Ashland mission church to become independent

Friday, January 9, 2009 | 2:00 p.m. CST

ASHLAND – A church in Ashland will stand on its own two feet for the first time on Sunday.

Family of Christ Lutheran Church, a mission church currently thriving under the auspices of a mid-Missouri Lutheran church network known as a Mission Area Advisory Group, on Sunday will become a fully independent, self-sufficient church in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Family of Christ’s chartering, or transition to the status of an independent congregation, was approved by the synod’s Missouri District governing body in the fall after three years of planning and two drafts of a church constitution. The chartering process includes developing and submitting for approval an official constitution and set of bylaws for the church, which church council president Mike Asmus defined as simply a set of approved rules and regulations for church operations.

The move is a big one for a fast-growing community that was not served by a local synod church until this decade, although local LCMS pastors and officials had long been looking into the possibility of starting, or planting, a church here.

“Already in 1983, our district mission development had been looking at Ashland even that far back as a possible site for planting a congregation,” said the Rev. Kenneth Gerike, pastor of Columbia’s Trinity Lutheran Church. “If you look at the demographics for Boone County, Ashland is what you could consider one of the fastest-growing communities per capita in Boone County. As a community equidistant from both Jefferson City and Columbia, you’ve got people in households who work, one in Columbia and one in Jeff City, and have a residence that’s quite convenient in Ashland.”

Although the term “mission” frequently connotes overseas church work, Asmus defines it “in this vernacular context” as “a plant in an area that is not conveniently served by a church facility,” even if that area is close by.

A church history, "A Brief Note on Family of Christ Lutheran Church," adds, "The core idea was to provide Lutherans with an opportunity to worship closer to home while planting a congregation that could reach some of the area’s un-churched population (estimated by some to be as high as 51 percent)."

The seeds were planted for Family of Christ — or Ashland Lutheran Mission, as it was originally known — in 2001, when Gerike and the Rev. Brian Thieme from Trinity, along with the Rev. Dave Benson from Campus Lutheran Church in Columbia and other pastors who had begun working together as a Mission Area Advisory Group, organized a weekly Bible study at the Ashland Optimist Club for what Asmus describes as "a core group of Ashlanders" who had been attending Lutheran churches in other communities.

The group began to expand and establish itself over the next few years, as trained outreach specialists arrived from outside mid-Missouri to reach into the community and offer regular educational and worship opportunities. In 2004, the church, now known by its current name of Family of Christ, moved into its first permanent building.Ministerial intern Vicar Dan Hayes was ordained as a pastor and installed as the church's official mission developer, or mission pastor. The church organized a subcommittee on charter planning in 2005 and began the work of writing its constitution and bylaws in early 2006.

Hayes left in 2007 and was replaced by the Rev. Elmer Schiefer, Family of Christ's current pastor, who came out of his retirement from the pastoral ministry to help the church work toward self-sufficiency.

"I felt that this was something that I could do, even though I was retired," Schiefer said. "I came out of retirement to fill in at this particular time in the history of the congregation, provide them with the presence of a pastor and help them through this time and help them move on into chartered status."

Although both Asmus and the church history credit Trinity as Family of Christ's parent congregation, Gerike notes that the MAAG at large has provided most of the support, financial and otherwise, for Family of Christ's germination.

"It is a consortium of congregations," Gerike said. "We were the congregation that was used in terms of providing the impetus, staff people, et cetera."

This is not the first foray into church planting for Columbia's Lutheran churches. Trinity planted Alive in Christ Lutheran Church in the late 1980s, and Campus is now looking into planting a church in northeast Columbia or the Hallsville area. Both cases, Gerike notes, differ from the approach to planting Family of Christ.

"The processes that have been gone through have all been different. No two of them are exactly alike," Gerike said. "I’ve got manuals of church planting that were used in the late '80s, early '90s, that are not used now. It’s an evolving process."

For now, the focus is on celebrating Family of Christ's long-awaited independence. The church will be formally chartered at a "Charter Sunday" worship service, where church members will sign the church's constitution and bylaws for the first time.

"Kinda like the signing of the Declaration of Independence in a way," Asmus said. "It's an auspicious occasion for our little church."

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