When a small Lutheran congregation was organized in the southwest corner of lower Michigan in January 1963, the name Redeemer was chosen. Over the years, those who have attended here have been assured that “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were
redeemed . . . but with the precious blood of Christ”
(1 Peter 1:18-19 NIV). May we forever bear the name Redeemer to His glory, mindful of the high cost our Savior paid to rescue us from everlasting death.
Redeemed in the Past
The same Savior who died for us also rose again and ascended into heaven to give gifts to His Church. We recognize that our congregation has been blessed and guided by Jesus. From a small handful of families in the 1960’s, the group now numbers around one hundred. Unlike the days when Rev. R. E. Schaller first met with families at the armory in Dowagiac, Michigan (pronounced Doe-wah-jack, from the Potawatomi language), the people have now come to gather in an attractive country church. From an old lumber yard complex that went out of business in the resort community of Sister Lakes (Keeler Township, population 2600), the Lord has re-purposed the office building as a parsonage, the acreage as a playground for Vacation Bible School children, and the leftover wood as the uniquely visible trusses and high ceiling of a beautiful sanctuary.
Christ has also sent ministers to preach to His redeemed. After R. E. Schaller (1963-1973) came resident pastors Paul Tiefel, Jr. (1973-1991), James Albrecht (1991-1998), and David Schaller (1999-Present), grandson of the first pastor.
Redeemed in the Present
In present days, the congregation has been especially conscious of the great Redeemer’s work, for in a short span of time the Lord took a number of our longtime faithful to Himself. Four funerals in six weeks surrounding All Saints’ Day made each of us stop and think more carefully about how truly important it is that “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). We have among us now just one remaining charter member. Fast approaching her 105th birthday, Elizabeth Wagner (to the best of our knowledge the oldest member in the CLC) is still quick to remind her pastor that “God will provide,” in life and in death.
From June-September we see our “summer visitors” in the pews. Many Chicago residents own lake homes nearby, and we get to know a handful of them. One year a gentleman brought a youth group from Illinois to his cabin for the weekend—and they all showed up in church on Sunday morning. He remarked, “We shouldn’t miss church just because we aren’t back home.” Last year we received a card from the daughter of another summer regular. She wrote that her mother had died suddenly of a heart attack, but had spoken often of how glad she was to have Redeemer whenever she visited Sister Lakes.
Our congregation also deeply appreciates its present connection to sister congregations in the area. Faith Lutheran Church of Coloma is only fifteen miles to the northwest. It was this congregation that shared a pastor with us fifty years ago when we were getting established, and we have been blessed by their fellowship ever since. To this day we still plan the occasional outing and worship service together. Far to the north is Cadillac, and somewhat closer are our brethren in Grand Rapids, both of whose members we enjoy seeing at the area Reformation service customarily hosted by Redeemer. All remain in our thoughts and prayers throughout the year. A bit less than two hundred miles to the east are the congregations in Detroit and Saginaw with whom we join together for youth camp every summer, and for Lenten services in the early spring. Our people in Sister Lakes have come to treasure these Michigan connections that the Lord has made for us.
Redeemed in the Future
The Lord is always concerned that His Gospel message be communicated to the next generation. Not long ago in the congregation an infant and his great-grandfather were baptized together. “We will not hide them . . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done” (Psalm 78:4 NIV). Our prayer for the future is that others will come to know Christ and the glory of His redemptive acts. To this end, we have surely been given opportunities. There are currently more than twenty children enrolled in our Sunday School, making about twenty percent of the church membership younger than ninth grade. This ratio has held for the last fifteen years and has been a great joy to us, but it is also a great responsibility. We know that the ten who attended youth instruction classes last week will soon be grown, and by God’s grace we look for them to have the spiritual training they need to go out into the world. We further petition the Lord of the Church to send us more little lambs to feed, that they might someday take the message of salvation to a generation yet unborn (Psalm 22:30-31).
Taking a left out of the church driveway and traveling for twenty-five minutes past the orchards and vineyards of the fruit belt places you on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Sandy beaches for three hundred miles up and down the coast unroll before the eye, and you gaze beyond the St. Joseph lighthouse into a gorgeous evening sunset. He who made the sky and the sea has also redeemed us, and holds our futures in His loving hand. Thus watching the last of one day disappear and anticipating the next, we sing:
The day You gave us, Lord, is ended;
The darkness falls at Your request.
To You our morning hymns ascended;
Your praise shall sanctify our rest.
So be it, Lord; Your throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud kingdoms, pass away.
Your kingdom stands and grows forever
Until there dawns Your glorious day.
(John Ellerton, 1870)
David Schaller is pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sister Lakes, Michigan. He also prepares the ‘Bread of Life’ devotions for the Lutheran Spokesman.