Monday, December 27, 2010

Heritage Lutheran Church formed in Brandon SD

Area Lutherans come together to form new church in Brandon

By By Jill Meier, December 27. 2010 6:00AM,
Bruce Baartman travels nearly 20 miles one way each Sunday to attend church.
The Luverne, Minn., man and his family are one of several area families that have broken away from their Evangelical Lutheran Church in America-member (ELCA) congregations to form a new church in Brandon, Heritage Lutheran Church.

The new Lutheran church members say, has been organized on heritage and faith.
“With Christ and the Word as our cornerstones, we honor heritage and pass on our faith,” is the mission statement the congregation is following.

“It would’ve been easy for me to stay in my hometown of Luverne but I have found a place that truly inspires me,” said Baartman, one of six elected to serve on the church council.

Many of Heritage Lutheran Church members left their congregations after delegates to the ELCA biennial assembly in Minneapolis last August voted to allow gays in committed relationships to serve congregations that choose them. They say the ELCA became “too political” and instead want to focus their beliefs on the following principles:

• Jesus Christ is the Way – proclaiming the Gospel and administering the sacraments;

• The Word is the ultimate authority in all matters of faith and life;

• Teaching and learning about Christ and the Word across all generations;

• Welcoming, faith-based fellowship for adults and youth in God’s family; and
• Word Alone. Christ Alone. Faith Alone. Grace Alone.

Organization of the new church began in early September. Since that first meeting three months ago, the congregation has come a long ways.

“There’s a credible opportunity that exists right now in the Lutheran Church in America,” said Michael Nitz, a church council member. “We see great opportunities to get back to essentials of the faith, that Christ is central and the Word is taught. We’re not focusing on being a political organization.”

Members of the newly organized church have come from four different congregations in Brandon, Luverne and Sioux Falls.

For Tom Ode, his move to Heritage Lutheran is a “reformation of my religious belief,” he said. “It’s a very stimulating experience to be around people so like-minded,” he said.

Council member Jess Boyle looks forward to Sunday morning worship services. “I have never felt so excited to go to church in my life. It’s just a very dynamic, exciting time,” he said.

Heritage Lutheran Church members began worshipping weekly at Heartland Funeral Home, which is located on Brandon’s western edge, on Sept. 12. Eighty-nine people were in attendance at the first service. Since that time, the weekly attendance averages between 115-120.

“It’s fun to see all the excitement here and we have all sorts of great things happening here,” Nitz said.

Among those “great things” is the formation of several support organizations of the church. Committees have been established for finance/support, worship, fellowship and outreach, education, a womens group known as the Women of Heritage, a mens group, the Men of Heritage, a youth group, Prayer Partners, and the six-member church council.

The Men of Heritage recently completed their first endeavor, creating over 250 wooden toys that were made in Ernie Swier’s woodshop over a four-week time period. The toys were recently distributed to the Brandon Area Food Pantry, The Banquet in Sioux Falls, and the Salvation Army and the church’s own MOPS group just in time for the holidays.

“It’s been somewhat of a dream of Ernie’s to make toys, so when the church came about, Ernie stepped up and said, ‘Boys, I need some help,’ ” explained Boyle.

Swier has also constructed communion trays, a cross for the altar, the pulpit and a cabinet for hymnal storage. Hymnals were donated to the congregation by two of its members.

“One of the things I equate this to is the start-up of an entrepreneurial business,” Ode said.

The worship committee meets every Tuesday night to plan the Sunday worship service.

“This is such a lay-led ministry that the pastor can walk in and give a sermon that gives everybody goose bumps,” Boyle said.

Members have also stepped up to lead the children’s Christmas program and to direct the choir.

“He (Steve Wetrosky) just said, ‘let’s get together and do a choir.’ That’s all it took,” Ode said.

The Women of Heritage have been meeting Wednesday evenings for Bible discussion, and the Teen MOPS group is their main outreach at this time.

The youth group recently had their first outing, a gathering that drew 13 youth to the local Pizza Ranch.

“For them, it’s more or less getting comfortable outside the Sunday church environment to have some fun together and to focus on fellowship,” said Baartman.
Confirmation is scheduled to start in January.

When it came time to elect a church council, 17 members expressed an interest in serving in that capacity.

“People are stepping forward, not because they need to, but because they want to,” said council member Dan Hindbjorgen.

Following their Dec. 12 worship service, the congregation adopted their constitution and by-laws.

“Yesterday was another example of positivity,” Hindbjorgen said. “Two-thirds of the congregation stayed and unanimously approved the constitution and bylaws and affiliating us with two larger Lutheran church bodies, the Lutheran Congregations In Mission for Christ (LCMC) and North American Lutheran Church (NALC).”

Nitz said both of those church bodies are keeping the focus where it should be, on the Word, he said.

During their Dec. 12 service, the congregation held its first welcoming ceremony, in which 97 members were officially added to the church roster.

The congregation recruited Pastor Thomas Walker as their part-time minister. In addition to his pastoral duties, he is the vice president of WordAlone Ministries, a service organization that supports the development of confessional Lutheranism in North America.

Pastor Walker graduated from Luther Seminary in 1980, initially serving congregations in Montana before coming to South Dakota. He and his wife, Kristin, who live in Sioux Falls, have three grown children.

For now, members are content to worship at Heartland Funeral Home in Brandon. They say owner Todd Winkels has been a very gracious host.

“He has been so gracious and helpful,” Pastor Walker said. “Last Sunday he went out of his way to clear the parking lot and road.”

Heritage Lutheran Church members aren’t focusing their immediate attention on building their own stand alone church. That, they say, remains in God’s hands.

“It’s not one of those things that is the end all, do all,” Baartman said.

“It’s God’s will,” adds Nitz. “If we do what Matthew 28 teaches us, people will come and God will provide.”

“Our focus is on the Word, not a structure,” said Pastor Walker. “It really is about being together in the Word. ‘Go. Make. Baptize. Teach.’ is really the goal.”

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