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Welcome Home: Part 2

A WELS member loves listening to the gospel regularly after coming back to church. 

Rachel Hartman 

Kristin Young grew up in Wisconsin and learned about Jesus at an early age. “I was in a WELS church since I was a baby,” she says.  

Hearing the old story  

In the mid-1990s, Kristin and her son Matthew joined St. Mark’sWatertown, Wis. Her son was confirmed there, and the two attended worship regularly for several years. As he grew older, however, Matthew stopped coming to church as consistently. “Like some young people, he fell away from the church,” notes Kristin. “He went through some rough times. I was still going to church and encouraging him to go as much as possible.” Despite her efforts, Kristin’s son didn’t return to the Lutheran church. 

As a young adult, Matthew began working at a restaurant in Watertown. While there, he became friends with a coworker who was associated with a Baptist church in the area. The friend invited Matthew to visit a Baptist service and see what it was like. Matthew accepted the invitation and soon after started attending services at the congregation. After getting to know the church, Matthew decided to join the Baptist congregation and asked Kristin to go there with him.  

“I started going to church with my son and discontinued going to St. Mark’s,” Kristin says. She didn’t always attend services at the Baptist church, as she worked night shifts as a nursing assistant at a nursing home in the area. “I would go to church when I could,” she says. “I never knew if that was the right decision in my heart.”  

A tragedy strikes  

During the next years, Matthew grew more involved with the local Baptist congregation. Kristin continued to go to church with her son when she could and watched him take on leadership roles. “He became very strong in the Baptist church and very strong religiously,” she says. “He went preaching in prisons in this area to the inmates.”  

In addition to taking on more duties at the Baptist church, Matthew continued working at a restaurant. At the age of 27, he appeared to be a healthy, active young adult. During the month of January 2014, he grew ill and suspected he had the flu or a cold. “It was more life threatening than he and I both thought,” Kristin says.  

Several days after developing flu-like symptoms, Matthew passed away. “He had a blood clot in his left lung that entered his heart, and he died from that,” says Kristin. “The autopsy revealed where the clot developed and how it developed.” Grief-stricken and heartbroken, Kristin decided not to pinpoint the exact cause of the blood clot. “I just left the death in God’s hands. This helped as I tried to find peace and acceptance with everything that happened.”  

A change of direction 

“After my son passed away, it wasn’t the same for me,” Kristin says of the Baptist congregation. She stopped attending. She then looked for a place where she could continue to learn and grow on a spiritual level. After time and thought, she decided to return to St. Mark’s. “I felt more comfortable at the WELS congregation setting, and I felt a strong need to come back to St. Mark’s. I was longing to get backI felt like a lost soul.” 

On her first Sunday back to St. Mark’s, the pastors welcomed her warmly. “Different members came up and said ‘Hello.’ The congregation had changed a little since I had been there, and there were some people whom I didn’t know. The ones I knew were happy that I came back to church, she says. 

Once she made the initial return to the Lutheran congregation, Kristin was satisfied with her direction. The pastors of the congregation asked her to take a Bible information class to review the teachings of the Bible. “We met every Tuesday and went through different parts of the Bible,” Kristin says. “If you’ve been a member of the church for a while, it’s like a refresher course.” 

Kristin appreciated going through the different highlights of the Bible and reviewing the story of Jesus. She enjoyed taking another look at Jesus’ death on the cross and how his resurrection brings victory for us over our sins. She started attending weekly worship as often as her work schedule would allow. The Bible information class ended, and she was reinstated as a member. After that, she started coming to a different Bible study during the week.  

Gaining peace at heart 

Reflecting on her start at the Lutheran church, shift to a different congregation, and eventual return to WELS, Kristin is content with her path. “I feel in my heart that I made the right move to come back,” she says. “I think it was God’s will and God’s direction. I have peace of mind knowing that I made the right decision.” 

Young had long sensed a spiritual need, which she traces back to her childhood. “I’ve always felt a strong desire to be near God. I’ve always had a strong spiritual side since I’ve been a little girl, especially in the past few years. Losing my sonthe only thing I can say that has helped me gain the acceptance of the death and go on through my life is the strength that God has given me through the Holy Spirit. For household decisions and life decisions, I always lean on God.” 

Even though the congregation has around three thousand members, Kristin has made personal connections during her time there and feels a sense of community. “It’s a very close-knit group,” she says. “It’s nice to know that I truly belong. 

She also notes the spiritual concern the ministers show for the people they serve. “I’ve known some of the pastors here for a long time, and they care about their members,” she says. “Even though there are many people, they all know how to address the needs of the congregation and how to address everyone’s individual needs.  

Kristin continues to look forward to the Bible-based teachings, which focus on Jesus’ forgiveness and promise of eternal life in heaven with God. She will often send an e-mail or note to the pastors, referencing a message in a sermon that was especially meaningful to her or expressing her appreciation for the preaching of the gospel. 

To those who attended a WELS church at one time but no longer come, it’s worth taking the time to attend a service at a Lutheran congregation in your area, Kristin says. “If you’re uncertain, just talk to one of the pastors and say you’re thinking about coming back. Always pray, and God will lead you in the right direction. I’m so glad I made the switch.”  

And if you know someone who was once regularly present in a Lutheran congregation but now is not, consider reaching out to them. “Never tire of inviting back your family and friends who wander, says Karl Walther, pastor at St. Mark’s. “You might catch them at the right time.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida. 


This is the second article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 

 


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Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 7
Issue: July 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Welcome Home: Part 1

man finds a sense of belonging after returning to a WELS church.  

Rachel Hartman 

After growing up in a WELS congregation in Wisconsin, Kyle Oppermann left to join other church bodies as an adult. Two years ago, he again stepped through the doors of a WELS church. Now he can’t imagine going anywhere else. “This is what I was taught, and this is what it’s all about,” he says. 

Heading away 

During his early years, Oppermann’s family took him regularly to church. “I was born and baptized in a Wisconsin Lutheran Synod church,” he says. “I went through Sunday school and confirmation class.”  

But after getting confirmed, Oppermann started being pulled in other directions. “Once you get out of school, you kind of drift away from church,” he says. “During that time, I floated around.” 

Oppermann got married, and his wife attended a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod congregation. Oppermann went with her to that church. Then the two got divorced, and Oppermann started looking for a different congregation. 

When he remarried, his new wife attended a Congregational church, and he went there with her. “That church went against everything I was accustomed to,” says Oppermann“I went through the motions with that church, but I wasn’t connected.” 

During his time in the Congregational setting, Oppermann noticed teachings that were different from those he had been taught at WELS. “I remember one Sunday there was a lesbian couple that had a baby together, and it was time to baptize the child. I was ushering the service. I would take head count, and I remember a couple of people coming out of the sanctuary and saying, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this.   

The incident caused Oppermann to remember the Bible’s words on Baptism and that the child would be a child of God. He also recalled what he had been taught regarding marriagethat the Bible explains marriage is between a man and a woman.  

Twenty years later the couple divorced, and Oppermann found himself again looking for a church. “I floated around again and went to the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America],” he says. He got to know the minister of the ELCA congregation and asked him how to join. “I told him I had been baptized and confirmed in WELS, and he said, ‘Oh, you’re one of those people.’ He was the first person to hit me with that.” After that, Oppermann found others responded the same way when they learned of his background. “It carries that stigma that we’re fire and brimstone, he notes. 

Returning to WELS 

Around the same time, one of Oppermann’s friends asked him about WELS. “He said to me, ‘Didn’t you used to go to a WELS church? Why don’t you come back to WELS?  

Oppermann decided to give it a try. His first time back to a WELS church was on a Sunday. He walked through the doors and was greeted right away. “The pastor wanted me to go through the new membership class again just to make sure we were all on the same page, says Oppermann, who was eager and willing to take the class to refresh what he had learned. He joined a class that ran during the autumn of 2017.  

The pastor who taught the class comments, “Kyle was the last one out, and he just said, ‘This is so good.  With a big handshake the pastor replied, “Welcome home, Kyle. You are home.” 

In addition to the class, Oppermann was excited to hear the Bible read and taught again in church. “From day one when I went in, the stuff we were talking about rang a bell because I was born and raised in a WELS setting,” he says. “It felt like coming home.” 

He noticed a difference between the WELS congregation and the other churches he had attended. As each week went by, he read the Bible more and reviewed its teachings. He recognized that WELS instructs its members according to what the Bible says and bases its beliefs on Scripture. When questions came up, the answers came from the Bible. “Some of these other churches take bits and pieces of the Bible and interpret them in a way that fits with what they want the Bible to mean, says Oppermann. 

Oppermann discovered a sense of belonging after coming back to WELS. He found the teachings of his youth to be applicable and meaningful for his current life. He realized that the instructions haven’t changed; they are still based on the Bible. “It feels like I’ve been a member here for a hundred years.”  

Bringing in others 

Oppermann isn’t deterred by any stigma that being a Christian or being a WELS member can sometimes bring. He says, “People think you’re a stuffed shirt. But I tell them, ‘You can read the Bible and see what we’re all about. ” 

He has also come across ideas that some have regarding how Christians view themselves and the world. “People think we’re better than everybody else, but we’re no different than anyone else,” he says. It goes back to interpreting the Bible. You need to sit down and go over it to really know what it means.” 

Rather than focusing on what others might think of him attending a WELS church regularly again, Oppermann has looked for ways to help others with their spiritual lives. When his father, a WELS member, moved into a nursing home near Oppermann’s church, Oppermann called his pastors and asked them to visit his dad. “All four of the pastors saw my dad,” Oppermann says. “He was spiritually well taken care of when he passed.” 

Reflecting on his past years, Oppermann concludes he is in a better spot now than before. “My divorce was just finalizing around the time I came back, and I was looking for something else and praying about it.” Now Oppermann finds himself in a more stable position. “My life is better now. I have a good job and am able to do things. I feel better about myself because I’ve come back.” 

His favorite part of the week coincides with the worship times. “I’m like a little kid at the end of the week. I look forward to going to church.” He appreciates hearing the message that no one is perfect, but rather we all have sinned and have forgiveness through Jesus because he has paid the penalty for us all 

He also is thankful for the open arms that have received him in WELS. “I feel blessed to have a church like this accept me back in,” he says. In other places I felt like they didn’t listen to me and were just looking for more numbers to fill the pew. Here they listen and really care.”  

To anyone who is considering coming back to WELS, Oppermann says the return is invaluable. “Just come back and leave all your worries and cares at the door. For me, it was an eyeopener as far as how good this feels.”  


Rachel Hartman is a member at Divine Savior, Doral, Florida. 


This is the first article in a three-part series on welcoming straying members back to church. 

 


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Rachel Hartman
Volume 106, Number 6
Issue: June 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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