Reflecting on the past and looking toward the future, Grace Lutheran Church celebrated 50 years with volunteer work, a neighborhood block party and celebratory services Sept. 9 and 10.
Approximately 50 volunteers headed into the community Sept. 9 to invite neighbors to the block party that evening, as well as to do yard work for those in need. Families cleaned up six yards and two Andover parks – Terrace Park and Wild Iris Park.
“I think that there’s so much division and devastation,” said Jamie Zupon, who coordinated the Gifts of Grace volunteer work. “It was really fulfilling to see the connections that were formed. It was really very rewarding. I went back home with a full bucket.”
Bishop Ann Svennungsen was present for celebratory services Sunday morning.
In his sermon, the Rev. Mark Hellmann, who has served as Grace’s pastor for 22 years, nearly half of the church’s life, recalled asking in an interview why anyone would call a church Grace.
Someone told him they thought it was the pastor’s wife’s name, but Hellmann continued to read more into it.
“When you call yourself Grace, God’s going to ask you to live grace,” he said. “We are the ministry of Grace in the heart of Andover. What an awesome responsibility.”
Since the church was established in 1967, it has strived to live up to its name with various ministries, including serving as a faith partner to Sand Creek Elementary School in Coon Rapids, hosting the homeless through Family Promise, feeding the hungry at Family Table Meal, sending teams to Haiti and Uganda regularly and more.
The church hosted its first service at Wilson Elementary School in Anoka Sept. 10, 1967.
“I remember being confused and asking my mother, ‘Why are we having church in the school lunch room?’ We lived very close to the school and walked to church,” charter member Karla Qualey recalled in a 24-page publication Grace put together and distributed for its 50th anniversary.
“I remember the portable pulpit we used for the pastor,” charter member Phil Knutson said. “We stored it in a chicken coop during the week.”
Led by the Rev. Norris Swenson, Grace was officially organized as an Lutheran Church in America congregation Dec. 3, 1967, with a total of 255 baptized members, according to reports in the Anoka County Union.
The church moved into its own building at the southeast corner of Bunker Lake and Round Lake boulevards in April 1969. Back then, the church was in Grow Township and was surrounded by corn fields with no businesses to speak of between the church and Highway 10.
As Andover grew, so did Grace. Additions were made to the building in 1971, 1981 and 1992.
Today the church has 1,313 baptized members, according to records kept by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
In 50 years, 1,859 people have been baptized at Grace, 1,553 people have been confirmed at Grace, 571 couples have been married at Grace and 283 funerals have been presided over at Grace, according to Grace’s recent publication.
In addition to Swenson and Hellmann, the church has been served by two other senior pastors: Doug Pearson and Steven McKinley.
During services Sept. 10, attendees heard a video message from past staff members and sang “Fifty Years of Grace” to the tune of “Good Christian Friends Rejoice.” Gayle Pacholl wrote the lyrics.
Members renewed their commitment to be “the ministry of Grace in the heart of Andover” for another 50 years and beyond.