The Story of God's Grace at Christ Lutheran Church, Perry/Kathleen
In 2005, a group of members from Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Warner Robins, and Mount Calvary's Pastor, David Brighton, began meetings to discuss the possibility of establishing a daughter congregation in the Perry/Kathleen area.
The purpose for doing this, was so that Jesus Christ might be shared with others, and that His love and forgiveness might be made known to many more people.
These discussions became a reality in early 2006 when the first Sunday Worship Service of Christ Lutheran Church was held in the chapel of the Watson-Hunt Funeral Home in Perry. Christ Lutheran's first office was located at 1110 Washington Street in Perry.
Mt. Calvary's Vicar or Pastor Intern, Steve Schave, served as the Mission Developer for Christ Lutheran, and was called as the congregation's first pastor on June 4, 2006. Soon thereafter, Christ Lutheran Church chartered as a new mission outreach of Mt. Calvary and the Florida-Georgia District of The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on June 18, 2006. Mrs. Kim Schave served as Christ Lutheran's first deaconess from 2006-2008.
In the fall of 2006, Christ Lutheran Church moved their Worship services to Kathleen, at Matt Arthur Elementary School's gymnasium. Their Advent & Lenten services along with fellowship gatherings were held at the Ochlahatchee Fellowship Hall.
Beginning on May 1, 2007, Christ Lutheran Church leased facilities for worship and fellowship at 733 Carroll St. in Perry. Then after some renovation, the adjoining Building Office and Education Space became available on August 1, 2007.
In Aug. 2008, Pastor Schave accepted a call to Ohio. This same month, VP Pete Gillies asked 11 other members of the congregation to serve on a Building Committee. Initial members were Casey Lucas, Roy Ruppert, Kim Runge, Nancy Hutchinson, Pete Gillies, Don Nelson, Paul LeVan, Evelyn Levan, Dean Huber, Robert Mahan, Lois Reiderick, and Ric Davis.
Meeting monthly, the Committee organized itself functionally with Three Co- Chairmans, Kim Runge, Chair for Land Search; Dean Huber, Chair for Fund-Raising; and Ric Davis, Chair for Building. Pete Gillies was to investigate Financing. For the next year, the committee planned and executed Monthly Fund-Raising Events, including car washes, Bake Sales, Peaches to Beaches Yard Sale, etc. Dean Huber led these events with great energy. On one Saturday, we had a Church Wide Yard Sale on Carroll St. and made $1,100. During this same period, we spent several Saturdays looking at land options with convoys of cars traveling all over the County, South of Highway 96. All these events, plus Thee Lord's Table, were key during the year without a Pastor, because they kept the congregation focused on goals and working together for the whole week, not just on Sunday. By late 2009, through Offerings and Fund-Raising, the Building Fund totaled $40,000 which was later used as down payment for Land purchase.
Rev. Dr. David Bernthal served as Christ Lutheran's Interim Pastor from October 2008 to June 2009. In March of 2009, Christ Lutheran Church extended a call to Pastor John Lehenbauer to serve as their Pastor. Pastor Lehenbauer accepted Christ Lutheran's call, and began serving the congregation in July of 2009, with the Service of Installation taking place on Sunday, July 26.
In late 2009, the congregation purchased 9 acres of land several miles north of Perry, on Langston Road, just east of Lake Joy Road. The congregation's building committee met more regularly. Member Pete Gillies, also the Stewardship Board Chairman, orchestrated several key issues critical to the Building Effort including an Affordability Analysis, Financing, and Building Pledge Campaign. Pete was a blessing to the congregation, in that he provided not only leadership and direction, but gave thousands of hours of his volunteer time to see to the construction of our new church.
In 2011, the congregation hired architect Bob Day, to design a Master Plan for their entire property, and also to design a Phase I first building on the new property. These initial designs were completed by July, 2011. In August 2011, the congregation approved a plan to build Phase I of the Master Plan, which consisted of a Sanctuary, Fellowship Hall, Kitchen, Sunday School rooms, and offices. The congregation also chose to use Laborers for Christ, a group of retirees from the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, to build the congregation's first church at the Langston Road site. On September 8, 2011, the Lutheran Church Extension Fund approved the mortgage financing to build the new facility.
On October 30, 2011, Groundbreaking was held at the site of the new church. Pastor Gerhard Michael, who had once served as the Pastor at Mt. Calvary Lutheran in Warner Robins, and who had the original vision to establish a mission congregation, was on hand for the dedication, as was current Mt. Calvary Lutheran Pastor, David Brighton.
A team of six Laborers for Christ had already been assigned to the project by this time. These six couples were: Project Manager: Bill & Nancy Terrill, Cartersville, Georgia; Assistant Project Manager, Larry and Myrna Tewes, Lincoln, Nebraska; Jim & Patti Adams, Bettendorf, Iowa; Ron & Dolly Jenkins, Greenville, Indiana; Chuck & Linda Moeller, Davenport, Iowa; and David & Gladys Prevallet, Laurens, South Carolina. In these six couples, the Lord provided amazingly wonderful, generous, and hard-working Christian builders who are blessings to Christ Lutheran to this very day.
Site preparation of the property began in December 2011 under the direction of Bill Terrill, Laborers for Christ Project Manager. All the Laborers for Christ arrived at the site of where the new church was to be built with their RV's in February 2012. By March the new church was framed in, and the steeple was installed on April 14, 2012. The congregation was able to move into their new facility on June 17, 2012. The Dedication of the new church took place on July 15, 2012 with Pastor David Bernthal as the Dedication Day preacher.
On February 5, 2013, the congregation purchased a 15-passenger bus to assist with transportation needs for those who did not have a vehicle and needed a ride to church or to the weekly Friday community meal, called Thee Lord's Table.
In March 2013, the men of the congregation built a picnic shelter next door to the church, for use for Vacation Bible School and outdoor picnics and events.
While quite a bit of the above paragraphs have noted the progress of the facilities of the congregation, we would be remiss if we did not share of the outreach and growth of Christ Lutheran congregation at this time. The Lord blessed the congregation with steady growth, as Christ Lutheran's worship attendance grew from an average of 64 in 2009, to 76 in 2010, to 88 in 2011, to 106 in 2012.
Youth group leaders, Scott & Lisa Griffin, have taught our teen Sunday School class and guided our youth group activities since the early years of formation of the congregation. As a result, we have been blessed with an active youth group which has seen our teens involved in Servant Events at member homes, to our sister congregation in Panama City, Florida, to our sister congregation in Nassau of the Bahamas and to the Haitian orphans on that island. Our teens have organized and led a Vacation Bible School program for the children of Nassau, the Bahamas, and are ever-present volunteers for Christ Lutheran's Trunk-R-Treat outreach to the community, VBS, Thee Lord's Table, and numerous other activities.
In early 2013, the congregation established a Senior Living Feasibility Committee, to look at the possibility of establishing a Residential Senior Community next door to our church. That committee has since grown, has incorporated under the name Lutheran Village, and is filing paperwork to become their own 501(c)(3) non-profit. The committee is in conversation with the developer who owns 45 acres adjacent to the east side of our church property.
Established as a mission church for the Perry/Kathleen area, Christ Lutheran has worked with Perry Volunteer Outreach Center to provide a free weekly meal to the community. Thee Lord's Table began serving meals each Friday at 12 Noon in 2007. This weekly meal is open to all, and provides a delicious home-cooked meal each Friday at 12 Noon. Christ Lutheran member, Marva Eckman, has served as the director of this meal since its inception and has been instrumental in the consistent growth of this service. An encouraging devotion from God's Word is also part of each Thee Lord's Table gatherings. While this meal used to be served at our Carroll Street location, it relocated to the Fellowship Hall at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Perry in 2012, in order to remain within walking distance of the Perry community.
The congregation has provided devotions to four different wings at SummerHill Senior Care facility in Perry since 2009. These devotions are held each Wednesday morning from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. In addition, our bus provides occasional off site trips to area restaurants and activities for SummerHill residents.
In 2011, Ann Pierce started a weekly Bible Study at Houston Springs Senior Living Community in Perry. That weekly Tuesday Bible study began with three members, but has been blessed with growth by God, to 12-15 individuals who meet each Tuesday morning at 11 am.
Since 2009, Christ Lutheran has supported the work of Children of Love Lutheran orphanage in La Paz, Honduras. Pastor Lehenbauer and other members have made yearly trips to Children of Love. During November 2012, Pastor Lehenbauer baptized over 70 children and adults at the Thanksgiving Day Worship service in La Paz, and baptized over 100 during Thanksgiving week, 2013. Pastor Lehenbauer also leads worship and preaches at those services in Spanish. As a result of this work, there are continual opportunities for our members to take Servant Event trips to Honduras.
Since 2010, Christ Lutheran has provided mid-week meals and Bible Studies for children and adults from September to May. Beginning in 2010, Christ Lutheran also added a full-day Camp experience for the children of the congregation. This has been held in conjunction with our Vacation Bible School. It is anticipated that our congregation will provide additional Christian education activities in the future, as the new Langston Road Elementary School is completed and opened next to our church in Fall 2014.
Especially in its first six years of existence, Christ Lutheran was blessed with the prayers and generous financial support of Mt. Calvary Lutheran in Warner Robins, the Florida-Georgia District, the East Central Circuit of the LCMS, as well as the generosity and enthusiasm of its members and many in the Perry / Kathleen area.
Christ Lutheran's founding and growth is living testimony of God's promise in Isaiah 55:11 "My Word will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
All that Christ Lutheran is and has, we owe to the blessings of our God in Christ Jesus. If we have any successes to count, they are all due to God's grace and undeserved favor.