A SLICE OF LIFE IN THE CLC
Snapshots of congregations from around the Church of the Lutheran Confession
In the Phoenix metropolitan area, known as the “Valley of the Sun,” cities border one another so closely that you can drive through two or three different cities without knowing where one ends and the next begins. The Valley of the Sun is, in fact, one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Obviously, that means that Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church is in a population-dense area, with all the blessings and challenges that entails.
For one thing, our population density is highly variable. Our area is a major destination for both vacationers and “snowbirds” (winter-season-only residents). Every year, almost 22,000,000 vacationers travel to the valley to play golf, watch Cactus League spring training baseball games, and engage in many other activities and diversions while enjoying a respite from the cold climates of their home states in the north. Another of the popular wintertime outdoor activities is hiking in one of the seven nearby peaks, such as Camelback Mountain, Echo Canyon, and the Cholla Trail. In addition to the short-term vacationers, nearly 300,000 snowbirds live in our area for the duration of the winter season. This variability in population, coupled with the brief stay of many of the visitors, can make outreach a challenge—but it also offers many opportunities to share the Gospel beyond just our congregation’s membership.
Among these vacationers and snowbirds, of course, are members of other CLC congregations from all over the Midwest and beyond. Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church sits ensconced on the side of Moon Hill, along Thunderbird Road—a busy six-lane arterial. The barren desert hillside is behind us, and residential housing surrounds the other three sides. Geography notwithstanding, just as in their home congregations, these CLC visitors will find Christian fellowship and the preaching of the pure Word when they are away from their home churches. For the last sixty years Holy Cross has served as an oasis in the desert, an oasis where the living water of the Savior’s Word is found.
Like many other CLC congregations, Holy Cross had humble beginnings. Starting in 1969, members met in a household. In November of last year, Holy Cross celebrated its sixtieth anniversary, and many former called workers were able to help crown the occasion and look back on God’s faithfulness throughout the last six decades. Pastors Delwyn Maas, Douglas Libby, Michael Eichstadt, and Paul Fleischer, along with Teacher Phil Strike, came to help us celebrate. Currently, Holy Cross serves a membership of eighty-three souls, in addition to the regular, semi-regular, and irregular visitors that often attend.
Our Christian Day School has seen many different iterations throughout the years since the early 90’s. We have had as many as three teachers instructing many students in tight spaces. For the last several years, however, we have been a one-room school, enhanced by the willing and capable work of many volunteers assisting Mr. Ross Kok, the full-time teacher. Mr. Kok and those faithful volunteers currently instruct six young people in our school. At the time of this writing, they are all learning how to teach and continue their education via Zoom, due to the mandatory school closings caused by Covid-19.
Our congregation has had the opportunity to offer our facilities as a meeting place for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) teaching and support groups. NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization. It is dedicated to building better lives for Americans affected by mental illness. Some of the classes that were held in our fellowship area served support groups for primary caregivers to those living with mental illness. Holy Cross Lutheran has also had the privilege of staffing a booth at the NAMI Walk of the Valley, where thousands of people have had the opportunity to obtain information about our church and school, and where we have been able to offer prayers upon request for either the attendees or one of their loved ones living with mental illness.
Another of our outreach projects is the summer VBS program, which serves also as a good introduction to our Christian Day School for new and prospective students. However, since the average temperature here in July is 106 degrees, we have to get creative about the kind of physical activities we can offer with VBS.
Phoenix is host to a very transient population, especially compared to many of the towns in the Midwest where the majority of our CLC congregations are located. As a result, we have seen many different faces over the years, and we have been blessed with getting to know folks from all over the country. In addition to church services, we have enjoyed things such as meeting in visitors’ homes for Bible Study, or sharing a luncheon in order to show our appreciation for our winter visitors. This has helped us to treasure the important things that have united us. We are of the same mind and same spirit because God has brought it about. We cherish our rich Lutheran heritage, given by the grace of our Lord Jesus, which unites us in declaring that we are saved by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone; all of this being made known to us by God’s Word alone.
Michael Gurath is pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona, and a visiting
missionary to Africa.