Our History

Grace Lutheran Church & School

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Early History

1910 ~ The first Lutheran services in Charles County are conducted by Pastor Louis J. Roehm in Pomfret and La Plata.

1911 ~ The first Lutheran Church in Charles County, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Charlotte Hall, is established.

1932 ~ Services are held in the La Plata home of Mr.- and Mrs. Harold J. Skone, conducted by Pastor Ziehlsdorff of St. Paul's, in an attempt to establish a Lutheran Church in Charles County. Due to population density, the Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Indian Head is started.


Grace Lutheran Church, La Plata:

1961 ~ Nineteen Lutherans, mostly members of St. Paul’s under the guidance of Rev. Herbert J. Plehn, interim pastor of St. Paul’s, rent an empty building on Kent Ave., La Plata, and renovate it for use-as a church. The first services are held on October. 8.

1962 ~ The congregation is officially organized as Grace Lutheran Church and received as a member of the Southeastern District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

1963 ~ Reverend Plehn resigns in November. There is no pastor until 1964, but Grace continues to function as an active congregation.

1964 ~ Rev. Arthur W. Scherer is installed as Pastor of the dual parish of St. Paul’s and Grace on July 12.

1965 ~ Grace purchases its present 5-acre site for $8,600. The debt is reduced to zero by the close of the church year.

1967 ~ Ground is broken on June 18 for a new sanctuary, kitchen, offices and classrooms. The first worship service in the new building was held on December. 17.

1968 ~ Sunday School for all ages begins; Vacation Bible School is held and a Boy Scout Troop, sponsored by the church, begins.

1971 ~ Pastor Scherer accepts a call to Hampton, VA; Pastor Eric Peterson is called to the dual pastorate.

1974 ~ Both St. Paul’s and Grace have grown to the extent they can exist as independent parishes with a full-time pastor. On July 1, Pastor Peterson begin working full-time at Grace (on July 7, Rev. James Stoltenberg is installed at St. Paul’s). In December, Grace begins a preschool program with ten children, under the direction of Sandy Henderson.

1975 ~ The preschool expands to include separate classes for three and four-year-olds..

1976 ~ Grace assists in the establishment of Peace Lutheran Church mission in Waldorf,.

1978 ~ Small group ministry begins with the Edge of Adventure series. It nurtures the congregation for over five years

1980 ~ An outreach to the deaf, called the Open Hands Club is established. In May the congregation begins the process of establishing a new mission congregation in Waldorf. In June Grace dedicates the first addition to its facilities on the east end of the church. It includes a permanent room for the Preschool, Sunday School class space, and new office space. A new ministry to high school age youth begins.

1981 ~ The first services at the new mission, Messiah Lutheran Church, are held on February. 22.

1982 ~ A two year intensive study of the complete Biblical text, called Crossways begins with Don and Sherie Zimmer each leading a class. This ministry continues with a new class beginning every other year.

1983 ~ Pastor Peterson accepts a call to Redeemer Lutheran Church in Hyattsville, MD, where he was installed on May 1. Interim Pastor David McCall serves Grace part-time from May 1983 to June 1984. The FISH program is started to provide applicants for food stamps with a three-day emergency supply of food.

1984 ~ Rev. Frederick S. Illick is called and is installed on June 17. Grace begins active support of missiionaries to Papua, New Guinea through Wycliffe Bible Translators.

1985 ~ The new Lutheran Hymnal is introduced and used for worship for the first time on Reformation Sunday. Ms Kathy Peschel becomes the first non-clergy staff person. She serves as Director of Christian Education intern for a year from June 1985 to May 1986. Pews are installed in the Sanctuary in August. Surplus Commodity Food Distribution begins.

1986 ~ The Benevolence Fund is established to assist with emergency needs of members and non-members.

1987 ~ The preschool is expanded to include the beginnings of our Day School, with the first kindergarten class beginning in September. (One additional grade is to be added each year, through 1992-93, ending with fifth grade). In October, the newest wing (on the south end) was dedicated. Grace began its association with Meals on Wheels.

1988 ~ Supplementary songbook, The Hymnal for Worship and Celebration, is introduced. Faith Evans becomes Principal of Grace Lutheran School at the beginning of the school year.

1989 ~ Lifelight Bible Study Groups begin meeting. SHARE food distribution is started. Mission statements for the congregation and school are developed.

1990 ~ Don Zimmer becomes the Parish Ministries Associate for Education. In December, the Sanctuary is renovated with a free standing altar, new altar rail, and new carpeting. The congregation participates in the Southeastern District’s Barnabas program to develop a vision

1991 ~ The kitchen is renovated. After a decade of difficulty, Messiah Lutheran Church closes. A Facilities Long Range Planning Committee is established. Its work becomes the basis for a plan to modify and expand our facilities.

1992 ~ Karen Smith-Hupp (Administration) and Jeff Miller (Assimilation) are added as part-time Parish Ministry Associates. Don Zimmer is called to work full-time for the Southeastern District as the Interim Executive for Congregation Services and later as the Coordinator of WellSpring.

1993 ~ The first fifth grade class graduates from Grace Lutheran School in June. In October, a second Vision Workshop is held under the leadership of Cargill Associates as the next step in our facilities expansion program. Praise and Worship services are tested in September. In the Fall the School begins an annual fund drive.

1994 ~ A Building Expansion program begins with the congregation hosting a fund raising dinner. Approximately $181,000 is been pledged. The immediate goal is to reduce our indebtedness so that we will be better positioned to grow. Fox Architects provides preliminary plans for future expansion that includes both a new sanctuary and expanded classroom facilities.

1995 ~ Pastor Fred Illick retires from the ministry in August. He and his wife Marilyn remain in the area.

1996 ~ Modular classroom facilities are added to provide two more classrooms for day school and additional Sunday school and nursery space

1996 ~ Rev. Dr. Eric Peterson accepts the call to return to Grace as pastor.

1997 ~ Two worship services are added to make a total of four per week. Average worship attendance climbs to 285 per week. Andi Proctor joins the staff as Administrative Assistant.

1998 ~ The congregation enters into a two year test period to test a new system of governance. Pastor Illick accepts the role of Pastor Emeritus. Grace begins the Stephen Ministry program to provide care to people experiencing loss, illness, separation, emotional pain, transition. Lynn Hanson enrolls in Seminary and Grace commits to helping financially support him. In addition to continuing support to Bob Bugenhagen, the congregation begins financial support to Rev. Tim Nichols as missionary to Kyrgyzstan in the former Soviet Union

1999 ~ In January a new Capital Fund campaign is begun to raise money for additional facilities. $400,000 is pledged for three years. Grace receives a major grant from the Southeastern District to help fund a Family Life Coordinator. In April the Rev Christopher Otten joins the staff in that role. Faith Evans resigns as principal of Grace Lutheran School and is succeeded by Ruth Blackwell. Average worship attendance increases to 300 for three services on Sunday. Julia Perkins joins the staff as Facility Manager

2000 ~ In February a new system of governance is approved by the Voters and becomes effective in June. The new system creates a Board of Servant Leaders to oversee the total ministry of Grace Lutheran Church and School. It transitions the organization from volunteer to staff centered, establishes the Senior Pastor as the executive responsible for day to day operations, and creates the flexibility needed to more rapidly adapt to changing situations. John Marehoffer, Mary Wolf and Carla Gritzmacher join the staff as Ministers of Music.

2001 ~ The congregation approves the addition of grades 6-8 to its day school program. Bids for the facilities expansion come back significantly higher than anticipated forcing a major redesign and reordering of priorities. Two modular classrooms and a deck tying all three modular units are added. Mr. Rich Kuntz joins the staff as a part time middle school teacher and part time youth leader and Petra Smail joins the staff as an administrative assistant to assist with communications and other administrative tasks. In October a revised expansion plan is developed. In November the congregation overwhelmingly approves the revision. An additional acre of property is purchased on the west

2002 ~ In April construction begins on 10,000 square feet of new classrooms and a 6500 square foot Family Life Center effectively doubling the space for ministry, at a cost of $2,100,000. In April a major tornado destroys much of La Plata. Grace is spared significant damage and assumes a major role in helping to coordinate volunteers to aide in the cleanup. In June, a new Capital fund campaign results in pledges of approximately $550,000 over the next three years. In the fall, another major step toward being able to better serve the people who worship at Grace and our community begins with the formation of Christ Care groups. School enrollment increases to 197, Sunday church attendance continues at 300. A major grant is received from the Southeastern District allowing Grace to serve as the base of support for the development of new missions in Southern Maryland. In November Pastor Otten accepts a call to a parish in Cleveland Ohio. On December 15th, Rev. Dr. Art Scherer President of the Southeastern District, and Pastor of Grace 1964-1972 joins in the dedication of the new facilities.

2003 ~ To help meet the growing demands of ministry and its changing nature Mr. Don Inks and Mr. Frank Ruffatto, both enrolled in the Training Leaders for Ministry program, join the staff in January 2003 as Pastoral Assistants. Mr. Don Zimmer becomes Executive Director, Petra Smail becomes Coordinator for Special Projects and Volunteers and Andi Proctor becomes Administrative Assistant for Finance, Personnel and Publications. A new computer lab becomes operational, a new phone system is implemented and all classrooms and offices are connected to high-speed internet. Mount Sinai African American Methodist Episcopal Church begins worshipping at Grace

Grace Lutheran Church and School is an integral part of the community fabric of La Plata, Waldorf and the surrounding area. It seeks to work in partnership with other churches to reach this community for Christ. Today the Gospel message in shared through approximately 75 separate ongoing ministries. These ministries include four weekly worship services, Sunday School, Bible classes, small group studies, youth ministry, a school for Pre –K through Grade 8, and before and after school and summer programs. We also offer youth summer programs and Vacation Bible School.

Our outreach into our community includes food ministries, ministries to the Charles County Detention Center, weekly services at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home and weekday visits to several nursing homes. Our strive to continually discern where the spirit of God is inviting us to be, to go there and to seek to be both faithful and fruitful in our work.

We are a church of people who are very much a part of a society that is mobile. Approximately 15% of our members move annually. Most of our members have lived in other areas of the country and overseas. The largest age groups of the church are 35 through 44 and 45 to 54, with the smallest being 64 and over. Approximately 60 percent are college graduates. People who call our church home are employed in a wide variety of careers, with the largest groups being teachers, active duty military personnel, retired military, health care professionals, Federal government employees and employees of contractors employed by the Federal government.
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