A number of years ago, I found myself drawn to Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A Lutheran Pastor in Nazi Germany, Bonhoeffer knew the cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ even to the point of suffering a martyr’s death. I wondered what sustained him and kept him focused when he wrestled with what Christ would have him do. It wasn’t his ethics alone as if they came from within. It was his faith in Jesus which sustained Bonhoeffer, the same faith which he shared with the guards and his fellow prisoners in the Flossenburg Concentration Camp before he was hung. He was surrounded by evil, but he continued to follow the Good Shepherd. In Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christ leads the way, stay close to Him.”
Whether we realize it or not, we too are surrounded by evil. The enemy Satan is constantly waging war against Christ’s flock, trying to destroy our faith and to keep us from sharing Christ with others. Martin
Luther wrote in stanza four of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever! [LSB 657]
My wife Dorothy and I discovered both the pain and the truth of that firsthand when our daughter Margaret, a federal law enforcement officer, was shot and killed in the line of duty on New Year’s Day, 2012. She sacrificed her life for others, saving over 120 people by putting herself between the evil of a shooter charging up Mount Rainier and those who had come to that same mountain for recreation on a sunny holiday morning. When I get discouraged, I often think of her sacrifice. If Margaret could place herself between the enemy and others, what can I do as a baptized Christian and Lutheran pastor to follow Jesus?
Dorothy and I retired and moved from New Jersey to East Tennessee in June, 2013. Within six months, our Lord led us to start a neighborhood Bible study in the community where we live. Eighteen months later, He grew a new church out of that study.
Chapel of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church is the only Lutheran church in Union County. Sharps Chapel is virtually an island. Residents whose families have lived here for generations tend to fight against any change while being suspicious of newcomers. There are eleven other churches in our community, all of them Baptist except for the Methodist church which is served by a Baptist pastor. The new people moving into Sharps Chapel are mostly retired Northerners who, like my wife and me, are attracted to having homes on Norris Lake. The closest Lutheran church is approximately one hour away, making it difficult for people to attend worship on a regular basis and to become involved in the life of a congregation.
For some, a new Lutheran church just around the corner is an answer to prayer. For others, it hasn’t made a difference yet. After all, it would mean that they couldn’t go out for Sunday brunch and that they may have to turn in earlier on Saturday night so they could be up early enough for a 10:30 worship service only 10-15 minutes away. It’s almost as if they have retired not only from work, but also from church.
I wish I could tell you that ever since our first service on Pentecost Day, 2015, it’s been nothing but onward and upward. But, Chapel of the Good Shepherd is like every other church, old or new, with its own ups and downs, successes and failures. Some who were with us at the beginning have already moved on because the church isn’t going in the direction they thought it should. We’ve had visitors who have come only once despite follow-ups because a “real” church is stone with stained glass windows, a choir, an organ, and a praise band. Others give the excuse that they can’t come because their husband is in town, or that they’re having marital problems so they need to spend Sunday on the lake together. Worshiping in rented space means sweeping, cleaning, and mopping our sanctuary, and moving hymnals, communion ware, paraments, and coffee hour supplies in and out of the Community Center each weekend. If everyone from our congregation were here on a Sunday, there would be 15-20 people in worship. But all of us are retired or near retirement, so there are trips to be taken and families to visit. Some of our members spend the entire winter in Florida, while others spend the summer up north. Bonhoeffer wrote, “Disciples should never invest their trust in numbers.” Nevertheless, moments of discouragement occur.
Chapel of the Good Shepherd also has been richly blessed.
- Our congregation is not afraid to sing the hymns and the liturgy a cappella, which means “in the style of the chapel.” (Note: as members of a church named Chapel of the Good Shepherd in Sharps Chapel we have found that meaningful.)
- Our president plays the guitar, and we have a keyboard just waiting for the Lord to send another musician.
- When all the neighboring churches turned down our request to rent space for a Sunday afternoon service, we moved the 4:00 PM service to 10:30 AM which opened the doors for some to finally come to worship.
- On Maundy Thursday when it was time to strip the altar, every single woman stood up to help, including a first-time visitor.
- We’re less than a year old, and yet we have received the donation of two pieces of property. We cannot build a church on one because it’s only for houses, but we are selling it with the proceeds to be deposited in our building fund. The other land donation is on the main road through our community. Our “Future Home” sign and eventual church building are/will be visible to everyone in the area.
- As a retired pastor, I have no need for a salary or benefits, so our church’s expenses are minimal.
- The local editor/reporter for the weekly free paper is enthusiastic about our church. As a result, we frequently have pictures and articles in a newspaper which is delivered to every mailbox in the county.
- Our congregation has shown its love for our community by holding a Patriot Day Dinner for the sheriff’s department, volunteer fire department, and emergency squad, by holding a Diaper Derby which donated 726 diapers to the local food pantry, by giving an appreciation dinner to Pete who works at the town dump (Pete is friend of old timers and newcomers alike), and by planning a fall coat and warm clothing drive to help the many impoverished families in our area.
Much has happened over the past year. Without realizing it, we have been following what Bonhoeffer expressed when he wrote: “The only thing which exists besides action is inaction. There is no such thing as intending to act and not doing it.” Evil is real, but we have the Good News which makes a lasting difference. We are Chapel of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. “Christ leads the way, stay close to Him.”
By Pastor Paul Kritsch
Chapel of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Sharps Chapel, TN