Tom Stockland witnessed the most moving event of his life Monday night. He and 117 other people gathered at Fayetteville’s Butterfield Trail Elementary School and passed a resolution to start Emmanuel Lutheran Church, associated with the North American Lutheran Church. They signed a charter and elected a governing council. At the end of the meeting, something special happened.
“We were ‘Sharing the Peace,’ which is not usually done in a church council meeting,” Stockland said.
Sharing the Peace typically starts with the pastor saying to the congregants, “The Lord be with you.” The congregation returns, “The Lord be with you.” Then worshippers turn and say it to each other, Stockland explained.
“There were tears in the eyes of so many,” Stockland said. “You could just see how moved people were. There was so much emotion in that room. I had not experienced that before.”
Katherine Calaway took pictures of each family as they added their names to Emmanuel’s charter Monday.
“The meeting was sup - posed to start at 7:30,” she said. “I looked up at 7:15, and the line was all the way out the door with people of different ages — infants and small children and school-age children and high-school-age children and college age … And they were all smiling and laughing. It was such a big blessing to be part of it.”
In December, members of various communities of faith met with the idea of forming a new congregation, explained Stockland, who was one of those members. “We said we’d have it up by Ash Wednesday,” he shared. “I don’t know what in the world made us think we would have it by Ash Wednesday, but it’s been a great experience.
“It was a small group, and it just picked up steam,” he said.
“We just said, ‘Let’s just do it,’” said Lois Graney, also involved in planning for the new church.
Emmanuel Lutheran Church celebrates its f irst worship service Ash Wednesday at 7 p.m. Regular Sunday worship rolls around that next Sunday, Feb. 22, to be held every Sunday morning after that, Stockland said. And plans are moving forward to begin Sunday school classes immediately after Easter.
The new church meets in the strip shopping center at 2901 E. Zion Road, Suite 17, in Fayetteville.
Emmanuel will be the first member church of the North American Lutheran Church in Arkansas, noted the Rev. Bill White, pastor of Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Memphis, Tenn., and dean of the Mid-South Mission District for this Lutheran organization.
The hallmarks of NALC are evident in the denomination’s “core values,” White said. The church is “Christ centered, mission driven, traditionally grounded and congregationally focused,” the NALC website reads.
“We have faith in Jesus Christ and put him at the very center of our lives,” White explained. “And we see ourselves as one in the historical Christian church, following the church tradition established by his disciples and recorded in the Bible. Martin Luther (the Reformer from whom the Lutheran church descended) said the Scripture is the highest authority for faith in our lives.”
The NALC sets its mission as the same one to which Jesus challenged his disciples. “We do believe in the Great Commission,” White said. “To be disciples ourselves and make disciples of others.”
Emmanuel’s members appreciate that the organization of the NALC puts its focus on what individual congregations want for their communities, Stockland said.
“The congregation is where the main ministry takes place,” White said. “The denomination is structured to support the ministries of the local congregations. We are able to help them through the process, but they have the final say.”
The NALC also declines to make “social statements” — a buzz word in the denomination of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, White explained.
“For example, the U.S. government’s view on Palestine is not an issue for the church,” he said. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not at stake. We recognize members of the congregation might have different views, and that can be divisive in a congregation.”
When various courts issued rulings on topics like abortion and same-sex marriages, the bishop of the NALC did release statements, not condemning the decision but rather affirming the denomination supported traditional teachings, White said.
“We will focus on God’s word, not the social gospel,” Stockland said. “We do not need to worry about whether or not drug offenders should be in prison.”
The NALC also follows the traditions as a “confessing” church.
“We are trying to be faithful to the Lutheran confessions
— documents from the 1500s written by Martin Luther and his associates,” White said. “They spell out who we are and what we believe.
“We are making public our witness that we are not ashamed of God.”
“We had 118 very excited people there,” Stockland said of the new church’s organizational meeting, noting how things have seemed to just fall together for the fledgling congregation.
The Rev. Jim Spears, a retired pastor in the Memphis congregation, will travel to Fayetteville the first and third Sunday of each month to preach and serve communion, and Emmanuel’s membership rolls include Lutheran deconess Beth Olejaniczek, who will fill the pulpit on opposite weekends. Olejaniczek and parish nurse Lynn Martin will work to meet the community’s other needs, Stockland said.
The organizing members did not begin looking for worship space until the first week in January, he continued, and they expected to find space suitable for office or retail use. But the shopping center store front required just a little work to provide the church with a sanctuary, fellowship hall, classroom space, office space and even a kitchen — with a new refrigerator and stove donated. Added to that, members have been able to do much of the construction work themselves.
“And the landlord was very good to us,” Stockland said.
“It was a small planning committee, but any time anything needed to be done, eight people jumped to do it,” he continued.
The committee bought 200 chairs for the new space and asked Monday night if anyone would like to sponsor a chair.
“We said they cost $30,” Stockland said. “And we got 96 chairs paid for. It’s been like that about anything we do. Every time we had a problem, it turned around.
“It’s been fun,” he continued. “I get to drive to Ward, Ark., this weekend to pick up a table and altar found by our music and worship committee.
“It’s a God thing.”
Leaving a church or congregation can be hard.
Stockland had been a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church since he moved with his family to Fayetteville as a young boy. “I spent my whole life with Good Shepherd,” he said. “I was confirmed there. I was married there. My kids were baptized there.”
But he also expressed excitement at the membership of the new church. All committees include members who have a long records of serving their churches. “We’ve got some good, quality people,” he said.
“And we can focus on being disciples out in the community.”
“God led me to be part of (Emmanuel),” Calaway said. “It’s amazing what you fail to recognize until you open your ears and see God’s place for you. You have to jump right in and embrace it.”
Calaway, also a part of the planning team and a former teacher, will work with Emmanuel’s education committee.
Graney has been busy trying to plan music and flowers for Emmanuel’s first services and also to organize a choir.
“The community takes care of everything,” she said. “Everybody takes care of their little niche. You don’t see the big picture of how many little niches there are.”
Graney joined Emmanuel to offer another opportunity for Lutherans to worship. Where she hails from in the Midwest, more Lutheran churches exist, she said.
“We wanted to keep our Lutheran identity,” Stockland said.
Stockland noted members are glad to be together as many have been scattered in their attendance.
“They’ve said, ‘I sure will be glad to go to my church again. My home is coming back.’”
Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at [email protected].
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
What: Ash Wednesday service When: 7 p.m. Wednesday What: Regular services When: 9 a.m. Sunday, starting Feb. 22 Where: 2901 E. Zion Road, Suite 17