The First 25 Years at Life in Christ Lutheran
History is the collective memory of a people. To lose our memory as a congregation would be almost as tragic as to lose our memories as individuals. That is why it is important to record as best we can the experience of Life in Christ Lutheran Church during the first quarter-century of its existence. Those who have lived through much or most of this history should find it interesting and helpful to relive and reflect upon it. Those who come after us will be richer for having entered into the lives and world of their spiritual ancestors.
An unusual feature of this congregational history is that is based primarily on unwritten memories. Ordinarily, historians prefer written records, and, of course, we have some of these. However, the information in them is often scanty, even about very important matters. Interesting details, attitudes and emotions, tensions, and motives are usually lacking, and they are what make the picture complete. Fortunately, the events discussed here are recent enough and memories are clear enough for these elements to be recovered and used.
History, even Church History, is the study of people. It is not the study of God. So, the presentation which follows discusses everything primarily from the human perspective. Occasional references are made to God and what He did in the situation, but these are faith statements rather than historical judgments. We know and believe that God is closely and powerfully involved in His Church. We know in a general way what He is up to, but not since Bible times has He revealed specifically what He wills and is doing in every situation.
For me, it has been personally very meaningful to gather this information and put it down. I love history of all kinds and teach and write about it, but this history is especially fascinating to me because I have been part of it for several years. Through my work here I have grown to know and love Life in Christ. That love and knowledge have become even deeper and richer as I have become more fully acquainted with its past. Hopefully, your experience will be the same.
Milton L. Rudnick
July 1, 2003
The Beginnings A Dream Comes True
It was January 9, 1977. The thermometer had plunged to -30. The two clergymen riding northwest on Interstate 94 wondered if anyone would show up for the meeting. They were Dr. Martin Lieske, President, and Rev. Max Schaefer, Mission Director, of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The meeting had been scheduled with a group of families from the two small communities of Albertville and St. Michael who were interested in establishing a Lutheran congregation. This was a rather unusual situation. Usually, the District surveyed areas where new churches could be planted and then looked for people who might be interested. In this case the initiative came from the people who asked the District for help in getting started.
At this time there was a comity arrangement between the American Lutheran Church (now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) and the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, which meant that neither church body would begin new work where the other was already established. Since the American Lutheran Church had already begun work in Rogers, it was appropriate for the Missouri Synod to establish a congregation in Albertville-St. Michael.
The vision was born in the heart and mind of one man, Cornelius (“Corny”) Paulson, who had been talking up the idea for some time at basketball games and other community gatherings. In some respects the dream seemed unrealistic. In 1977 the combined population of Albertville and St. Michael was only about 800, most of whom were members of the two large Roman Catholic parishes, St. Albert’s and St. Michael. However, with the opening of I-94 the Twin Cities were growing in this direction, and some new homes and new residents were appearing. Among those who came to share the vision of a new congregation in Albertville-St. Michael were members of several Lutheran Synods as well as some from other Protestant bodies.
When Lieske and Schaefer entered the Albertville City Hall (now the Building Department and Public Works building next to the Post Office) where the meeting was to be held, they were surprised and pleased to meet eleven families who had braved the severe cold. During the course of the meeting the people present voted to proceed with the organization of a congregation with the District’s assistance, and they were eager to begin worship services as soon as possible. The District officials explained that it would not be possible to have a pastor in place before the summer. However, Pastor Schaefer, with the approval of the District Board of Directors, offered to provide worship leadership without pay until they had their own pastor and to arrange for substitutes when he had to be absent.
Very quickly steps were taken to get the congregation up and running. On February 13, 1977, there was a get-together attended by 16 interested families. The first worship service was conducted by Pastor Schaefer on February 20 in the City Hall with 95 in attendance. The altar consisted of a table covered with a white cloth, two candles and a small cross. Worshipers sat on borrowed chairs. The tiny room was so crowded that it was decided to relocate to the Albertville Primary School as soon as possible. A potluck meal after the service provided an opportunity for worshipers to get acquainted and for bonds of Christian fellowship to grow.
After worship on the following Sunday, February 27, an organizational meeting was held and the first Church Council was elected: Chairman, Cornelius Paulson; Secretary, Virginia Bistodeau; Treasurer, Dwayne Altman; Financial Secretary, Lillian Stich; Trustees, Gary Walter, Gary Schwenzfeier and James Hennum; Deacons, Dale Magandy, James Farris and Frank Kalina. On March 20 a Sunday School staff of 17 was installed including 13 teachers, 3 substitutes and 1 organist, and classes began with 38 children in attendance. The name of the congregation was chosen the following Sunday, March 27. By one vote “Life in Christ Lutheran Church,” suggested by the Life in Christ Sunday School Curriculum, was chosen over its closest competitor, “First Lutheran Church.”
After an initial period of indecision, once they were committed to establish this church, the founders were determined to lose no time in getting started. In less than three months all the basics of congregational life and ministry were in place and functioning. The dream was fulfilled. Life in Christ Lutheran Church of Albertville, Minnesota, was born.
Members’ Memories of the Early Days
On May 13, 2003, a group of longtime members gathered to share memories of Life in Christ Lutheran Church from the very beginnings, even before the first Pastor had been installed. Some of these memories have been incorporated into the material above. What follows are additional recollections which add color and interest to the historical record.
Where did the people come from who founded Life in Christ? Quite a few came from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hanover, and they wondered if that congregation would take them back if this one fell through. Others came from the German Lutheran congregation in Monticello. They were not concerned about that eventuality because they did not like the congregation which they were leaving. Others who were drawn to the congregation in these early months were non-Lutherans who were told that they could join the congregation first and take instruction later.
Reminiscences about the first Christmas Eve service, along with very warm and positive images, included mention of the extreme cold—not only outside in the weather—but even inside the Albertville Primary School where they conducted the service.
Relations between the strong Roman Catholic congregations and the fledgling Lutheran group underwent a welcome change during these early years. Historically there was little love lost between people of the two churches. One longtime member, who was married to a Catholic at this time, reports that her daughter attended a Catholic school, and that the nuns told the children to have nothing to do with those Lutherans. However, when Life in Christ was getting started Paulson was able to borrow folding chairs from St. Albert’s parish for use in our services. Several years later when construction was underway, a women’s group from St. Albert’s sent a gift check for $100 toward the new building. Then in 1980 when St. Albert’s was constructing a new building, they requested and were granted permission to use the basement of our new church for some of their meetings.
Relations between the two little cities were not what they eventually became. There was intense rivalry between St. Michael and Albertville. They did nothing cooperatively. However, with the growth of the communities and the need for expanding the infrastructures, economic realities changed attitudes and practices. Education, community recreation and water treatment are now done cooperatively. The Albertville city clerk put it this way, “In some respects we function like a little Twin Cities.”
Pastor Max Schaefer Remembers
An additional dimension to the congregation’s story is the memories of the pastors who have served here—expressed in their own words. We begin with the pastor who provided worship leadership and guidance during the very first months of the congregation’s existence.
I must admit that my recollections of things that happened in my life in the late seventies are not as clear as they once were. I remember faces but I have no names for them. I recall events and incidents but they are far from clear—indeed quite a blur, to tell the truth.
I am pleased as I can be by the report of how you as a congregation are doing after all these years. It teaches us never to underestimate a mustard seed when it is planted in a fertile field.
I must say that all my memories, clear and foggy, are nothing but a joy and a delight to my heart.
The last time I visited Life in Christ, Albertville was in 1987, I believe. You were celebrating your 10th anniversary and you were in your first church. I remember it as an exciting and festive day.
The earliest contact with the Albertville mission, as we called it then, was a meeting I had with several lay leaders. We decided to schedule a worship service in the city hall and were all pleasantly surprised by the fine attendance. I remember coming early and with the help of a couple of families we set up chairs and an altar for our services. The people did the mission work, calling on neighbors and newcomers to the community, putting items in the local paper, and in general “talking it up.” The attendance continued to grow.
I do remember that many folks who heard about starting a mission in Albertville thought we were out of our minds. But the commitment of the people trusting that God would bless their efforts made all the difference in the world.
It was highly irregular that I, the District Mission Exec., would become the initial mission Pastor at Albertville. It came about because we could not find a man to do the job on such short notice. The people who were behind this effort did not want to wait any longer before worship services were begun. They asked me if I would help out. I checked with the powers that be in the District office and was cleared to take on that initial responsibility.
It wasn’t long before attendance was growing, the congregation was organized, and then approached the District President indicating that they were ready for a full-time pastor.
As is so often the case so many people helped make this a very successful effort. Underlying it all was the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit blessing the efforts and multiplying the results almost daily.
The future, not the past is to continue to be your focus. I pray for God’s continued blessing among and through you in future years.
Best wishes to you all and God’s continued blessing.
The Broader Context
What was the world like in which this new congregation was born? The radical changes and accompanying turmoil of the 1960s and early 1970s, although subsiding somewhat, were still very much in evidence. Many moral boundaries had been blurred or even erased by the sexual revolution and situation ethics. It was an era of protests over civil rights, war, gay rights, and abortion. All kinds of authority was being recklessly challenged. Freedom with very little sense of responsibility seemed to be the order of the day. Addiction, sexually transmitted disease, and the breakdown of families became epidemic. The invention of the personal computer was a technological breakthrough of vast significance. Advances in medical science raised all kinds of disturbing issues about life and death.
The church, too, had gone through tumultuous times. Controversies over liberal theological trends had led to division within the Lutheran Church-—Missouri Synod and had effectively ended the movement toward Lutheran unity in America. Congregations were wrestling with questions about worship styles, some rejecting traditional forms and music in favor of those which were informal and contemporary, while others sought to preserve and advance historic Lutheran worship. At the end of the 1970s turmoil within the church was also subsiding, but it was far from over.
In various ways the new congregation was affected by all of these factors. And yet, it was able to survive and grow, largely through the ministry of three gifted and dedicated pastors whom the Lord of the Church provided.
The Langewisch Years: 1977-1988 The Task Ahead
On July 10, 1977, Rev. John E. Langewisch was installed as the first pastor of Life in Christ Lutheran Church. He was just three years out of seminary and had been serving Trinity Lutheran Church in Carver, Minnesota, a well-established, traditional congregation more than a hundred years old. Home for himself, his wife, Phyllis, and their two small children, Sarah and Eric, became a rented apartment in St. Michael, which also served as the church office. As he reports in his memories later in this chapter he was excited about the challenges and opportunities of starting a new congregation in this area where there was no other Lutheran church.
In some respects, it was a very promising situation. There was a solid nucleus of members who had worked together eagerly to make the beginning, and there were more than a few others ready to join this new spiritual family. Several months after his arrival the charter membership was established with 75 confirmed adults and 57 baptized children as well as 9 additional adults who either were taking or were scheduled to take instruction. With the support of the District, serious planning for a new building was underway. After the completion of I-94 several years earlier, the little communities of Albertville and St. Michael, although their combined population in 1977 is estimated at only 787, were growing at the rate of about 15% per year. The enthusiastic and energetic young pastor could see prospects of a significant harvest.
However, there were also factors that would make the work difficult. The two large and thriving Roman Catholic parishes automatically attracted people of that background, and most of the people in these communities at this time were Catholic. Growing populations don’t always result in growing churches. New residents have to be invited and encouraged and won by the proclamation of Christ in public preaching and personal witness. The founders of the congregation were from several Lutheran bodies as well as from non-Lutheran backgrounds. This diversity could be problematic. Few had extensive understanding of distinctive Missouri Synod Lutheran doctrine and practice or experience in congregational leadership. The new pastor would have to build a trusting relationship with these people and deal with their diversity and inexperience in a sensitive manner.
As it turned out, Pastor Langewisch was blessed by the Lord of the Church with gifts and attitudes which enabled him to seize the opportunities and respond effectively to the difficulties.
Pastor Langewisch is remembered as a kind and caring person, easy to talk to, and a good listener. He was effective in enlisting people for the Lord’s work and could work well with all kinds. He identified with the people and entered into their lives. One member recalls that he and the pastor sometimes hunted and fished together. Another described how he showed up at his home in work clothes and helped him with a remodeling project.
His ministry was strong in evangelism. He initiated and sustained a variety of programs to help members share their faith and welcome the unchurched. He regularly joined members of the evangelism committee in making calls. Christian education was also an emphasis in his ministry. After undergoing training he introduced the Crossways program, an intensive study of major biblical themes conducted over two years. He revised the preparation of young people for confirmation by using an individualized approach which was being encouraged by some experts at the time. Regular classes were conducted to prepare adults for confirmation and church membership. A small group spiritual support program named “Caresciples” was introduced and continues to function to the present. His skills and experience in counseling were appreciated. He gave good attention to stewardship education. Except for one meeting in which he was harshly criticized for a reason which has been forgotten, the spirit of the congregation was characterized as peaceful and cooperative during his pastorate.
The Congregation Develops
Under his leadership, the congregation prepared a constitution and had it approved. Policies and practices of congregational life were put in place. Members with very little previous experience, including some who were new Lutherans, accepted leadership responsibilities and, in most cases, fulfilled them well. For more than a year the energies and efforts of members were devoted to planning and constructing their first building, which was dedicated on March 25, 1979. Financial assistance for this and for the operation of the congregation came from the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the form of a generous subsidy. When the subsidy was ended after ten years the congregation had difficulty making ends meet. The Sunday School grew to the point that additional space was urgently needed. A variety of fellowship activities brought members together and strengthened their relationships.
During the decade of Pastor Langewisch’s tenure, populations in the two communities more than tripled—from 787 to 2,819. Membership nearly tripled—from 132 in 1977 to 389 in 1988, and average Sunday attendance grew to 157. This was excellent progress for the first decade. Even with the population growth, the pool of prospective members was small. In addition, not all new members remained in the communities and in the congregation. To grow, the congregation first had to replace these losses and then add still others.
Several policies and practices that were in effect during these years were later regarded as incorrect and were changed. They were remnants of trends that had taken hold in parts of the Missouri Synod during the 1960s. Although decisive steps had been taken in the Synod to reverse these trends, they were still evident in the l970s and 1980s. One of these was the practice of open communion—receiving people at the altar without determining that they were adequately prepared with understanding and repentance. Another was conducting worship services with clergy with whom we are not in doctrinal unity. Members from other Lutheran synods and from non-Lutheran backgrounds favored these policies and practices, but they were not to remain in the heritage of Life in Christ.
Pastor Langewisch Remembers
One of the ironies of my receiving the call to serve Life in Christ as its first pastor was that the weekend before I had shared with Trinity Carver that I had no interest in leaving Carver. Because I was on the call list of another congregation in the Twin Cities area, rumors were circulating that I wanted to leave Trinity. I let them know as far as I was concerned that I was looking forward to continued services with them. Good things were happening at Trinity. We were growing in membership and worship attendance and were even beginning to discuss the possibility of adding another worship service.
So, to say the least, I was shocked when the call to Albertville came. I learned that a group of Lutherans had expressed interest in having a Lutheran congregation in Albertville. Rev. Max Schaefer, the district mission exec., began meeting with them, and they began worship services at the Albertville Elementary School around Easter of 1977. Many of those original charter members had previously been attending St. Paul’s Lutheran in Hanover. My wife Phyllis and I met with a group of about 10 of these people in the Albertville Town Hall as a part of trying to discern what God wanted me to do. There was excitement and enthusiasm among those gathered about the need for a Lutheran church to serve the communities of Albertville and St. Michael.
With I -94 now complete, these two communities were changing. They had been almost 100% Roman Catholic. Now new homes were slowly being built here and there and outsiders were moving in. Not only would this new church be the first Lutheran church in Albertville-St. Michael, it would also be the first church other than the two dominant parishes from which the towns received their names. By virtue of their proximity to the Twin Cities, the communities were destined to grow and change.
Looking back, the vision of those original families was to have a Lutheran church to serve them and the new families that would be moving into the area. As I considered the call, God gave me a sense that it was to truly be a mission congregation. Its mission must include the un-churched and the de-churched. The district leadership saw it as important to be sensitive to the mixture of ALC (American Lutheran Church) and LC-MS people involved in the core group. As I wrestled with the call I must admit that part of me was reluctant to move away from the comfort of the solid heritage of Trinity Carver and into the uncharted waters of serving a “pan-Lutheran” mission church. Ultimately, without giving me all the details about what would lie ahead, God made it clear that I should accept this call.
We began our ministry in June of 1977. The land was purchased, but we continued worshipping in the school’s library and music room. We had a portable altar and set up chairs each week for services. Services were somewhat informal. We used a couple of services from the Worship Supplement and sang mostly familiar hymns and a few contemporary Christian songs. Attendance and membership grew steadily. Our home in St. Michael served as a church office and meeting space for many meetings. Our children, Sarah 4, and Eric 2, enjoyed the many new playmates both at church and in our new neighborhood. Our son Peter was born in 1979. Phyllis transitioned from a stay-at-home Mom to subbing, to part-time teaching over the years.
The name Life in Christ came from Sunday School materials that were being used at the time. I was glad they picked it over “First Lutheran Church.” I felt the name Life in Christ gave a witness in and of itself. I would often talk about what life in Christ meant as I visited with people I called on in my years of ministry there. An early priority for the church was planning after some construction delays (windstorm damage and waiting for key heating parts), we finally were able to have our first worship services in the church. With the church building came hymnals, an altar and pulpit, communion rails, and even a used organ. Some were relieved to finally have all the formal trappings of being in our own church. Others kind of missed the informality of the “good old days.”
My pastoral style was and always has been to try to love the people God has called me to serve. In retrospect, God had a lot of growing for me to do and had lessons to teach me in my years of ministry at Life in Christ. I worked way too hard for God early on, and only slowly did I learn to more and more let God work through me, and know when to get out of God’s way. I knew that I needed to equip the members for ministry but often struggled to find the balance between ministering to others and equipping others for ministry.
Reaching out and bringing new people into the church was a big priority. Not all these new people were Lutherans. I learned to appreciate the wonderful understanding of God’s grace we Lutherans have through instructing them and seeing responses to that grace changing people’s lives. I also remember the challenge of developing lay leadership in the congregation. Many of our members were young in years and few came to Life in Christ with leadership experience from other churches. One of my greatest joys in ministry was the teaching of Crossways—a two-year journey through the Bible.
Over the years, watching and helping Life in Christ to start its baby steps and grow both numerically and spiritually so that it could stand on its own is what I look back on with particular satisfaction. There are many friendships and personal stories of lives touched by God that I will treasure forever.
There were some, mainly those looking from the outside, who viewed my ministry as too “open” to those not like us. There were others, mainly those on the inside, who viewed my ministry as not “open” enough. I pray that in the view of the only One whose opinion really counts, that in spite of mistakes made, He will count me faithful to Him, His Word, and the people of Life in Christ He called me to serve. Life in Christ is not about us, but about Christ making a difference in lives, one person at a time.
I’ll close with one such person. Shortly after coming to Life in Christ, a future mother-in-law named Virginia Bistodeau brought her son’s fiancé to worship with her. Her name was Debbie Kraft. I remember how closely she paid attention to the messages and how she began asking Virginia, and then me, more and more questions. Debbie became our first adult to be baptized at Life in Christ. When she married and became an expectant mother we rejoiced with her. But, I will never forget getting the phone call telling me that Debbie had been killed in a car accident. We grieved, but oh how important that I could share the certainty of her salvation because of her newfound faith in Jesus!
As God would work things, many years later I was back in the area to be with my father who was dying. His roommate's name was Leo Kraft. At the time the name didn’t ring any bells. But during a conversation, while my father was sleeping Leo began to share about a daughter he’d lost. We soon discovered a bond between us named Debbie. He still struggled with her death but he shared, “She loved her Jesus and she loved her church.” I told him that Debbie loved Jesus because Jesus loved her. God used Life in Christ to make an eternal difference for her!
I thank God for the 11 years I had the privilege of serving at Life in Christ Lutheran Church. I pray that God will continue to give Life in Christ a vision for the mission that is still before her until Christ returns in glory.
The Broader Context
The decade of Rev. Langewisch’s pastorate was marked by more cultural and political change. At the very time the congregation was being organized the first Star Wars movie premiered, and a year later the first “Test Tube” baby was born. One terrible consequence of the sexual revolution was the AIDS epidemic. The development of Prozac and similar drugs prompted millions of Americans to depend on them to relieve not only depression but also a variety of other emotional and physical discomforts.
Ronald Reagan led a conservative political resurgence that sought to restore confidence in and respect for the country after the traumas of Watergate and the Viet Nam War. When he denounced the Soviet Union as the “evil empire,” critics condemned this as reckless and dangerous, but world opinion turned increasingly against the abuses of that system and internal dissent began to grow. Sensing that the tide had turned against them, Michael Gorbachov tried to make some adjustments with policies of openness and restructuring, but, instead of fixing the system, they only seemed to accelerate its collapse. All of this enhanced the Reagan presidency, but on the economic front the picture was less favorable. Interest rates soared into double digits, and a stock market boom was followed by a major bust.
All of this impacted upon Life in Christ members. In a corrupt, confusing, insecure and dangerous world they found guidance, support, forgiveness and hope in the Word and Sacrament ministry of their church.
The End of an Era
On September 12, 1988, Pastor Langewisch requested a release. He felt led by God to leave Life in Christ in order to prepare for a counseling ministry. With sadness, but no bitterness, the congregation granted his request. Members appreciated his faithful and effective ministry. They also recognized his gifts for counseling. It was not easy to say goodbye to their first and only pastor and his family. He had led them through the critical stages of infancy as a congregation to robust and developing childhood. Many were convinced that he was just the pastor they needed at that stage of their history.
The Bugbee Years: 1989-1994 The Vacancy
When the members of Life in Christ met with the Circuit Counselor to discuss calling a new pastor they were stunned by what he said to them. Sternly and emphatically he explained that unless some things changed in the congregation they might never get another pastor. Open communion and joint worship with pastors and congregations not in doctrinal agreement with us, discussed in the previous section, were the main issues. In addition, he referred to their use of the Lutheran Book of Worship. This is a hymnal the Missouri Synod had compiled and published along with some other Lutheran bodies. However, after publication and after the movement toward Lutheran unity failed, some problems were recognized in it, and Missouri published its own hymnal, Lutheran Worship. Many in the Synod viewed the use of the Lutheran Book of Worship as unacceptable. These issues, the Circuit Counselor warned, would cause many, if not most pastors whom they called to decline. Members were surprised and hurt by what they heard. They did not realize that these practices and policies were so objectionable.
The Vacancy Pastor and Circuit Counselor instructed them in the qualities they should be seeking in a pastor, with a heavy emphasis on doctrinal soundness and the ability to communicate this to the people. However, without changing their problematic policies and practices they extended their first call, and it was declined. Their second call was also declined. The third call was sent to Rev. Robert Bugbee of Grace Lutheran Church, St. Catharines, Ontario. He was pastor of a well-established, bilingual congregation, and, in addition, was the First Vice President of the national church, Lutheran Church—Canada. To their disappointment he also declined, explaining that he could not agree with their practice of open communion. It appeared that the Circuit Counselor was not exaggerating.
Despite excellent interim pastoral care by Rev. Roger Klemz of St. John’s, Buffalo, the congregation struggled during the vacancy. Membership dropped as many members moved away or simply stopped participating. Declining attendance and offerings followed. However, those who remained came together with new resolve to prepare the congregation for a new pastor.
Recovery and Growth
When the call was sent to Pastor Bugbee a second time along with an indication that the congregation was ready to become better informed about this and the other controversial issues, Pastor Bugbee accepted. Along with his wife, Gail, and three children, Lauren, Ian, and Jill, they moved into what had been the nuns’ residence next to St. Albert’s Church. A fourth child, Nathanael, was born less than a year after their arrival. Rev. Bugbee was installed as Life in Christ’s second pastor on September 24, 1989.
Response to his pastoral leadership was immediate and very positive. Members and visitors alike appreciated his clear, biblical teaching and preaching. Many new members were added, not only by transfer from other Lutheran congregations but through the numerous New Member Classes that he conducted. The problematic issues were resolved as he presented the scriptural and doctrinal reasons for making the necessary changes. Financial problems were solved through the Growing with Vision stewardship program which he recommended. A new building committee was formed to explore expanding and upgrading the existing facility. The choir, which had been discontinued, was reorganized under his direction. By the end of his pastorate baptized membership had grown to 519 (from 389) and average Sunday attendance to 164 (from 157). Once again Life in Christ was a vigorous and growing congregation and had a heightened sense of its Lutheran identity.
Some memories of members are included above because the congregational records are not always complete. Particularly interesting and important are their recollections of Pastor Bugbee as a person. He was as warm and caring as he was intelligent and learned in theology. He was patient and convincing as he addressed the issues which were troubling them. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a magnetic personality, but was in no way “wishy-washy.” Listeners to his preaching and teaching felt that he was talking directly to them personally. When people showed their appreciation for him he reminded them that the church was not about him or any other pastor, but about the Lord, who He is, and what He has done.
He was very helpful in improving the stewardship of the congregation, and this was urgently needed. The financial situation had become so desperate that the treasurer was unable to pay bills and was hounded by creditors. Even the Pastor’s salary sometimes had to be paid in small increments. The members were eager to expand and improve the church facility. He made it clear that nothing could be done until their debt was paid and income was sufficient to cover the operating expenses of the congregation. For motivation to give more generously He referred them, not to the congregation’s financial problems, but to the goodness of a generous God who is the source of everything that we have and who promises to make it possible for us to give generously to Him and to others.
A practical measure that he recommended was engaging a professional fund-raiser to show them the process by which they could present this motivation to the members and encourage a positive response. At first, they resisted the idea of paying an outsider for this purpose but eventually decided to do it. This expert and experienced leadership combined with the pastor’s preaching and teaching about stewardship was richly blessed. Pledges were sufficient to pay the debt, and at the same time, weekly offerings increased to the point that operating expenses could also be met.
Another matter that the congregation was struggling with was the need for a better environment for Sunday School. With all the classes meeting in one large room separated only by dividers the noise level was disturbing. Student numbers also seem to have grown with a number of larger families joining the congregation. Various solutions were proposed. One was to build a house on the church property or buy one nearby and use it for Sunday School. Pastor Bugbee suggested purchasing the old church building of St. Albert’s parish and moving it to the church property and converting the entire original facility for educational purposes. It is generally agreed that this was not one of Pastor Bugbee’s best ideas. A temporary solution was to divide the sides of the lower level into separate and enclosed classrooms, and several years after Pastor Bugbee left this was done. However, encouraged by the effectiveness of Growing with Vision the congregation began to think bigger. They appointed a building committee to explore expanding and upgrading the existing facility.
Pastor Bugbee Remembers
In the spring of 1989 the phone rang one night in my office at Grace Lutheran Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, very close to Niagara Falls. If I recall correctly, there were two men on the other end—Dave Hedlund and Dale Martin—calling from a place I’d never heard of just northwest of Minneapolis. In fact, I had to go home and look up the town in my road atlas after we were finished talking.
I was pastor of a well-established Canadian parish, preaching each Sunday in two languages, German and English. In addition to my work there, I served as a national vice-president of Lutheran Church—Canada, which had recently become independent of its American “mother,” the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This meant serving on its Board of Directors, its Council of Presidents, and the Board of Regents of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines.
After declining Albertville’s call and then receiving it a second time, I felt convicted to lay aside my work in eastern Canada and follow a call to a part of the country where I had no family, few connections, and very little experience. Life in Christ was very young at that time. I think 45% of our members were 14 years old or younger, only 7% were 50 or older. Albertville-St. Michael were growing communities. There seemed to be a real receptivity and positive attitude toward the pastoral ministry in general. I believe this is so because of the very selfless service rendered by my predecessor, the Rev. John Langewisch, who was Life in Christ’s founding pastor and worked there for 11 years, 1977-1988.
The congregation was vulnerable, however. After several declined calls and almost a year of vacancy, it seemed as though people might scatter “like sheep without a shepherd.” I felt that the congregation might sustain damage it couldn’t easily recover from. And so I had a strong sense of conviction about going to serve these people. We bought Jim and Delores Hennum’s former home on 58th Street Northeast. It had once been the Catholic nuns’ convent, housing the teaching faculty of the former St. Albert Catholic School, and was located directly next door to the old St. Albert’s Church. I accepted the call in July and was installed as Pastor of Life in Christ Church on September 24, 1989.
I’m sure we all had our adjustments. After coming from a traditional parish populated by German immigrants, the new hymnals were a culture shock. And many of our people wanted to work through some of the theological questions that arise within the Missouri Synod. But with God’s help and a sense of humor things went well. And some of our people who hadn’t attended Bible Class over the years found themselves stimulated by being part of it and stayed on permanently. I think Bible Class attendance began averaging 25-30 participants before long.
I found the members of Life in Christ Church to be very attentive listeners to the preaching of the Word of God. A good number of them seemed to take a deeper interest in that Word and its implications for their lives.
Soon after we arrived, my wife, Gail, became pregnant with our fourth child. Nathanael was born at Buffalo Hospital on July 2, 1990, delivered by Dr. David Ehlenz. He joined Lauren, Ian, and Jill in our growing family. I often quipped to the Roman Catholics in town about the “uncertified” goings-on that were taking place in their former convent, things like diaper changing!
Soon after his birth Nathanael showed signs of craniosynostosis, a birth defect that had actually threatened my own life in the mid-1950s. Time was of the essence! The procedure had been perfected, of course, but we were still somewhat frightened at the thought of cranial surgery, which he received in November 1990, at the Minneapolis Children’s Medical Center. I remember going into infant intensive care to see him after the surgery and feeling very alone at that moment, far from our relatives. But then when I came out of intensive care, there stood Melroy Martin from our church. He had gone out of his way to come to Minneapolis out of love for Nathanael and for us. It was an emotional moment for me that I will never forget. I recall Debbie and Dave Ehlenz also making the trip to see Nathanael and to stand by us in that challenge.
I think it was Jan Pearson and Kathy Schmidt who provided me with orientation to the “independent study” approach that Life in Christ took to confirmation classes. I had heard about this from a respected pastor in Ontario but had never seen it in action. We made some adjustments to the materials and, in the course of time, added a group “lecture” to the independent study part.
Growth in stewardship was another needed and heartwarming thing during my years at Life in Christ. I recall asking the Council president soon after I arrived, “What’s the outstanding debt principal on our building?” Since he didn’t know, I figured the membership in general probably hadn’t given much attention to this challenge. (It was something like $160,000 if I remember correctly.) In any event, we did some targeted preaching and Bible study work in the next several years. Gifts to the Lord’s work went from around $63,000 in 1989 for all purposes to $136,000 in 1994, the year of my departure. In addition, we contacted Michael Fuchs of the Capital Fund Developers, an organization with Missouri Synod connections which helped with our kinds of challenges. We launched an effort called “Growing with Vision” to help retire the debt and begin saving seed money toward expansion.
In addition to some other “hats” I wore I resurrected the choir during my time and started serving as its director. We had very able accompanists in Lorri Hedlund and Gwen Worner, who came to us from the church at Brooklyn Park. Because of the commitments, young families had during the week, we stayed for Choir practices after the 10:30 service on Sundays. They didn’t have very expert conducting help at that time (remember, I was leading!), but the young adult voices sounded good together.
While I was at Life in Christ, one of our members, Dave Truenow, was moved to study for the Holy Ministry. He had graduated from Augsburg College and had served in the American military. At the time he lived in Albertville and both he and his wife, Beverly, worked at the Minneapolis postal sorting center. I tutored Dave weekly in the New Testament Greek language and together we translated the entire Gospel according to St. Mark to get him ready for entrance tests at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Some years later, in 1996, I was privileged to preach for Dave’s ordination and installation in his first parish, St. John’s Lutheran Church, rural Ada, Minnesota, way up north. (I think you can almost see Canada from there!)
In the course of 1993, I received no fewer than four calls, three to Ontario and one to British Columbia. One of them caused me so much indecision that I felt the need to visit the calling congregation. Tom Zander drove with me all the way to Pembroke, Ontario (on the border of French Quebec) to visit this parish...what a marathon trip that was!
In November 1993, I felt moved to accept the call as Senior Pastor to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Kitchener, Ontario, one hour west of Toronto, where I still serve after nine years. Their pastor was retiring after spending his entire career of 40 years at the church, and there was a great deal of turmoil at the time. I’ve always been very drawn by situations where the need is critical, as it had been in Albertville in late 1989. After some challenges of getting housing and immigration matters attended to, we were cleared for re-entry to Canada, and I preached my parting sermon on Palm Sunday in late March 1994. In the months that followed, our people in Kitchener prayed publicly and privately that the Lord would send a new pastor to Albertville without delay. We rejoiced at the news of Pastor Michael Trask’s acceptance and thanked God at the time of his installation in late 1994.
The Broader Context
During the Bugbee years the population of Albertville-St. Michael swelled to 4,966, an increase of more than 55%. The national economy turned around, and Minnesota was well ahead of most of the rest of the country. The Worldwide Web was created and changed communication forever. The United States emerged from the first Gulf War as the world’s only remaining superpower. There was a growing sense in the United States that the government had become too large, too expensive, and too intrusive. The country was shocked by the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The Berlin Wall fell, signaling the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
Very little reference to these developments is found in the records of the congregation or the memories cited above. But the congregation does not exist in a vacuum. Individually and corporately we are impacted by the world in which we live. Some of the optimism and prosperity that characterized these years may be reflected in the stewardship progress reported above. Preaching and teaching inevitably touch on the broader context. The church and the world inevitably affect one another.
The Close of Another Era
When Pastor Bugbee left in March 1994 the members were sad, but not resentful. They appreciated the quality of his ministry and the differences that God had brought about in the congregation through him. Not only did they recover from the slump in membership, attendance, and offerings created by the vacancy, but they had matured significantly in both doctrinal and administrative matters. The congregation was no longer an infant or young child struggling with the basics, or an inexperienced youth trying to establish its identity and chafing against authority. Wisely and lovingly he had led them through this. They were convinced that he was just the kind of pastor they needed during those 4 1/2 years. Now they were ready to enter adulthood under the leadership of a new pastor.
The Trask Years: 1994 to the Present The Vacancy
Members approached this vacancy with a great deal more confidence and comfort than the previous one. Now they were acquainted with the calling process and got busy right away. The issues that complicated the other vacancy had been resolved. Pastor Bugbee was with them for four months after he announced that he was leaving. And, they had a clear idea of the kind of pastor that they needed and wanted. Great progress had been made toward solving their financial problems. Their vacancy pastor was someone whom they knew and trusted and who was well acquainted with the congregation. He was a fellow member, Rev. Dr. Gordon Bynum, who at the time held an administrative position at the University of Minnesota and who brought excellent pastoral gifts and experience to the assignment.
There were challenges, however. A significant number of very active members moved away. Attendance declined, as is usually the case after a beloved pastor leaves.
At the recommendation of Pastor Bynum the name of Rev. Michael Trask of Redfield and Doland, SD, was added to the call list. He was a 1986 graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and had been in this pastorate from the very beginning. Pastor Bynum knew him well. They were seminary classmates. He explained that this candidate was a gifted preacher and teacher as well as doctrinally sound. In addition Bynum suggested that Trask might be ready for a change. He was almost elected on the first ballot, but another candidate received one more vote. When he declined, Pastor Trask was elected.
In his memories Pastor Trask explains his mixed feelings about leaving his churches in South Dakota and his reasons for accepting the call to Life in Christ. He also describes his initial impressions of the people and building when, after receiving the call, he made an exploratory visit.
More than eight years have passed since the Trask pastorate began. They have been rich with opportunity and the congregation has been ready to seize them. The Albertville-St. Michael population has nearly tripled—from about 5,000 in 1994 to more than 14,000 in mid-2003, most of whom are in need of a spiritual home or even of saving faith itself. Capable and committed leaders were ready to move into the future and most members were willing to follow. There was a renewed seriousness about ordering the teaching and practice of the congregation according to God’s Word.
The new pastor was not in place very long before members realized that God had sent them another outstanding preacher and teacher. Attendance and membership began to grow, soon compensating for and exceeding the losses incurred during the vacancy. From the pulpit and elsewhere he led them through the final phase of the Growing with Vision stewardship effort.
With growing numbers of people in the community and congregation, the need for more space became urgent. Already during the Bugbee pastorate, this was realized and a committee was formed, but his leaving and the vacancy put the matter on hold. Undoubtedly the most important new challenge of the Trask pastorate was to move this matter forward. The new pastor and the leadership of the congregation were up to the challenge and seized the opportunity.
In 1997 a new building committee was formed and began to explore expanding and upgrading the original facility. More than a year later they, in consultation with an architect, came up with a proposal that would provide seating for 80 additional worshipers as well as two additional classrooms and more office and meeting space at an estimated cost of $490,000. After further investigation and consultation in the Spring of 2000 they presented an alternative proposal that would include a spacious new sanctuary with more than double the capacity of the existing sanctuary, as well as an expanded and upgraded original facility at an estimated cost of $1,500,000. The actual cost ultimately exceeded $2,000,000.
While no vote was taken, members expressed great interest in this possibility, and no opposition was voiced. In a Fall 2000 meeting, the Council discussed how they might respond to the positive reaction to this bold alternative. Following the meeting, after careful consideration and prayer, the Pastor became convinced that in order to take advantage of mission opportunities in this community it was necessary to do this and do it as soon as possible. In a subsequent meeting, the Council came to the same conclusion. They made a two-part recommendation that was presented to the Voters Assembly in January 2001: (1) We should move ahead with the construction of a new sanctuary as well as the expansion and upgrading of the original facility, and (2) we should initiate an intensive stewardship program to provide the financing. When the recommendation was considered by the Voters, although there was serious and extensive discussion, no opposition was heard, and in a secret ballot, only two negative votes were recorded.
On several subsequent occasions—when revised cost estimates came in and when a large loan had to be negotiated—it was necessary to revisit this decision, and it was always reaffirmed unanimously. What gave Life in Christ such a high level of certainty and unity about the momentous decision? Most important was the realization that God had given the congregation a marvelous mission opportunity in this community and that an expanded and improved facility was essential to that mission. In the second place, our stewardship program had been greatly blessed. Pledges to the building fund had exceeded $400,000, and weekly offerings had increased significantly. A thorough and conservative financial analysis was made which indicated that this ambitious project was indeed feasible. So, with joy and optimism, the members were able to say an emphatic “Yes!”
Two additional factors helped make the project affordable. One was the decision that the congregation, through the Building Committee (later called the “Construction Committee”), would serve as its own general contractor and that volunteers from the congregation would do 25% of the work. Ultimately more than 6,000 hours by many dozens of volunteers, some skilled tradesmen, and other capable and experienced volunteers, were invested in the new building. In addition, Laborers for Christ, an organization of Missouri Synod men and women from throughout the country who spend their retirement building churches for minimum wage, become involved. For 3 1/2 months, up to ten of them lived on-site with their spouses in a little village of RVs, contributing their expertise and energy to the cause. It is estimated that from these sources the congregation saved from $300,000 to $500,000.
This does not mean that it was easy. One or more evenings a week and Saturdays, week after week for nearly a year, crews were on hand, women as well as men, doing everything from demolition related to the upgrading of the original facility to fine finishing work, from digging ditches and site cleanup to installing sanctuary windows forty feet from the floor. Some members devoted vacation days to the project and put much family and recreation time on hold. Several of the subcontractors were members who either contributed or discounted much of their time and materials. Creatively but cautiously the Construction Committee addressed problems of design and with non-member subcontractors, as well as with unexpected needs that inevitably show up during a construction project. The Interior Design Committee did a thorough and tasteful job of selecting colors, materials and furnishings for the interior as well as making some decisions about the exterior. The Banner Committee worked for a year preparing six striking banners, based on the Six Chief Parts of Luther’s Catechism, designed by a professional artist. When construction was complete the Landscape Committee and other volunteers worked for many weeks to put that finishing touch on the property. All this work was an impressive outpouring of effort done to the glory of God and for the advancement of His work.
During construction, since the original facility was undergoing major upgrading, services were held in the gymnasium of the Albertville Primary School where 25 years earlier during the construction of the original facility, the congregation met for worship, but in a different part of the building. Conditions were very similar to the earlier temporary arrangement with the setting up of chairs and a folding table with a small wooden cross for an altar. Many were concerned that attendance and offerings might decline during this period, but in fact, they grew. There was even a steady stream of visitors made aware of our congregation by the impressive building that was rising up and the publicity related to it. The Board of Fellowship organized the usual coffee and snacks after the Sunday services and Soup Suppers before Wednesday Lenten Services. Everything had to be carried in and out. It was a great deal more work than in our own facility, but volunteers did it gladly and members were appreciative.
The dedication of the handsome new facility took place on May 4, 2003. It was a grand occasion. All three Life in Christ pastors participated. At both services, Pastor Trask was the liturgist and Pastor Bugbee was the preacher. The choir, organists, pianists and instrumentalists, and vocal soloists provided festive music. The sanctuary swelled with members, friends, and visitors. A number of Laborers for Christ returned for the celebration and to see how their project turned out.
At the Dedication Dinner that followed, organized by the Boards of Fellowship and Outreach, the Fellowship Hall was packed with more than 250 people. They heard a major address by Pastor Langewisch in which he recalled some of his experiences at Life in Christ and charged the congregation to devote themselves unwaveringly to the mission which the Lord has assigned. Pastor Trask brought the celebration to a climactic conclusion with thanks to all who worked and gave to make this building possible and paid tribute to his predecessors for being God’s instruments in helping to make this congregation what it has become.
As important as the beautiful and serviceable facility was, the spirit of unity and willingness that arose in connection with the project and the energy that was marshaled were also tremendous blessings. From time to time there were disagreements about the project, but no conflicts. Through discussion, agreement was reached. Even hard and dirty work was done cheerfully. Members enjoyed working together and accomplishing something so important and attractive.
Part of preparing for the future was adding a staff person, Rev. Milton L. Rudnick, a semi-retired pastor, and educator, to serve as Assistant to the Pastor. He began his part-time service in October 2000 and provided some leadership in the stewardship program mentioned above. In addition, he developed a procedure for inviting new home buyers to our worship services as well as regular mailings to all 6,000 plus residential addresses in Albertville-St. Michael. He is a staff resource person for the Boards of Stewardship, Fellowship and Outreach and provides some administrative support to the Pastor. His wife, Carlene, assists with congregational music.
Members’ Memories and Impressions
Much of what is written above is based on recollection because much information can not be found in the records. Since he was involved for part of the Trask years, the author has also drawn on his own memories as well as those of the members.
What impressions do members have of Pastor Trask? The answer given here is based in part on what was said at the May 13, 2003, memory-sharing meeting of longtime members, at which the Pastor was not present. This suggests that the comments were reasonably objective. In addition, the answer is based on the author’s experience in visiting hundreds of members and visitors in their home, and in working closely with the Pastor for nearly three years. The author admits to being biased in his favor but has made every effort to keep that from interfering with accuracy in this history.
Pastor Trask is a strong leader who is fully in charge, but at the same time is deliberately unpretentious and open to the ideas of others and their preferences. Members place a high value on the quality of his preaching and teaching. They sense that he knows where they are at and can relate to them effectively, that he is one of them. Congregational leaders appreciate his consulting them when he is considering making changes in congregational life. However, he regards preaching, teaching, and worship leadership as his responsibility. From the beginning, the youth have appreciated his “laid-back” style (jeans and T-shirt), and his awareness of their culture. He gains their respect with a no-nonsense approach to the teaching of God’s Word which is combined with a readiness to listen to their questions and concerns. Most like their confirmation classes as well as other times that he spends with them. Sunday School children like the singing that he leads with his guitar and the Bible knowledge games that he creates. He arrived in the congregation unmarried but engaged. Now he and his wife, Becky, have two small sons, Andrew and Jacob; and he is able to incorporate the family experience into his preaching, teaching, and pastoral care.
Members express very positive and healthy attitudes toward all their pastors. In the case of Pastor Trask, they say that they expected him to be different from Pastor Bugbee to whom they were so attached, but this doesn’t bother them. In fact, they realize that the difference is good. They believe that God sends them just the kind of pastors that they need. As the congregation grows in size and in maturity, they believe that Pastor Trask is just right for them.
Pastor Trask Remembers
1994 was a year of great change for me. In September I wrote a letter to all the members of Messiah Lutheran Church in Redfield, SD, and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Doland, SD, informing them that their heretofore unmarried pastor was now engaged to be married to a woman named Rebecca Struck. Both congregations rejoiced with me and began to contemplate the idea of having a pastor complete with family. But then, on October 17 I sent another letter informing them that I had received a call to another church in Albertville, MN.
I had really grown to love and respect the people in those towns. I appreciated the straightforward and direct way of life. South Dakotans are a people in whom there is no guile. Since I myself am rather straight-forward and direct, I had become quite comfortable there. The thought of leaving my two beloved congregations was not an easy one to contemplate.
And yet, in the previous four years, I had begun to feel like I should be doing more. I had started many different programs in my new churches: Bible studies, youth, midweek Lent and Advent services, etc. I did weekly devotions on the local radio station, provided services at the local nursing homes and was involved in local civic groups. But still I had too much time on my hands. I talked to the District President of South Dakota about this and he gave me a lot of extra things to do. I was Stewardship Chairman of the district, the Editor of the Lutheran Witness Supplement for South Dakota, and served on numerous committees and boards. I enjoyed these positions but still inwardly believed that I needed more to do in my parish. But with a combined membership of about 250 members, there simply wasn’t any more to do. So, at the same time, the call from Life in Christ, Albertville, seemed that it might be the answer to this inward desire to be doing more.
I had received other calls, but on principle had never gone to visit the calling congregations. Yet, for some inexplicable reason I made an exception with Life in Christ. I had never even heard of Albertville. It sounded like the name of a farm town. Others would be put off by this, but not me. I had had a good experience in a farm town.
As I drove past the high school I caught my first glimpse of what had to be the church building. Just at that time a young man coming out of the high school parking lot pulled out in front of me and crunched the right front corner of my car. As we waited for the Sheriff’s deputy to arrive I called the church to tell them why I was late. Two men from the church came over to greet me: Tom Zander and Elmer Eichelberg. They were very much like the people I had grown to love in South Dakota. As we conversed, I found out why: Tom was of a farm background and Elmer was from South Dakota! Though I was away from home, I felt like I was at home from that instant.
Then we went to have a meeting in the church basement. In addition to Tom and Elmer, Jan Pearson and Tary Johnson were there. (There were others, but I can’t recall them.) It was a kind of get-to-know-you sort of affair. From the questions they asked me and the way they responded to my questions I detected that the people who were were there were deeply concerned about their church. I took that as a good sign.
I wasn’t at all impressed with the original building. It was nowhere as nice as what I had in South Dakota. It was well-worn and quite cluttered. But having driven around in the area I could tell that the Twin Cities was soon going to push outward, I and I knew that in a few years we would probably be looking for something better. How could I tell? I spent about half of my childhood in a Twin Cities Suburb (Plymouth) and had learned how metro expansion progressed and could see that Albertville and St. Michael were next in line for a big push. I knew then that I would probably never run out of things to do in this place. I knew also that this place would challenge me in ways I had not been challenged before.
For selfish reasons, I didn’t want to leave South Dakota, but after much self-examination and prayer, I knew I had to go to Albertville. From the moment I made the decision, I believed that it was God’s will; through the years he has continued to assure me of that.
Throughout my ministry, one could probably say that I am a pastor that emphasizes the fundamentals: worship, preaching, and teaching. I have never been one to chase after the next new thing. I’m not against innovation, but I am against change for the sake of change. It has always been my belief that the Word of God will do its work. If the Word is plainly proclaimed and taught, it will accomplish what God says it will accomplish. It will work on the hearts of his people. Trendy things have a way of detracting from this wonderful process. One of my oft-repeated principles is this: “Anything that we will laugh at in twenty years should not be done in the church.” The Lord says “I the Lord never change!” and “Jesus Christ the Same, Yesterday, today, and forever.” The things we are dealing with in the church have an eternal nature about them...thus our worship, Bible study and activities should have similar qualities. Some might assume that this means we have to be boring. Not so! The Word of God touching our hearts is never boring! There is nothing I like better than to see the Word of God hit home.
And the people of Life in Christ love to hear the Word of God too. While I was trying to make my decision to come to life in Christ, Pastor Bugbee, my predecessor, called me up on the phone. He urged me to go to Albertville. In the course of our conversation he said “If you teach and preach from the Word of God, they will listen”. That clinched it for me. I knew then that we would be a good match. I love to proclaim the Word, and they love to hear it.
After about six years of service at Life in Christ, a retired pastor appeared at a couple of our worship services. After one of the services he came to me and said “Could I meet with you?” “Sure!” I said. And as we sat in my office he said “I want to work for you!”. “What is it you want to do?” I asked. “Anything you don’t want or don’t have time to do.” he said. That retired pastor was Dr. Milton Rudnick whose official title is now “Assistant to the Pastor.”
He was truly a Godsend. While in my former parish, I had always felt I didn’t have enough to do, I was now coming to the point where I had way too much to do. I had begun to feel overwhelmed. With much self-evaluation and consideration to the needs of Life in Christ, I came to the conclusion that this fellow was exactly what we needed. The Church Council agreed. In all of this, I had to admit that I can’t do everything. Once I was ready to do that, God provided the help that was needed to really get things done. First, in the person of Pastor Rudnick, and secondly, through the overwhelming help and assistance of God’s people at Life in Christ.
From my perspective, things are better than they have ever been for this congregation. I believe it was Martin Luther (or maybe it was Walther) who once charged young pastors to “Consider your parish your little patch of heaven.” I understand that now.
The Broader Context
How can the national and world situation during the past eight years be characterized? It has been a period of extremes. The economy roared and then gasped. Twice the nation reeled under mass-casualty terrorist attacks, first at the Oklahoma Federal building in 1995 and the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 (9/11). The Stock Market fell precipitously after the latter but was already sliding before that as investors began to realize that the value of most stocks had been grossly inflated, stimulated primarily by the Dotcom Boom. Unemployment soared as businesses large and small tried to cut their losses. The O. J. Simpson trial aroused controversy and cynicism, and the whole world seemed grief-stricken by the death of Princess Diana. Protests against the World Trade Organization turned ugly and violent. The country agonized through a presidential election that seemed endless. In response to 9/11 the US took swift and lethal military action against terrorist elements in Afghanistan and ultimately against those in Iraq. Especially the war in Iraq ignited controversy and protests, not only in this country but throughout the world. To Christians what seems particularly ominous is the increasing hostility of many segments of the culture to Christian faith and values. This trend has been growing since the 1960s, but has become more prominent than ever in recent years.
Life in Christ members lived through the shock and insecurity of these extremes. Some lost jobs and others investment values and retirement income. Young people preparing for careers had to change plans. Those in the reserves were called up for active duty and loved ones worried about their safety. All have felt the sting of Anti-Christianism in one form or another. However, in their Lord and His Word and in the community of believers they found support and hope and guidance. As a congregation they found courage, strength and even optimism in the face of all this to move forward with the most ambitious project that the congregation ever attempted.
Of course, only God knows what the future holds, and only He can exercise control over the future. However, it is not inappropriate to reflect on what Life in Christ might be like after another quarter-century has passed. Continued growth of the community to double or more than its present population by the year 2028 would seem to be a certainty. Under God’s blessing, the congregation might well also double in size. If it should grow beyond that, a nearby daughter congregation might be formed. There is serious discussion already about the possibility of a Lutheran elementary school. The formation of a Lutheran High School by an association of nearby congregations is already on the drawing board.
The most vital ingredient in a healthy and God-pleasing future is faithfulness to Him, to His love, His truth, and the mission He has assigned. More than anything else what makes the future of Life in Christ promising is her unwavering commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran understanding of it, for this heritage locks our attention on Jesus as God’s supreme revelation of His love and truth and keeps His mission ever before us.