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Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church Valentine, Nebraska

Snapshots of congregations from around the Church of the Lutheran Confession

Scenic Valentine, Nebraska is nestled between two valleys—one on the north created by the Minnechaduza Creek and the other on the south created by the Niobrara River. It serves as the northeast gateway into the Nebraska Sandhills—a geographic area covering much of western Nebraska, which is situated directly over the Ogallala Aquifer, the largest aquifer in North America. This community of 2,800 serves as the county seat for Cherry County, the largest county by far in Nebraska. The Niobrara River has been identified as one of America’s most scenic rivers as well as one of the ten best tubing/kayaking rivers in the United States, making Valentine a summer tourist destination. The locals proudly proclaim the Sandhills to be “God’s own cow pasture.” Statistically, Cherry County has more cows than any other county in the United States—166,000 as opposed to a human population of just over 5,800.
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, which will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary in January 2021, is located with its preschool and Christian day school on West Third Street near the edge of town. Grace was one of the founding congregations of our Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC). It was established under the leadership of Pastor Herbert Witt, when he and 135 other concerned Christians were compelled for reasons of conscience to leave Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS) in order to form a new congregation and so remain faithful to their Savior. The name “Grace” was chosen because of the Apostle Paul’s use of that word in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Grace congregation “was born out of love for, and in obedience to the clear word of God; born out of the conviction that God’s Word is clear and that it speaks with authority; born in the prayerful hope that her testimony would be used by the Lord to show forth the preciousness of His Word; born that our God and Savior alone might be glorified” (Taken from Twenty Years of Grace, a publication celebrating Grace’s 20th Anniversary).
Grace has been committed to Christian education from its founding. A Sunday school was, of course, begun immediately. A Saturday school was founded in its second year of existence, and a Christian day school followed in the fall of 1976. After thirty-two years, the Christian day school, unfortunately, was closed in 2008 as the number of potential students dwindled. In 2012, however, Grace recognized a community need for preschool and opened its Small Wonders Preschool under the leadership of Mrs. Dani Ohlmann. In 2015 Grace was able to reopen the Christian day school. They called Miss Candice Ohlmann and began with kindergarten. Each year an additional grade of Christian education has been added. Small Wonders, now under the direction of Mrs. Johanna Michalek, has a current enrollment of thirty-six, while the Christian day school, now kindergarten through third grade, has an enrollment of four. Over the years numerous young people from Grace have attended Immanuel Lutheran High School, College, and Seminary in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
In recent years Grace has availed itself of the CLC’s Traveling Vacation Bible School program, hosting teaching teams each year which have enabled the congregation to reach out to many area children. This past summer eight young women from Immanuel-Mankato, Minnesota; and St. Paul’s-White River, South Dakota, joined local volunteers to put on a four-day VBS entitled “God’s Great Rescue.” An average of forty-six children attended, only nine of whom were members of Grace. We considered how God rescued our souls, even as we in faith are able at times to rescue others.
Grace has always been very active synodically, especially in the area of missions. Some of its lay members have been elected to serve on the CLC Board of Missions, and others have been asked to serve on CLC subcommittees—Kinship and Domestic Fields. One of its sons, Pastor Todd Ohlmann, currently serves as one of our CLC’s two foreign missionaries. Another son, Pastor Nathanael Mayhew, currently serves as Secretary of the CLC Board of Missions. As a congregation Grace sponsors a seminary student in India and has members who regularly contribute to the Mission Development Fund. For many years Grace also served as a Mission Clearing House to send clothing and books to our foreign affiliates. Locally, Grace produces a twenty-five-minute Sunday morning radio broadcast on Valentine’s local 940 AM KVSH radio station. This “Words of Grace” radio program can be heard throughout northcentral Nebraska and southcentral South Dakota. Efforts are also underway currently to reach out to the Native American population on the Rosebud Reservation located just north of Valentine.
Grace has an active fellowship group, which meets monthly for an evening meal. Good conversations are always part of the evening, while spiritual discussions, games and other activities, and brief business meetings, often follow the meal. Recently, a Friday morning men and boys’ breakfast Bible study has begun, which allows our men to study God’s Word while mentoring the next generation of congregational leaders.
Grace is not unique among CLC congregations with regard to members using their musical talents to enhance weekly worship services. However, Grace is unique in that one member, Mrs. Jeanie Hoffman, plays her harmonica each week during the offering.
Along with many committed members, Grace has been blessed with a series of faithful pastors and teachers throughout its history. The pastors have included Herbert Witt, John Pfeiffer, David Baker, Wayne Mielke, Steven Sippert, George Dummann, James Naumann, Luke Bernthal, and Paul D. Nolting. Teachers have included Robert Rehm, Daniel Gurgel, Dennis Ahrens, Louise Mayhew, Susan Carstensen, Mark Kranz, Wendy Greve, Kirsten Gullerud, Nick Stelter, Matthew Thurow, Anita Meyer, James Arndt, Dani Ohlmann, and currently, Johanna Michalek and Candice Ohlmann.
In its early years Grace was a dual parish along with Immanuel of Thedford, Nebraska. As of 2002 Grace has been part of a tri-parish with Peace of Mission, South Dakota and St. Paul’s of White River, South Dakota. As of January 1, 2020, Grace has 75 communicant members and 27 pre-communicant members, for a total membership of 102. We invite everyone to visit and worship with us! The scenic wonder and the message of God’s grace combine to enrich our souls and invite our praise of our Savior God!
Paul D. Nolting is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Valentine, Nebraska, as well as St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in White River, South Dakota, and Peace Lutheran Church in Mission, South Dakota.