Church History

History of Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

In the past fifty years God has done great things for our congregation. We give God all the praise and glory. We know that God’s word is true and trust His promise in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who Love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” With that in mind, we look forward to the future here at Holy Trinity. We ask for your continued prayers that God bless the ministry at Holy Trinity Church and School that all be done in glory to His holy name.

The grass roots of this congregation began during 1961 when some families experienced unease concerning doctrinal purity and Biblical integrity at their original church in the Grand Rapids area. These families contacted the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod for help, which had its origin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1850.

Their concerns were referred to the Mission Board of the Michigan District of the Wisconsin Synod. At that time the Mission Board for the Wisconsin Synod determined the feasability of a mission congregation in the Grand Rapids area. In 1961, under the leadership of the Mission Board, Reverend Daniel Habeck, the pastor of Grace Lutheran in Muskegon, started survey work in the area. Members of St John’s Battle Creek also helped canvass the area.

The results of the survey confirmed that this area was ripe for a mission field. The present parsonage and property in Wyoming was purchased in 1962. In 1963 the first resident pastor was called and installed. He was Pastor Harold A. Hempel. The first worship service in praise and glory to God Almighty was held February 17, 1963. The congregation held services at East Newhall School with nineteen worshipers in attendance. For nineteen months the congregation held their worship services there.

Members of the congregation began to pray and plan how to proceed to establish this congregation permanently. The worship facility was built in 1963. The plan was to use two of the rooms in the building for classrooms and the other two rooms for the worship family. The dedication for the structure was September 13, 1964. That fall, the Lutheran Day School opened with eight students. Following are the names of the students: Rick Gibson, Daniel Gibson, Ronny Hewartson, Carol Johnson, Debbie Johnson, Ralph Johnson, Patricia Steinbrecher. The teacher presiding over the school was Mr. Robert Mohr.

Nine children were confirmed in the first five years of Holy Trinity:

1964 Jim Steinbrecker
1965 Janet Van Dam (now Ricord)
1966 Vivian & Wilma Buehler (twins)
1967 Ralph Johnson & Karena Gosko (now Jousma)
1968 Jean Van Dam (now Kruiezenga), Debbie Gosko (now Gady) and Ricky Gibson.

God blessed Holy Trinity. In 1976 the congregation reached a self-supporting condition. By 1980 the congregation grew to 251 souls, with 180 communicants and average church attendance of 158. Twenty students attended the Day School with two instructors at the helm. Sunday School averaged forty-one and Adult Bible Class averaged twenty-six.

In 1980 a feasibility study was done to see if a new worship facility could be built. An architect was engaged in 1983 and plans were drawn up. The architect obtained was Richard R. Postema. The building contract was signed in 1984. Construction began in the spring of 1984. Due to the high water table in the area, crews working on the building first had to ‘dig out a lot of muck and fill in with sand’ before pouring the concrete base. The church was built by Johnston Construction Co. The building was completed in January of 1985. The worship facility was dedicated February 17, 1985. This permanent worship facility seats about 340 people.

From 1987-1988 the final phase of the facility was constructed— our fellowship hall/gymnasium along with a nice sized kitchen and classroom and meeting room. This was modified due to growth from a large classroom and meeting room into two classrooms, which was dedicated on April 23, 1989.

By 1990 the congregation increased to 574 souls and 393 communicants. An average of 254 people attended worship. Sunday School averaged 100 and thirty-seven adults attended Bible Class.

For several years, from 1987 to 1993 our congregation had the privilege of being in the vicar program. Vicars were men in training to become Pastors. Six vicars served Holy Trinity during this period— Charles Duford, Steven Luchtenhand, David Birsching, Scott Zerbe, Curt Golm and Tony McKenzie.

In June of 1988 Pastor Birsching married Sheryl Rausch. At the end of summer they moved to Wyoming to begin his vicar year here at Holy Trinity. Pastor David Birsching is now serving in Tacoma Washington since graduation from the seminary in 1990. He was assigned to St Paul Lutheran Church in Tacoma Washington— the oldest Wels congregation in the Pacific Northwest District. He was ordained and installed on August 5, 1990 by his uncle Reverend Norbert Gieschen. They have been blessed with six children (five boys and one girl): Christian, Craig, Caleb, Kelsey, Seth and Kody. The three oldest sons are currently attending Martin Luther College, Christian and Caleb “on teacher track” and Craig studying to be a Pastor. Kelsey and Seth are enrolled at Evergreen Lutheran High School and Kody attends Holy Trinity Lutheran School where Sheryl teaches Preschool.

Pastor Curt Golm is now serving in Milwaukee Wisconsin at Messiah Lutheran Church. His wife’s name is Janet and they have four children. Their names are Alyssa who is twenty-four, Lucas who is eighteen, Emma who is sixteen and Jon who is fifteen. Pastor Golm was a vicar at Holy Trinity from 1991-1992.

Pastor Steven Luchtenhand is now serving in Phoenix Arizona at Deer Valley Lutheran Church. His wife’s name is Heidi. They have four children whose names are Luke who is eighteen, Andrew who is fifteen, Elizabeth who is thirteen and Grace who is eleven. Pastor Luchtenhand served as a vicar at Holy Trinity from 1989-1990.

Pastor Tony McKenzie is now serving in Neenah Wisconsin. His wife’s name is Krista. He has three children who are Jordan who is twenty, Justin who is fifteen and Anna who is sixteen. Pastor McKenzie was a vicar at Holy Trinity from 1992-1993. He is now serving at Trinity Lutheran Church.

In 1989 Holy Trinity was instrumental in starting a new mission church, Christ Our Savior Lutheran Church, in Rockford. About a dozen families from Holy Trinity participated in starting that mission church on the northeast side of Grand Rapids. Some of the families were: Fred and Nancy Brailey, Fred and Betty Brailey Sr, Mike and Judy Dow, Ken and Arlene Walski, Dan and Debbie Johnson and Ron and Millie Sandelius.

Today the church family at Christ Our Savior has over 500 members. They average 286 worshipers per Sunday. The staff is comprised of two pastors, one staff minister and four preschool teachers. The preschool has about seventy children. It has truly flourished under Gods almighty hand and continues to serve the Rockford area very well. To God be praise and glory!

In 1996 Holy Trinity added a preschool program that continues to flourish and add prospects for the church family.

By the end of 2000 Holy Trinity numbered 616 souls, had 423 communicants and numbered 230 families. Sunday School at this point averaged about 94 students; there were 45 in attendance at Adult Bible Class and worship services averaged 284 in attendance. As always, there were challenges to maintain these facilities and to reach out to our community and carry out the Great Commission as God commands.

In 2001 we called a second Pastor to target Evangelism and Outreach. Pastor Bart Brauer was called. Pastor Brauer served Holy Trinity until the branch off was completed in 2005. This began the mission church of “Spirit of Life” Lutheran Church in the Caledonia area.

Sunday morning worship began for Spirit of Life Lutheran Church March 2005 in the gym at Cross Creek Charter Academy, at the corner of 76th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue. The first worshipers were mostly comprised of individuals from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church who lived on the southeast side of the city.

From July 2006 Spirit of Life operated on its own offerings along with a monthly subsidy from the synod’s home mission office. (Financial support from Holy Trinity ended in July 2006.) Spirit of Life adopted a constitution in March 2007, elected its first church council the next month, and received membership in the synod at the Michigan District Convention in June of 2007.

In September 2009, with the help of the WELS CEF (Church Extension Fund) Spirit of Life purchased a 4-acre parcel of land at the corner of M-37 and 76th Street. The location is halfway between Caledonia and M-6. In the spring of 2011 the congregation chose Dan Vos Construction to begin drawings for a master site plan on the property as well as a plan for the first church building. By the spring of 2012, plans for the first church building were nearly completed, and the church leadership was working with the home missions office and CEF to explore the possibility of constructing the facility within the next year and a half.

From the start, this mission project of Holy Trinity has been a testimony to the grace of God. God has granted growth both internally among the members and also externally as new individuals have been added. As of March 2012, Spirit of Life has 138 souls and 96 communicant members.

Since 1963, Holy Trinity has had 6 Pastors:

Pastor Harold A Hempel 1963-1970
Pastor Ronald A Semro 1970-1976
Pastor Richard G Raabe 1976-1980
Pastor Frederick S Adrian 1980-2003
Pastor Bart Brauer 2001-2005
Pastor Stephen Schamber 2004-present

Since 1963, Holy Trinity has had 21 teachers

Mr Robert Mohr 1964-1969
Miss Carolyn Sturm 1967-1968
Miss Celeste Schultz (Weidmann) 1968-1973
Mr Elmer Jirtle 1969-1976
Mrs Nancy Young 1973-1974
Miss Ruth Kaiser 1974-1979
Miss Linda Meyer (Evans) 1978-1980
Miss Kay Kirchner 1979-1980
Mr Steven Janke 1980-1989
Mrs Peggy Janke 1980-1989
Mrs Janet Rosin 1984-2011
Miss Jodi Kammolz (Grant) 1987-present
Mrs Linda Gauger 1989-2006
Mr Larry Zarnstorff 1990-1991
Mr David Lecker 1991-1996
Mr Steve Schalow 1994-2002
Mr Larry Sellnow 1996-present
Mrs Lynn Sellnow 1996-present
Mrs Kathy Marten 1997-2002
Mrs Jeanine Yax 2003-present
Mrs Natalie Thiel 2011-present