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Gethsemane Lutheran Church Saginaw, Michigan

Snapshots of congregations from around the Church of the Lutheran Confession.

For many, Gethsemane is a name difficult both to spell and to pronounce. For those unfamiliar with its Biblical significance, it seems a strange and foreign name. But what a wonderful name for a Christian congregation! For it was there in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night before He died, that our loving Savior resolved to go forward and suffer the hell we all deserved because of our sins. This truth is stunningly pictured for all who come to Gethsemane for worship, for as worshipers pass through the doors of her sanctuary and look up, there, above the altar, they are greeted by the sight of a large stained-glass window, bright with dazzling color. The window pictures our beautiful Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, ready and willing, after agonizing in prayer, to lay down His life for all. The justification of each and every sinner—by the doing, dying, and rising of Christ—is the precious truth upon which the Church of Christ is built! So, yes, Gethsemane is a wonderful name for a Christian congregation.
Gethsemane is a Christian congregation. Moreover, she also is a confessional Lutheran congregation. As a member of the Church of the Lutheran Confession, we at Gethsemane hold unswervingly to the Lutheran confessions, believing them to be a clear and accurate profession of what the Scriptures teach. What this means is that we simply aim, by God’s grace, to stand on God’s Word alone, while allowing the Gospel of Christ to have predominance in all our preaching, teaching, and counseling. This commitment to Scripture alone, with an emphasis of God’s grace in Christ, is a precious gift from God.
This God-given allegiance to the Lutheran heritage of Scripture alone is what led to the founding of Gethsemane congregation sixty years ago. In the late 1950’s, Pastor Otto J. Eckert and a small number of like-minded believers felt conscience-bound to leave their former fellowship when that fellowship became guilty of false teaching. Gethsemane’s first service was held on Reformation Sunday, November 1, 1959, at what was then the Marr Theater in Saginaw. At a special meeting held at the D.F. Maier home on November 5, 1959, Gethsemane Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized.
In the coming years, the Lord showered the growing congregation with one blessing after another. A house of worship was soon constructed, with the dedication service taking place on May 20, 1962. This first house of worship was later converted into the parsonage when a new and bigger sanctuary was built in 1978. In 1982, the congregation took the bold step of opening a Christian day school, with fifteen students enrolled that first year. In 1991 Gethsemane dedicated a new school addition. Other building projects include the construction of two separate teacherages.
Through it all, the Lord has blessed the congregation with faithful pastors; all of whom have been committed to God’s Word, the proclamation of the eternal Gospel, and the care of precious blood-bought souls. Pastors serving Gethsemane have been Otto J. Eckert (1959-1974), David Schierenbeck (1974-1983), Mark Bernthal (1983-2002), and Michael Wilke (2002 to the present). Mr. Karl Brandle also faithfully served Gethsemane both as a vacancy pastor and assistant pastor. Gethsemane currently numbers 165 souls with an average Sunday/Monday attendance of about 70. On any given Sunday you will find a nice mix of worshipers ranging in age from one to ninety-one.
One area in which the congregation has been very richly blessed is that of willing hearts and hands to serve the Lord and His Church. Moved by the precious Gospel, members can be seen doing something around the church on just about every day of the week. This willing spirit to serve the Lord is a gift from God that has been apparent throughout the sixty years of Gethsemane’s existence.
Gethsemane has been further blessed with a heart for Christian education. Many faithful Sunday school teachers have led God’s lambs to Jesus. For thirty-seven years she has also operated a Christian day school. Full-time teachers at our day school have included Ross Roehl (1982-1994), Lynette Roehl (1983-1992), Elsie Godsey (1984-1986), Sherry Wielinski (1992-1995), Ardith Zimmerman (1991-1997), Kurt Koenig (1995-1998), Debi Leinberger (1998-2001), Pam Reames (1997-2002), Rachel (Pfeiffer) Rosendahl (2001-2005), Heidi (Aymond) Nelson (2005-2008), Gloria Wilke (2003 –present), and Daniel Barthels (1994 – present). We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that many volunteers have served our day school, all of whom have been a great blessing to our students. Our 2018-2019 day school enrollment was eighteen. Of further interest in the realm of Christian education is the fact that over the years, despite the long distance between Saginaw and Eau Claire, nearly forty young people from Gethsemene have been blessed to attend Immanuel Lutheran High School and/or College.
In 2009 Gethsemane celebrated its 50th anniversary with the theme “Jesus Christ: the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Jesus doesn’t change, nor does His Word. Our fervent prayer is that for many years to come, God will enable Gethsemane to faithfully proclaim the unchanging message of Christ crucified to a world lost in sin; and that as both members and visitors look up at the stained glass image of Jesus in the Garden, they may all be reminded of our blessed Savior’s redeeming love, “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Michael Wilke is pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Saginaw, Michigan.