The Reverend Peter L. Steinke was sent down from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod way back in the summer of 1964 to scout out a new location for a church. He stopped in at Denny’s to eat, just off I-95, and asked “where would be a good place for a church?” and he was promptly told Chester, Virginia.
And, there it is…the humble beginnings of the church that’s nestled on nine acres on Harrowgate Road, in Chester, where they’ve made their home for almost 50 years.
For Grace Lutheran Church, it’s been a wonderful journey to establish them as a part of the Chester area. “It’s an exciting time for Grace Lutheran Church,” said Pastor Richard Finck. “We’re a community church and our purpose here is to help people know Jesus.”
The church, in its beginning back in October, 1964, met in the Thomas Dale High School auditorium. The official date that Grace Lutheran Church was named became November 1, 1964, as this was the first service with the new name the ladies of the church had voted on.
Back in that time, the men served on the board but the ladies made many of the important decisions. They voted on the name of Grace Lutheran over Chester Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran.
The church began without so much as an offering plate and modest means to begin the endeavor. They moved over from the school auditorium to the new Chester Community Center where they held services for two more years.
In 1966 they discovered a parcel of land on Harrowgate Road that would fit their needs nicely. An agreement was made on 13028 Harrowgate Road to get a loan to start the church. Within in a few months of the purchase, the church had its first building to worship in. Heavily in debt for the major purchase and being a mission congregation and subsidized by the District, they couldn’t have the frills.
“They started out with just the sanctuary, and downstairs they had their classrooms and offices,” Finck explained. The services were very meager and even though the sanctuary was built, there were no pews. They sat on folding chairs and still have a few today in the back of their worship area. The sanctuary features an amazing timber-pitch ceiling that is a work of beauty.
Since their 1964 inception, their congregation has grown to almost 600 baptized. “We’ve been very stable for the past 10 years,” Finck shared. Finck himself has served more than 10 years as Grace’s pastor. “We’ve made three additions to the church to expand it and grow within the community,” said Finck. “We had two small additions and then one large one, that is what we have today.” He is very proud of the growth the church has seen. The church property also includes a picnic area on a side deck, a playground with a children’s area, and a memorial prayer garden.
The memorial prayer garden, started around 2005. It has a gated area where members can find their final resting place. “There are three options,” Finck explained. “They can rest in our memorial garden and have their ashes spread, they can have a biodegradable urn buried or have their ashes placed in a vault that has spaces dedicated to their urns.” He said that it is a true prayer garden. “We love to see people stop in and sit on our benches for moments of reflection and prayer,” he explained.
Finck is one of six pastors that have served the church. He is delighted to be here to celebrate the 50th anniversary. “It’s a year-long celebration with phases for each quarter,” Finck said. “Right now we’re getting ready for the musical celebration.” He emphasized the 50th Anniversary Concert is a celebration.
The “Serving the Lord through Music” program will take place this Sunday, May 18, from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the church. “It will cover the whole year in music,” said Finck. The 50th anniversary concert covers religious music for all the seasons and holidays of the year. It will feature the Grace choir, a contemporary praise band, organ and piano soloists, the joyful noise handbell choir and the happy clappers chimes choir.
Members of the congregation include the organist Sue Gamber, Norma Stanfield accompanying, Stephanie Sloane (student organist) and Randy McConnell, who previously served as the music director for the church. “We’ll have a praise band doing some modern pieces,” Finck said. “And church music that follows a broad spectrum.”
The year-long celebration follows the four quarters of the year starting with the November 1st anniversary date. The first quarter, the church placed the major emphasis on encouraging their members to serve and try new things. The second quarter is dedicated to praise through music, the third quarter will include a religious scholar, Dr. Paul Maier. Maier is an acclaimed professor of ancient history giving a lecture on how we got the bible.
In the fourth quarter, November 1, will celebrate the 50th anniversary date with a dinner at the Cultural Center of India and a celebration service at the church on Sunday.
Leading the year-long celebration committee is member Bob Dorn. He is a long standing member of the church and is leading the efforts marking the 50th anniversary. He said his job hasn’t been hard at all. “We just came up with the ideas and off we went,” Dorn shared. He is enthused with the efforts of everyone at Grace Lutheran Church and sums up the church congregation in a few short words,“I’ve been and visited many churches and this is one of the warmest and most welcoming congregations I’ve ever experienced,” he stated. “Also, they are one of the most hardworking congregations.”
Finck agrees and wants everyone to know they are welcome anytime. “Everyone is most welcome at Grace all the time,” he said. Finck rounds out the church’s community efforts by including the sewing/quilting groups, line dancing groups, Tai Chi groups, and Girl Scouts that use their facilities. “We want to be a real community church,” Finck shared. “Eternal life is a free gift through Jesus.”
He spoke fondly of the many mission trips the church has participated in, and even the most recent flower beds they did to beautify the front of the church. “We are outward directed,” Fink said. “We want to be a real community church.”
Grace Lutheran Church offers a contemporary service at 8:15 a.m., Sunday school at 9:30 a.m. and traditional services at 10:45 a.m. To reach the church office with questions, call 748-6058.