GRIMES, Iowa —- Gortz Haus was made infamous by its previous owners Dick and Betty Odgaard, a couple who became notorious figureheads after refusing to host same-sex wedding ceremonies at their chapel due to their staunch religious beliefs.
In 2013, a Des Moines couple filed a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission because the Odgaards refused to let them rent the space for a same-sex ceremony. The Odgaards agreed to pay the couple $5,000 in a settlement, and promised to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.
They did so by not allowing any couple to wed there, whether gay or straight. That decision, according to the Odgaards, caused the business to fold.
The Odgaards closed the venue this summer and sold the Grimes building.
On Sunday morning, the building will reopen its doors as Harvest Bible Church.
The couple has been attending the church for the last nine months or so.
According to USA Today, it’s an “evangelical, nondenominational church” affiliated with a network called Harvest Bible Fellowship.
“If it can’t be a gallery anymore, this is the next best thing,” says Betty Odgaard. “We’re pretty tickled.”
Pastor Ryan Jorgenson says the building’s history can’t be ignored, but he doesn’t necessarily view its checkered past as a bad thing.
“We fully support the stand that the Odgaards have made with their building and with their business,” he says. “But our biggest thing by far is we want to be known as a church that loves Jesus. We preach and teach the Bible fully. We want to be a blessing to our community.”
Jorgenson claims the congregation consists of about 170 members, and he’s expecting that number to double in the next few months.
The space has been remodeled to accommodate parishioners. The downstairs has been entirely gutted, making space for ministry programs and adding modern audio-visual equipment, but Jorgenson is convinced they’ll outgrow the venue in a few short years.
“It’s hard to tell,” he says. “I know it’s not our permanent home.”
The Odgaards gained even more notoriety this summer by launching a much-maligned billboard campaign through their God’s Original Design Ministry. They hope to mount 1,000 signs that claim marriage is between a man and a woman.
Betty Odgaard says she’s still going through the “grieving process” after closing Gortz Haus.
“That was my passion for 13-and-a-half years,”says Betty Odgaard. “And it’s hard to see it gone. It’s tough.”
She says she wants to “move on” and is still working overtime to “wrap my brain around it.”
The process, she predicts, will be a long and tortuous one.