A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
Snapshots of congregations from around the Church of the Lutheran Confession.
A Gospel Opportunity
“Come to the land of Opportunity and Greenacres,” cried the advertisement in Midwestern newspapers at the turn of the century. Instead, the settlers who came to the Spokane River Valley “found 10 acre plots that were mostly rocks.”
Opportunity was the winning entry in a $10 neighborhood-naming contest in 1905 as real estate promoters tried to lure people west. Forty-six years later, a different kind of opportunity began when the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod sent Pastor Robert Dommer to Opportunity so that he might serve a three-family mission congregation there.
By the end of September 1951, Valley Lutheran Church was worshiping in its first chapel—a renovated filling station. Twenty-six souls gathered for the first worship service.
A year later, the congregation formally incorporated under the name Gethsemane Lutheran Church. In another year a synodical loan was approved and five acres were purchased. By December 1954, the first worship service was held in the new parsonage/chapel. By 1957, a new church and fellowship hall had been built and the former chapel was renovated to complete the parsonage.
“Shortly after the completion of the new church facility, Gethsemane congregation withdrew from membership in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. The congregation found they could no longer justify the fellowship practices of their church body and acted in obedience to God’s command to ‘avoid those causing divisions and offenses.’ As of January 1958, Gethsemane Lutheran Church was an independent congregation.” (congregational history)
Without synodical subsidy, Pastor Dommer secured part-time secular employment as did his successor, Pastor Robert Reim. By the time seminary graduate John Schierenbeck began serving the congregation, the Church of the Lutheran Confession was able to provide mission subsidy.
Opportunity for sharing the gospel and Spirit-created growth abounded in those early years. The congregation’s historical record notes, “as our congregation grew and grew, so did our needs for a parochial school.” Construction of an education wing began in the spring of 1974, kindergarten began in the fall of 1975, and one year later Nancy Haertl began serving as the first full-time teacher of Gethsemane Lutheran School.
The Lord richly blessed the congregation with spiritual and numerical growth and with resources to expand the physical plant—educational space and chapel enlargement (1975), followed by another addition (1983), and a duplex teacherage (2004). By the mid-1980’s, Gethsemane had 400 baptized members, 137 pre-communicants, and 47 students enrolled in the school.
In 2003, Opportunity and several nearby communities were incorporated into a new city—Spokane Valley. Spokane Valley has a population of about 100,000, is the largest suburb of Spokane, and the tenth largest city in the state. The greater Spokane metropolitan area has a population of about 550,000. In other words, there is Gospel opportunity among the many souls around us.
After the 1980’s, membership at Gethsemane declined significantly. Currently, the congregation numbers two hundred souls (forty-nine pre-communicants). Gethsemane Lutheran School’s enrollment also declined, and as a result, the school was closed in 2008. However, even while closing the school, the congregation fervently prayed that it might reopen in the future. The Lord graciously granted that blessing in 2016 when Jeffrey Karnitz accepted the call as principal/teacher, and six students enrolled in 1st-5th grade. In 2017, Claire Abbas accepted the call to serve as a second teacher. This year the enrollment is fourteen students in grades Kindergarten-8th grade (with no students in 4th grade).
Gospel opportunity abounds at Gethsemane through Sunday worship services, Bible Class, and Sunday School. Two midweek Bible studies—one at church and another in a home—add to the opportunity for growth and fellowship around the Word. The Gethsemane seniors meet monthly from fall through spring. The Gethsemane women hold a luncheon each Christmas and spring. One outreach effort was to invite residents of a women and children’s home across the street to a Christmas luncheon.
The Lord blesses His church with varied gifts (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12). This is evident as Gethsemane members serve one another and the Lord through such activities as congregational leadership and teaching in our Sunday School and Vacation Bible School (forty-five students this year, including numerous non-members). We have a layman-led children’s sermon each week. We have the blessing of three organists and a retired organist in the wings if we need her. Church and Sunday School choirs add to our worship. Members have made wood carvings of Christian and Lutheran symbols for the sanctuary and new sanctuary furnishings—pulpit, lectern, altar, and baptismal font.
With Gethsemane’s school reestablished, we are turning to a greater focus on evangelism and looking for opportunity to share the Gospel beyond our walls.
The years have taken their toll on portions of our facility. The need for replacement and repair plus needs for more building and parking space have led to a renovation/expansion study and potential building project.
As we pursue each new opportunity—at times being redirected by the Lord—we know that the accomplishment and glory are His and His alone. Further, we are reminded of our Savior’s prayer in the garden from which we draw our name, “not [our] will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Gethsemane members hail from several regions of the country. There are those of Lutheran and non-Lutheran church backgrounds. Some have been lifelong members of Gethsemane, others are new. The one thing we hold in common is our Savior and a love for His truth.
We may live and serve on the western edge of our country, but we invite all of our brothers and sisters to come, visit, and worship with us. We would love to have the opportunity to share face-to-face in the bond which is ours by faith in Christ Jesus.
Wayne Eichstadt is pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley, Washington.