Friday, March 29, 2019

Grace at 60. . .

On Sunday, March 29, 1959, about a hundred or so good souls came together to sign a charter and formally establish Grace Lutheran Church of Clarksville, Tennessee.  Under the leadership of Pastor Harold Tessmann, they went from a dream to an actual congregation in less than two years.  Army Chaplains had seen the potential.  Seminarians had canvassed the area (coming all the way from St. Louis).  The map showed no Lutheran presence between Paducah, KY, and Nashville, TN.  So a decision was made and a call extended.

Pastor Tessmann had served large congregations in Wheaton, IL, and Michigan but left the building and the establishment to begin something new.  His wife and children ended up moving into and then out of rental housing to find themselves in a partially finished parsonage.  I am not sure my family would have been so agreeable.  But it was exciting to be part of something brand spanking new.  And it was a boom year for the LCMS.  My first parish was between Albany and NYC and it was started in the same period of rather explosive growth for our church body.  We all long for those heady days when it was cheap and easy to plant a new congregation.  Those days have come and gone, to be sure. 

Now the parish Pastor Tessmann worked so hard to begin has matured and is 60 years old.  Some of those congregations started the same year have closed up shop.  Some have witnessed a neighborhood change and the pews empty and they are struggling now simply to survive.  Many of them are doing okay but they are sure their glory years have come and gone.  Some of them, like Grace, have flourished more in the second half of their lifespan than they did in the first 30 years.  We have become a strong congregation with a dynamic life flowing out of and back into the Word and Table of the Lord and we manifest a strong Lutheran identity and presence into the community.  We have prospered as the community has grown around us and our ministry extends beyond even the local neighborhoods to reach to Africa.  We have a large parish staff, a large and highly sought after preschool, and a great musical tradition.  But we will also face some serious challenges and changes.

Our Cantor of 22 years will retire this June after building a profound musical program.  I am approaching the days when I will begin considering that magic word retirement.  Will things be different?  You bet they will.  But though we change as people, the neighborhoods transform around us, the city grows, the world is different -- the Gospel remains the same.  Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.  I believe the future will be good for Grace Lutheran Church.  We have bucked the population trends and have an abundance of young families and small children.  We have people who are intentionally Lutheran and who want worship to be authentically Lutheran, rich, and excellent to match the amazing gifts of Word and Sacrament that form the beating heart of our life together.

There is no guarantee that earthly structures will endure but we know the faith will.  God will preserve the Church even though individual congregations begin and end.  This is not a consolation prize to comfort us in the face of defeat but the confidence in which we embrace the future, while carrying with us the best of the past, a living and lively tradition in which the past has voice and vote as well as the present.  In the end, that is good enough for me. 

Happy Birthday, Grace Lutheran Church! 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Long live the faithful, confessional, and liturgical. VDMA!