A WELS member loves listening to the gospel regularly after coming back to church.
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’s, Watertown, 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 back—I 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 son—the 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
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