Tag Archive for: Arizona-California

Faith beyond four walls

As a mission congregation with no permanent facility, Peace Lutheran in Gilbert, Ariz., has had to adapt.  We have worshiped in a number of different locations—member’s homes, school cafeterias, classrooms, etc.  In 2022, our Sunday morning services were being held in a high school auditorium.  But that Fall, we were notified that some renovations were going to be taking place and we would have to find another place to hold our services.  Our leadership came up with the idea of setting up a tent on the land we had purchased for our future church home.  The property already had an older barn structure on site.  We poured a concrete pad, extending off of the barn and set the tent up for services, with the barn acting as our “fellowship hall.”  The members instantly loved it!  Despite the fact we had heavy rain the first few Sundays, God’s people gathered around Word and Sacrament.  Despite the fact at times it got windy and chilly, God’s people invited their families and friends.  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” (Psalm 122:1).

By the Spring of 2023, the renovations in the high school auditorium had been completed and we moved back inside due the Arizona heat.  However, it didn’t take long before people started to ask, “When are we going back to the tent?”  So in the Fall of 2023, we did just that—we went back to our church home.  And it has been a wonderfully blessed experience!

Over the course of the past two years we have been working on the building project for our permanent church home.  Our building plans have been completed and submitted to the county for approval.  God’s people have been incredibly generous. We’ve raised enough money to put a shovel in the ground.  We are excited to finally have a permanent church home and during this planning process we have decided that we will incorporate outdoor services as a regular part of our Sunday services because people loved them so much.

This entire experience has highlighted for all of us at Peace that church isn’t just a building or a structure. Church is God’s people gathering around his means of grace. Church is God’s people celebrating and sharing the news of Christ’s empty cross and tomb. Church is God’s people proclaiming the forgiveness Jesus brings to souls aching for peace. And that’s something we can do, wherever we are.

“Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

Written by Rev. Mark Schroeder, home missionary at Peace Lutheran Church in Gilbert, Ariz. 

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A new city, the same gospel

“Here in Bread of Life: the Church of the Lord, members of his body, by God it was formed. Reunited family, branches of the Vine, reconciled people, declare his love divine.” On November 19th, 2023, over 80 individuals gathered to celebrate the reality of these beautiful words, an English translation from the hymn “Aquí en Pan de Vida” adapted and translated by Pan de Vida’s longtime worship coordinator and staff minister, Amy Reede Nuñez. Pan de Vida Iglesia Luterana in Garden Grove, Calif., celebrated its 20th anniversary on that night with a special worship service followed by a meal and a mariachi band.

All Nations Sunday at King of Kings Lutheran Church.

Although this Spanish outreach mission currently calls Garden Grove its home, most of its rich history occurred about five miles east of its current facility. Pan de Vida launched in Santa Ana, Calif., back in 2003 under the leadership of Pastors Brian Doebler and Chris Schroeder, recent Seminary graduates who did six months of language training in Mexico. English classes and Bible studies blossomed into Spanish worship services, first in the pastors’ homes, then in local elementary schools, and finally in Pan de Vida’s own building that they purchased and renovated in 2008.

In all of these different locations, the Holy Spirit quietly worked through the means of grace as his church proclaimed Christ’s message of reconciliation. Individuals who came to learn English stayed after class to hear about God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit planted and grew faith in their hearts. Families invited their friends, and their friends kept coming back to hear about their heavenly Father’s infinite love for them in Christ. A couple walked across the street from their apartment one Sunday morning to inquire about this new church and kept coming Sunday after Sunday to hear the good news of the gospel. To this day, the highlight of their week is when their pastor comes to their home to feed them with Word and Sacrament, and then they get to feed him with home-cooked food that is way too spicy for him to handle. One of my favorite parts of my first nine months as pastor at Pan de Vida has been getting to hear everyone’s story of how God worked through the faithful proclamation of his Word to connect them to this body of believers. He blessed so many people through the ministry that took place in Santa Ana.

In 2021, due to a number of factors, Pan de Vida had to sell their longtime home. However, God provided for his people once again, this time through the brothers and sisters at King of Kings Lutheran Church in Garden Grove, who graciously opened their facility for Pan de Vida’s use. Although many changes have occurred for Pan de Vida in the last couple of years, the celebration of its 20th anniversary reminded us of one thing that will never change. The same gospel that called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified this family of believers in Santa Ana is the gospel it continues to proclaim in Garden Grove. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. May the Lord of the Church bless his people as we strive to faithfully carry out his ministry and declare his love divine to those around us.

Written by Rev. Grant Hagen, home missionary at Pan de Vida in Garden Grove, Calif.

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The gospel in Garden Grove…in three languages!

“Pastor, has there ever been a trilingual ordination service in the history of WELS?”

It was a very good question. This past Sunday, August 6, 2023, the installation and ordination service of two pastor was held at King of Kings in three languages. The three languages were English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Songs, prayers, and Scripture readings happened in all three languages with translations printed in the bulletin. If there had been a trilingual ordination service sometime earlier in WELS history, it was probably not in those three languages.

One of the men being installed and ordained was Rev. Grant Hagen, a Spanish-speaking graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) who had been assigned to a Spanish-speaking congregation. The other man being installed and ordained was Rev. Trung Le, a Vietnamese-speaking graduate of the Pastoral Studies Institute of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, who had been assigned to lead Vietnamese outreach for an English-speaking congregation.

The English-speaking congregation, King of Kings in Garden Grove, Calif., had opened its doors to the Spanish-speaking congregation, Pan de Vida Iglesia Luterana, a couple years earlier. The chancel furniture was from Pan de Vida’s previous location. The man who preached the Spanish sermon, Rev. Luis Acosta of the WELS One Latin America Team, stood behind the pulpit and told the assembly of more than 200 people how ably Hagen had served as a senior vicar in a Spanish-speaking congregation in Milwaukee, Wis.

The man who preached the Vietnamese sermon, Rev. Daniel Kramer from Peace in Jesus in Boise, Idaho, told the assembly, including 20 pastors who had come to participate in the laying on of hands, how Trung Le had come to faith and ably served in the leadership of that congregation in Idaho.

Because the WELS Joint Mission Council is helping with part of the effort, I had the privilege of preaching the English sermon. All three of us preachers used the text Matthew 9:36-38, “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Because the Lord sees how harassed and helpless we human beings are, and because he has compassion for us, he knows exactly what good gifts to give as a result of his people’s prayers. On this day, in southern California, he gave two men who are in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. They join Rev. Brian Doebler in Garden Grove, Cal., in proclaiming the everlasting gospel.

In three languages!

Written by Rev. Paul Prange, Administrator for Ministerial Education and Joint Missions Council chairman. 

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Pressing the reset button

It was time to press the reset button.

A Lutheran church on the west side of Las Vegas in the area of Summerlin started back in 1990. After two building projects and quite a few years of numerical growth, the congregation fell on hard times. Families moved away, older members moved on to heaven, and the current pastor moved back East to serve another congregation. That’s when the local mission board stepped in.

Although there weren’t enough members left to support a full-time pastor any longer, the Arizona-California district mission board was convinced that the area was ripe for the harvest and the opportunities to share the gospel were too good to pass up. They worked with the congregation and submitted a request to the Board for Home Missions to “restart” the congregation.

The term “restart” simply means that the congregation needed to press the reset button. There was a small core group of Christians remaining from a well-established church, but the congregation could not go on functioning like it had in the past. It needed a facelift so to speak, a chance to start at the beginning and try it all over again.

The congregation in Summerlin went through a two-year vacancy from mid-2020 until mid-2022. During that time, the core group shrunk even smaller than it was before. In fact, the 20-25 members left began attending Shepherd of the Hills, a sister congregation in Las Vegas led by Pastor Tom Unke who was also the vacancy pastor at the time. The buildings in Summerlin sat empty and the future was questionable.

Now, as this near calendar year begins, there has already been plenty of progress in the right direction. A new pastor accepted the call to restart the church in late summer/early fall. The congregation’s name was changed to Foundation Lutheran Church. Already a website has been produced, social media pages have been constructed, and signs have been installed. The facilities are in the process of being updated, cleaned, fine-tuned, and painted. Most importantly though, contacts are being made, conversations are being had, and relationships are being formed with a number of individuals and families throughout the community, setting the stage for gospel opportunities to come.

For the time being, the core group of Christians is still attending Shepherd of the Hills. A grand reopening is planned for April 2023 when full-time worship services and Bible studies will resume in Summerlin. There is a lot of work still to be done leading up to that launch date, but it is an exciting time for Foundation. The reset button has been pushed. The congregation is financially backed by WELS Home Missions until it can stand on its own two feet again. And this small remnant of Christians is armed with the powerful Word of God as it looks to once again reach as many hearts and minds as possible with the gospel about our Savior.

Written by Rev. Matt Frey, home missionary at Foundation Lutheran Church in Summerlin, Nev.

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The Evangelical Lutheran light at Christmas

“An evangelical? Lutheran? church? This I gotta check out…” Such was the thought process for Steve Yetter, when he received a new-mover mailer from the people of Mount Calvary in Redding, Calif. It was late 2020 when Steve moved from his home in Santa Cruz to be closer to family and that put him within Mount Calvary’s mailer radius. Steve had been part of evangelical churches before, but he wasn’t sure how evangelical and Lutheran went together. He stopped by our church on a Saturday, got a tour, and came back the next day for worship. Steve’s experience is a good example of how that “Evangelical Lutheran” comes shining through in Word and Sacrament. Steve continued to worship, took instruction classes, and joined the congregation. The Lord’s light was shining.

Steve Yetter and Pastor Schaefer

Now, Steve occasionally plays guitar for worship, sings in the adult choir, and attends Bible class regularly. After being in various churches throughout his life, the gospel-centered nature of Mount Calvary congregation is refreshing for Steve—that’s the true meaning of “evangelical.” It’s all about Jesus and his free salvation. “I got the love from the front and when I was in the pew, that love comes from the Light,” Steve said. The Lutheran emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s work through the means of grace has also been different from Steve’s past experience. “Other churches talk about being in the Word, but here we’re saturated with it.”

Christmas is commonly considered the season of light. Evangelical Lutherans get to share that light, so that sinners repent and believe the good news. This Christmas, that Evangelical Lutheran light was shining at two locations. Steve is part of a Core Group reaching out at a second campus in Anderson, Calif. Earlier this year Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church of Anderson voted to unite their ministry with Mount Calvary’s. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we now have two campuses and one joint congregation. Thankfully, we’re getting support and direction from our District Mission Board and working on growing together to share the light of Christ. It’s all new for us, and this Christmas we were able to experience the blessing of the Evangelical Lutheran light. The congregation at both locations welcomed over 40 visitors who came because of online advertising, personal invitations, and mailers—something Steve knows a little about. The adult choir sang on Christmas Day at both locations—something Steve got to be part of too. “It’s about getting the light out to more and more people,” Steve says. “I’m happy to be part of it.” We’re happy to be little lights, who know the one true Light. As Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

Written by Rev. Benjamin Schaefer, home missionary at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Redding, Calif.

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Together Video Update – September 13, 2022

Foundation, Folsom, Calif., is a WELS home mission that was determined to gather for worship, leading members to embrace “worship without walls.” Hear from Home Missionary David Koelpin about how this ministry began and how it’s developing.

 

 

 

 

 

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