There's a new church in Esko
November 3, 2023
Seven years after it was purchased in 2016, a prominent property in Esko is nearly ready for its big reveal.
"We're basically starting over," said Mike Blanchet, who, with his spouse and fellow pastor, Sally Blanchet, will open the doors to Living Word Church later this month.
Located at 3 W. Highway 61 across from the post office, the nondenominational church expects to open around Thanksgiving, with 10:30 a.m. Sunday services and additional days of prayer on Wednesday and Saturday nights.
The couple was "planted" in the area by the Living Word Christian Center of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, in 2006, renting space at locations in Duluth and then operating out of the Proctor Community Center.
"We'd bring our equipment in, set it up and tear it all down every week," Mike said. "It was a lot of work."
The Covid-19 pandemic forced the local branch of the church to reset, and spend its time and resources on getting a permanent space up and running. Purchased for $120,000 in September 2016, according to Carlton County records, the progress has been slow and intentional - the focus of a core group of roughly a dozen church volunteers.
"It's been a wonderful journey," Sally said.
"This core group is a family like no other and it's been awesome," Mike added. "It's about this whole group coming together, ending up here in Esko to influence and impact Esko on the gospel of Jesus Christ."
The Pine Knot sat down with the Blanchets earlier this week to talk about the church and renovations that started with replacing the foundation and went all the way to the rafters.
"We had a mandate from the Lord to owe no man nothing but to love them, so we just waited for the finances to come in, and the first major thing was to put a whole new foundation when we got the building," Sally said.
The walls had been caving in, necessitating the structural work. The building had featured a series of businesses throughout its history, including housing a sewing center and electricians at various times. The rafters to the dome roof are made of heavy timbers, and the group liked them so much they painted and left two of the giant rafters exposed over the sanctuary.
Noticeably missing at the front of the church is a cross. The couple used the omission to explain the Living Word's approach to its faith.
"We kind of went back and forth," Sally said. "He's in our hearts. It's because of the work of the cross that we are the believers we are and have salvation."
Sally likes to have Bible verses projected onto the front of the church instead, she added.
"Denominational has Jesus on the cross and all of that stuff," Mike said. "Nondenominational, we celebrate the resurrection. It's kind of a 180-degree shift. We're not against the cross. Thank God for the cross, but we need to move beyond the cross."
Roughly 3,000 square feet, the church features a kitchenette for gatherings, and a pair of youth classrooms.
Because the church hasn't featured services beyond the core group for years now, Living Word will be starting from scratch. But it won't be without ambitious goals.
The Living Word Christian Center, with another location in Rogers, Minnesota as well as a church in the Dominican Republic, has asked the Blanchets to bring three other churches to the north country, representing 1,000 members.
"This is just the beginning," Mike said. "We've got three other churches we need to raise up."
The plan is to grow in Esko to 250 members and then split 50 of those off into another church at another location in proximity to the members.
"That's our heart, to be a 1,000-person community, but divided up into four different churches," Mike said. "When we get to a certain limit, we'll find out wherever the Lord wants to lead us."
Married 48 years, the couple went to Osseo High School together but didn't meet until later. Mike started the music ministry for Living Word, and was approached in 2006 to plant a church in the Duluth area. The new church features a state-of-the-art sound system and an array of modern instruments. Youth programming will be scaled up as the congregation builds, Sally said, and oftentimes those younger members are helping lead the church band.
When it came time to find permanent space, they couldn't locate anything in Duluth, Hermantown or Proctor, so they landed in Esko, getting a good price on a property that had once been assessed by the county at $933,000.
Prayer helped lead the ministry to the church.
"Prayer is huge," Mike said.
The congregation will meet multiple times a week for prayer, Sally said.
"It's actual prayer," she added. "We're led by the Holy Ghost in whatever he wants us to pray."
Mike said he'd like to have a coffee-and-donuts open house sometime soon, to get to know neighbors and so that folks can see inside the church.
"We're excited to grow and meet the people, and become a part of the community," Sally said.
"Now have a home," Mike added. "We don't have to pack everything up and set it up again."
Let us know if your church is experiencing big developments in its facilities, personnel or paths. Email [email protected] with story ideas.