A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC (FIFTH IN A SERIES)
Snapshots of Congregations from Around the Church of the Lutheran Confession
Mount Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church— Madison Heights, Michigan
In a way, the story of Mount Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Madison Heights (Detroit), Michigan, begins with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18). No, Mount Zion doesn’t claim to trace its origins to the first century. But it is noteworthy that government actions and employment needs were part of the reason this early Christian couple moved from one metropolitan area to another—and was involved at one time or another with Christian congregations in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. Similar circumstances made the Detroit area in Southeast Michigan a place where CLC people, moving in and out, have for many years come together around the Word of God.
In the 1970s, three pastors traveled from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to visit members of theirs in the Detroit metropolitan area. The Lord led the people they met with to form a congregation and to take the name of Mount Zion Lutheran Church. Their desire for Word and Sacrament led the new congregation to call Paul Tiefel, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, to serve them. Serving this remote congregation meant a trip, whether by car or train, of nearly two hundred miles each way, twice a month.
Pastor Tiefel did this for a total of twelve years. The first resident pastor, John Klatt, worked a full-time secular job in order to carry out his call. Pastor Mark Bernthal came south ninety miles from Saginaw to conduct services for Mount Zion for a number of years.
All of this is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work. The Spirit is the One who creates the desire to hear the message of the crucified and risen Savior—and then sustains His called workers. It is the Spirit Who enables a congregation to continue for years despite having no resident pastor and no place of its own in which to gather. He focuses hearts on the Word of the Redeemer when membership numbers rise and fall, and when fellow CLC members move in and later move on. It’s part of God’s plan to use the Gospel to call, gather, enlighten and send forth. So it is that people fortified by the Word shared at Mount Zion went on to become active members of CLC churches in Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan and other states.
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church began with intermittent services conducted by visiting pastors from other CLC congregations. We now have weekly services conducted by our own full-time resident pastor. However, our present blessings have not diminished our gratitude for the blessings God bestowed upon us through our fellow CLC members and their congregations. It was with the arrival of the CLC exploratory missionary Walter Schaller that Mount Zion first received monetary support from the CLC. Without this support, the pastor could not have served full time. As their history would indicate, the people of Mount Zion are especially grateful for the willingness of sister congregations in Michigan to share their called servants. Besides the pastors noted above, Vacation Bible School teachers have come to help from Gethsemane of Saginaw and Redeemer of Sister Lakes, and—through the Traveling VBS program—from all over the CLC. For more than a decade, Mount Zion has also participated with these same sister congregations in a week-long summer Youth Camp, as well as in joint Reformation services.
Every Sunday as the people of Mount Zion gather for worship, the chancel furniture speaks both of the Savior’s Gospel in Word and Sacrament and of the congregation’s connection with fellow believers in the CLC. The altar, pulpit, lectern and baptismal font were gifts from the people of First Lutheran, Faulkton, South Dakota. They were originally hand-crafted by Leland Grams, one of the pastors whose faithfulness to the Word was used by the Lord to bring the CLC into being.
In 2008 Mount Zion, using a Church Extension Fund loan, was able to purchase an existing church building in the north-central suburb of Madison Heights. This blessing of the Lord was received with much enthusiasm and appreciation. For over 30 years the different people who met for services at Mount Zion had made use of members’ homes, a school, various rented halls, an apartment complex’s community room, and a Weight Watchers’ facility. (On one occasion, the Weight Watchers’ site was flooded, and services were held in a nearby bakery instead. Talk about a conflict of interest!) One of the ways the Lord turned the years without a building into a blessing was Vacation Bible School. Mount Zion ended up using an area park for VBS for a number of years. Non-member attendance was sometimes over twenty, and on occasion led to further opportunities to share the Word.
Mount Zion currently conducts a monthly service and youth Bible study at a home in Cleveland for members in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The classes continue via video conferencing on the Sundays when the pastor is not on site, and audio sermons are posted weekly at Mount Zion’s on-line website. The people of Mount Zion see the Gospel work in Cleveland as part of the reason their congregation continues to exist “out on the edge.” They believe that the Lord will continue to use their presence in this corner of the Mitten State to encourage CLC people whom He sends this way—and to share with visitors the message of forgiveness through the atoning sacrifice of God’s eternal Son, now risen and ruling His Church the world over.
Walter Schaller is pastor of Mount Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Madison Heights, Michigan.