Local Lutheran churches come together as one
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 10:15

Three churches come together under new name

by Nicole Rodman

    Under clear blue skies last Sunday morning, three area Lutheran congregations came together for the first time as one church.
    After years of dwindling membership and lack of resources, the local churches voted in May to combine as one new church — New Light Lutheran Church.
    The new church will be housed in the building adjacent to St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church at Dundalk Avenue and Willow Spring Road.
    Along with the congregation from St. Timothy’s, members of  The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on Sollers Point Road and Luther Memorial Lutheran Church on Eastern Avenue have come together to form the new church.
    According to Sharon Jones, an administrative assistant at the new church, the merger will mean “more hands and more money to do more things.”
    As she explained, “We’re all excited about it, but it is a lot of work and a lot of details.”
   

All three churches were suffering from low attendance (before the merger, St. Timothy’s was averaging 30 to 40 people at services each Sunday) and mounting maintenance costs when the congregations decided that combining to form one large church would provide the best quality of worship for church members.
    According to Bishop Wolfgang Herz-Lane of the Delaware Maryland Synod, while the merger is a new idea, it will likely become more common as time goes on.
    For Herz-Lane, the decline in membership at churches across the country can be attributed to a general increase in secularity among Americans within the last few decades.
    According to the bishop, only 20 percent of Americans identify as weekly churchgoers, a number much lower than in generations past.
    Herz-Lane also points to a “general distrust of institutions” by the American public, noting the dwindling public support even for non-religious non-profit organizations.
    Surprisingly, Herz-Lane also lays a portion of the blame on churches themselves, noting that “the church has not done a good job of being relevant and connecting with a new generation.”
    According to Herz-Lane, the Lutheran church is now attempting to rectify this oversight through use of new technologies such as social media.
    A new era for Lutherans in Dundalk began at 11 a.m. last Sunday, Sept. 16, as Bishop Herz-Lane and his assistant, the Rev. Kati-Kluckman Ault, were on hand to lead congregants in the first service of the New Light Lutheran Church.
    The mood was bittersweet as the new church’s members gathered to begin their new ministry.
    The service began outside of the church as Herz-Lane poured holy water from each of the three churches into a large bowl, mixing the waters together.
    Once combined, the water was then sprinkled onto the heads of the gathered congregation, symbolizing the spiritual joining of the three churches into one.
    Following an entrance psalm, the congregants proceeded to file into the new church, where the new baptismal font, pulpit  and Communion table were blessed.
    After readings of Isaiah 50:4-9 and James 3:1-12, the Gospel reading and sermon were based on the Gospel of Mark.
    After blessing and sharing the Holy Communion, the new congregation concluded their first service with a rousing rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”
    For now, in addition to planning a number of social events to bond the three congregations, the new church will have its hands full attempting to sell the former church buildings of Good Shepherd and Luther Memorial churches.
    According to Bishop Herz-Lane, proceeds from these sales will go toward renovating the badly-worn sanctuary of the former St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church.
    As the bishop noted, a lack of handicapped access and numerous maintanence issues have forced the new congregation to meet in the newer building adjacent to the sanctuary.
    Other plans for the new church include welcoming their new pastor, the Rev. Kristi Kunkel, who will become New Light’s pastor on Nov. 4.
    For now, the staff and congregation of New Light Lutheran Church will focus on getting to know one another and beginning their exciting new ministry in their new church home.