Grace Lutheran Church is preparing to “remember, rejoice and renew” in celebration of the congregation’s 50th anniversary Sept. 9 and 10.
The Lutheran Church in America (which merged with two other churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988) organized a new congregation to serve Anoka and Grow Township in 1967. Grace Lutheran Church held its first Sunday worship service Sept. 10, 1967, at Wilson Elementary School in Anoka, and Sunday school classes started up two weeks later as the church continued to meet at Wilson while a building was constructed at the corner of Round Lake and Bunker Lake boulevards.
Led by the Rev. Norris Swenson, Grace was officially organized as an LCA congregation Dec. 3, 1967, with a total of 255 baptized members, according to reports in the Anoka County Union.
Five years later, Grow Township became Andover Village, and in 1974, the community became the city of Andover after rapid growth.
The church has also grown. In 50 years, it’s more than quintupled in size with approximately 1,313 baptized members today, according to records kept by the ELCA.
The Rev. Mark Hellmann has been Grace’s pastor for nearly half of the church’s life – 22 years.
“Being in Lutheran country, the main emphasis in the early years was just trying to handle all the kids,” Hellmann said. “The confirmation programs, they were huge in those early years.”
In the church’s adolescence, it has been able to shift its focus and look outward.
A pivotal moment came in 1997 when Crooked Lake Elementary School abruptly shut down because of mold contamination.
Grace housed approximately 300 students for several weeks while the situation was remedied.
The situation “showed us that we exist for others,” Hellmann said. “That’s what Jesus would have us do.”
Locally, the church participates in Family Promise and Family Table, serves as a faith partner in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, supports Stepping Stone Emergency Housing and more.
The church has extended its reach globally with missions in Haiti and Uganda.
“We’re very thankful we’ve been here for 50 years, but we don’t want to pat ourselves on the back,” Hellmann said. “What we wanted to do was to celebrate by following Jesus’ idea of washing feet and serving.”
Parishioners will be heading into the neighborhoods around Grace Sept. 9 to assist with outdoor tasks – mowing, washing windows, etc.
“We’ve never really done anything to build relationships right in our neighborhood and to try and make a difference,” Hellmann said.
After the work is completed, neighbors will be invited to join the congregation for a block party. Fifteen area businesses are getting in on the action, which includes free entertainment, food and games.
The block party runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The following day, Grace will host a celebratory worship service, led by Bishop Ann Svennungsen, and the festivities will continue after worship.
All are welcome.
“We are a welcoming kind of church,” Hellmann said. “We accept everybody here.”