A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
SNAPSHOTS OF CONGREGATIONS FROM AROUND THE CHURCH OF THE LUTHERAN CONFESSION
When God redeveloped the world after the Genesis Flood, He placed probably the most productive farm land in the world in what would become central Illinois. It contains an almost ideal combination of soil and weather, with level prairies that today comprise fields that stretch to the horizon in all directions. Traveling through central Illinois in the spring, summer, and fall is like traveling through a vast, lush garden. It is no wonder that Howard Buffett, the son of famous financier Warren Buffett, chose to live near Pana, Illinois when he wanted to go into farming.
Here the average price of land is $12,000 per acre, and it yields 240 bushels of corn and 70 bushels of soybeans on average per acre. But God sows a far more important seed with a far more important harvest here in central Illinois: His Word, at Word of God Lutheran Church in Pana.
Pana (pronounced pay’nah) lies in the heart of the Land of Lincoln. Here Word of God congregation was founded in 1983, as a group of LC-MS members split off from the Missouri Synod for the same reasons of conscience and confession that caused others to leave Missouri in the 1950’s and 60’s. The group chose the name “Word of God” for their church because the Bible is the only source and authority of what is believed, taught and preached here. Another reason is that Jesus Christ—the heart and center of the whole Bible, the One to Whom all of God’s Word points us as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”(John 1:29 KJV)—is called in Scripture “the Word” of God. (John 1:1).
For the first year of its existence, Word of God congregation met for worship, Sunday school and Bible classes at the Pana Senior Citizens Center. During this time, the congregation purchased a lot in a residential neighborhood on the northwest side of town. It was the largest lot on the block, where a house had recently burnt down. From the ashes arose a new church building, built by the members themselves. Upon completion in 1984, the building was dedicated to the service of the Triune God, and all meetings have been held there ever since. A free-standing storage shed was built in 1990. A new narthex was added to the main building in 1996, all work again being donated by the members. The addition included the current steeple, holding high the cross of Christ.
Word of God congregation was affiliated with the Lutheran Churches of the Reformation (LCR) from 1983 until 2000. The LCR adopted a legalistic doctrinal change in 1999 that moved the members of Word of God to leave that fellowship at the LCR’s convention in 2000. Talks between Word of God and the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) began immediately, and doctrinal unity was verified. Word of God Evangelical Lutheran Church of Pana applied for fellowship with the CLC at the 2002 synod convention, has been a member of the CLC ever since, and thanks and praises God for it! The congregation belongs to the Southeast Region of the CLC, and has hosted two regional pastoral conferences.
Pastor Dennis W. Rieken has been Word of God’s only pastor in its 34-year history. He is a 1975 graduate of Concordia Seminary (LC-MS), Springfield (now Fort Wayne). The membership of Word of God has remained fairly constant over the years, numbering about 20 souls. Attendance at worship averages fifteen, and most members live far from Pana—one traveling 350 miles round trip. Currently, its oldest member is one hundred years of age; its youngest is five. The congregation has evangelized every house in Pana and the surrounding area over the years, and for most of its existence has put its sermons on local radio stations every Sunday morning. It also has utilized billboard advertising, and currently concentrates on internet evangelism. Word of God puts a video of its weekly sermon on its website through YouTube, and an audio version of its weekly Bible class on its website. The church hosted the Traveling Vacation Bible School in July of last year. It also advertises in the local newspaper.
With our gracious Lord’s continuous blessing and aid, Word of God will continue to sow the seed of God’s Word in central Illinois until Jesus returns visibly. Then, when Christ comes to gather the harvest of His vineyard (Matthew 21:33f), Pana will add to His eternal granaries in heaven (Matthew 13:23) the faithful members of Word of God congregation who over the years kept the faith, in season and out of season, holding fast His faithful Word (Titus 1:9). To Father, Son and Holy Ghost be all the praise, honor, glory and thanksgiving forever and ever!
Dennis Rieken is pastor of Word of God Evangelical Lutheran Church of Pana, Illinois.