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A Modern Form of Worship

Ellicottville church embraces youth-driven movement

When Dan Buringrud left corporate sales for seminary school in St. Louis, he was making a major life change. A native Californian by way of The Bay (San Francisco), he returned a pastor to Sacramento. But when an opportunity came up to leave The Golden State for the Lake Effect-filled, bone-cold area of New York we call home, he took it. God, as it seems, works in mysterious ways. 

Buringrud, or known more affectionately by his flock as “Pastor Dan,” is changing the way churchgoers at Ellicottville’s St. Paul’s Lutheran Church think about weekend worship. Regardless of your Christian denomination, most of it sounds the same: We are poor, miserable sinners with zero chance at redemption. Pastor Dan, while agreeing with it to an extent, takes a little different approach. 

“I’m not saying none of that is true, but do we really need to hear it all the time, on every Sunday? I want to focus on the other side of the picture - that fact that we are loved, unconditionally. It hit me a couple of years ago. This is what we’re supposed to do - love our neighbors, our community, love the unlovable. That’s the message we try to preach.” 

If you’re an old school Lutheran, or Catholic, or Baptist, this all may sound rather … blasphemous. And to Pastor Dan, that’s perfectly okay. “If the noise gets too loud, I’ll pack up and head back to California,” he added, laughing. “I do what I do.” 

Part of St. Paul’s allure is in their youth-driven movement. Ellicottville natives Josh Bower and Connor Helwig have been instrumental in both bringing the church into the social media age and organizing Saturday night freeform worship … which became so popular, Pastor Dan incorporated it into their weekly routine. 

“They started doing some pre-recorded stuff on the screen, some musical stuff,” he said. “It got to a point where it was becoming wildly popular, so we got the band back together, so to say. It’s amazing how much musical talent is in our parish. So there’s that, and starting on April 8th we’ll do two services on Sunday. One will be a little more formal than the other, but now that I’m full-time it will be easier.” (Pastor Dan recently was splitting time between Ellicottville and Allegany.) 

And how could we forget to mention … The Sign?

The Sign isn’t a sign from God, but it might as well be. You’ve probably noticed St. Paul’s road sign on your way in or out of Ellicottville via Route 219. You know - the one that has the super inspiring or hilarious messages? So hilarious, in fact, that ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell tweeted a picture to his 2+ million Twitter followers. The sign read: “Please God, Anybody But the Patriots.” 

“I follow Rovell on Twitter, and while scrolling through, I said ‘wait a minute - that’s our sign!’” Pastor Dan said. “Connor was responsible for that one. But no one person is the true owner. Sometimes I do it, sometimes Connor does it, but we try to make it inspiring each time we do it.” 

St. Paul’s, which underwent a massive addition back in 2008, is one of the most beautiful churches in the county. It’s located at 6360 Route 242 in Ellicottville (about a half mile east of the village), and Pastor Dan was quick to point out that everyone is welcome. 

“Whatever your religious background, or no background, everyone is welcome. Sinners, good people, everyone is welcome. We want to be the church for the community.”

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