‘Amazed by God’s Plan’

LCMS church plants in Kansas and Texas have taken different paths to reach the same goal of providing Word and Sacrament ministry to their communities.

Lutherans know that when it comes to church growth, God is the gardener. Yet, as the church trusts in the Lord to gather His harvest, it doesn’t sit idly by but steps out in faith to share His saving Word. Two new Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) church plants — one in DeSoto, Kan., and one in Bastrop, Texas — have followed slightly different paths to arrive at the same destination: the planting of an LCMS church where Christ, the true vine, can abide in His people, and they can abide in Him and bear much fruit (John 15:5).

Birthing a Daughter Church

Dale Schempp hangs the sign before the first Divine Service at Light of the World Lutheran Church, DeSoto, Kan., held Oct. 29, 2023, at Cedar Crest Memorial Chapel.

The group email for those preparing for the opening service of Light of the World Lutheran Church in DeSoto, Kan., included close to 30 names and almost as many action items, ranging from talking to a nearby meat market about using its parking lot on Sunday morning to asking the owner of the church’s rented space what brand of paper towels she prefers.

By God’s grace, all the work paid off, and on Reformation Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, Light of the World held its first Divine Service at Cedar Crest Memorial Chapel, DeSoto, with almost 50 in attendance.

The Rev. Bert Tegtmeier welcomes visitors.

“It’s so amazing to see how God just made everything fall into place,” said David Anderson. He and his wife, Sue, are members of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Olathe, Kan., but have been involved in Light of the World since its beginning and plan to join once it is chartered.

Steve Bremer agreed. “It’s like we read in Ephesians: ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’ [Eph. 2:10]. God had a plan for Light of the World before any of us had heard of it.” Bremer and his wife, Marilyn, are members of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Olathe, but they also plan to join Light of the World once it is chartered.

The Rev. Joel Schultz, senior pastor of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Olathe, Kan., distributes the Sacrament during the first Divine Service at Light of the World.

Discussions about planting a new church in DeSoto go back several years, but they didn’t gain traction until the LCMS Kansas District reached out to the Rev. Joel Schultz, senior pastor of Beautiful Savior, about Beautiful Savior serving as mother congregation. Schultz wasn’t sure: “I didn’t know how to do that.”

But he had “this overwhelming sense that God was dropping this in our laps. … I don’t know how to do church planting, but I know how to do church.” He took the proposal to his congregation, and in May 2023, the voters approved it.

The Bailey family worships during the first Divine Service.

From that point, things moved quickly. Schultz met with the Rev. Daniel Galchutt, executive director of the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM), and the Rev. Dr. Mark Wood, ONM managing director for Church Planting, Renewal and Support. They told him about a new church-planting process, called Church Planting Simplified (CPS), developed by the ONM, which accommodates the local context and a variety of church-planting models. Ideally, CPS begins with a group of laypeople who are passionate about having an LCMS church in their community. As they work through a series of steps, ultimately with the goal of calling a pastor, they receive financial support from a number of partners, including the Synod. Even though Light of the World had already begun its own process, Wood assured Schultz it wasn’t too late to benefit from CPS.

“Church Planting Simplified is about meeting a group where they are and walking alongside as they explore the possibilities and, by God’s grace, plant a church in their midst. The process is one we have thoroughly researched and strongly believe in. But it is not ‘one size fits all.’ There is flexibility for each group to adapt it as needed,” Wood said.

On Call Day 2024, the LCMS Council of Presidents placed John Kastner, a fourth-year seminarian at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, as associate pastor at Beautiful Savior. In this role, he will serve as the primary shepherd of Light of the World, working under the mentorship of Schultz. Eventually, as Light of the World becomes self-sustaining, it will be able to call Kastner directly.

A neighborhood in DeSoto, Kan.

“We are very excited to welcome John and Beatrice and their two young children to Beautiful Savior,” said Schultz. “John is eager for the church-planting work ahead of us in DeSoto. … He will be a great blessing to Light of the World, and I look forward to our ministry partnership.”

Coming Together as a Circuit

In 2020, Paul and Barb Hofmann moved to Bastrop, Texas, and were surprised to find no LCMS church in this rapidly growing exurban area about 30 miles southeast of Austin. They began attending Grace Lutheran Church in Smithville, about 15 miles down the road. There they met the Rev. Timothy Appel, Grace’s pastor, who told them that he and three other LCMS pastors in the area — the Rev. Nate Hill of St. Michael’s, Winchester; the Rev. Jason Kaspar of Mount Calvary, La Grange; and the Rev. Dustin Beck of Holy Cross, Warda — had been discussing the need for an LCMS church in Bastrop for years.

A view of downtown Bastrop, Texas.

The following year, Jeremy and Margie Clifton moved to Bastrop with their young son, James. The Cliftons and Hofmanns connected, and less than a year later, on Feb. 6, 2022, Epiphany Lutheran Church, Bastrop, held its inaugural service in space rented from the local Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

In a short history of Epiphany written for the congregation’s chartering the following year, Jeremy Clifton described that inaugural service: “Pastor Appel delivered the sermon, in which he referenced the text of the day — our Lord’s call to Simon Peter and the miraculous catch of fish that followed when, at our Lord’s word, Peter lowered the nets despite having fished all night with no results. Pastor Appel reminded us that we were there at our Lord’s Word. We had His Word, and that was all we needed.”

The Rev. E.B. Holschuh prays during the Divine Service at Epiphany Lutheran Church, Bastrop, in April 2024.

In the months that followed, Appel, Beck, Hill and Kaspar served Epiphany in rotation, working closely to make sure they maintained consistency. (When Appel took a call away from the area, the Rev. Carl Roth, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Elgin, Texas, took his place in the rotation.)

Meanwhile, the founding membership of about a dozen people took steps to call a full-time pastor, and on the Feast of the Epiphany 2024, the Rev. E.B. Holschuh was installed. Holschuh, who came to the pastoral ministry after serving in the U.S. Navy and then as a high school teacher, said he never expected to be a church planter. “I don’t even like that phrase, ‘church planting,’” he said. “It sounds like something we are doing instead of something God is doing.”

But he is “grateful, amazed by God’s plan. We don’t know what the future holds, but He does.”

Alison Parker and Sandy Giro talk together following the service.

Alison Parker is the first person to join Epiphany since its chartering. She previously lived in Austin and worked as a speech pathologist in a hospital. After the pandemic, she decided to get out of the city. She bought a house in Bastrop and added a tiny home for her brother, an adult with special needs.

It was caring for her brother that drove Parker “right into the arms of Jesus.” She had always considered herself “spiritual” but had avoided organized religion. But as she faced the challenges of caregiving, she struggled with sin and guilt. “My heart was turning black. Something needed to change,” she said.

Congregation members gather at the temporary worship space.

Parker joined a small Christian congregation in town, was baptized and started going to Bible study. But something was still missing. She began praying for the right church. Searching online, she stumbled on Epiphany’s website and decided to go. The first Sunday “felt like family immediately. Everyone was so welcoming.”

By that time, Holschuh had accepted Epiphany’s call but hadn’t yet arrived. “It was exciting to be part of that,” Parker said. She began listening to Holschuh’s sermons online. When he arrived, they went through the Small Catechism together. Now she says she can’t wait to come to church each week. “I feel like I’m in kindergarten. Everything is new.”

Congregation charter member Dave Layland rolls up the church signage following the Divine Service.

In a way, both Light of the World and Epiphany are also in kindergarten, facing new questions as they determine next steps. Whatever those questions are, 4-year-old James Clifton has the answer. Asked what he loves most about Epiphany, he responded, “When Pastor talks about Jesus!”

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Pray with Us

Almighty Lord, through the church, You call, gather, enlighten and sanctify Your people, and You set them apart as holy. Bless the planting of the churches in DeSoto and Bastrop, as well as all faithful church plants, that the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins might go into all the world; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Cheryl Magness

Managing editor of Reporter and staff writer for LCMS Communications.

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