominations, the Catholic Church boasts around 262 million members in the U.S., while the United Methodist Church is backed by over 5 million members, according to 2023 data.

Richards is aware UCC has fewer members than some local churches, but it hasn't squelched his drive to grow the congregation.

Along with the exterior improvements the church has welcomed, Richards has been leading efforts in addressing community issues such as homelessness and inclusivity.

"We're trying really hard," he said.

Richards is the president of a new organization that's leading the charge to bring Mitchell its first homeless shelter. The group, which is made up of other church leaders and local advocates, meets once a month at the UCC.

His efforts to grow the congregation by taking active roles in addressing issues outside of the church have come up against some challenges, he said.

"Having those conversations with people who say Mitchell doesn't have a homeless problem is essential to addressing this. We have a responsibility to be better citizens, and this is certainly one way we can do that," Richards said.

Richards has been echoing the congregation's pillar of inclusivity and extends open invitations to the LGBTQ community by creating displays in front of the church incorporating colors of the LGBTQ pride flag. The LGBTQ community has been a hot button topic among many religious denominations over the years. Many churches prohibit same sex marriage, including popular denominations in Mitchell.

Despite the ongoing debate surrounding the LGBTQ community's role in the church, Richards stands strong in the motto posted on Mitchell's UCC social media page that reads, "No matter who you are and where you are on life's journey you are welcome here."