Recognition as a New ELCA Congregation
SYNOD ASSEMBLY 2017 - Recognition as an Organized Congregation - Address from Pastor Carmen Retzlaff
Thank you for starting a mission in Dripping Springs, Texas. New Life is YOUR mission, a mission of this synod and the ELCA. We are charged, together, as followers of Jesus, to go and spread the gospel, the good news of God’s amazing love. The ELCA plants new churches every year, and we were one of those new starts.
In 2004, a small group met to discuss whether there could be an ELCA congregation in the growing community of Dripping Springs. The group met to worship in a pizza parlor, then rented an office park space. Pastors Jaime Bouzard and Lori Ruge-Jones and the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Wimberley helped this church start. Pastor Brad Highum was called as an intern then the pastor-developer. We thank God for these leaders, for their commitment to the church and the gospel. And for all of the churches and individuals in this synod that have helped with gifts and visits and prayers along the way.
From the start, the community of New Life was passionate about serving its neighbors. When I was called in 2012, we continued to grow into that identity, and moved most of what we did out of the rental space and into our neighborhood. And out onto the land. On Maundy Thursday of 2014, we left the security of the rental space and, when we stripped the altar, moved it onto a piece of the beautiful Hill Country held in trust for this mission but the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA. We became an outdoor church. Because we find God in nature, and also in community, and because our neighbors do, too. Because the Holy Spirit planted in this place a group of people who were willing to try new things in order to be the church that meets people where they are. This is an amazing group of people, really.
We are unique. There are not many all-outdoor churches. When we started we found none. Now we are finding we are pioneers of a new movement, and a network of sharing among outdoor churches around the continent is emerging. We’re uniquely Lutheran. Though our worship is casual, it is pretty liturgical. It is firmly anchored in the theology of grace, of course.
At New Life, we don’t have screens, or use much paper. Bible study after worship uses Bibles, not powerpoint, and it meets under oak trees or a tent. And Bible study time regularly includes gardening, working on trails, and climbing trees. Once a month we go out into the community and serve together - as part of our liturgy. We make our own communion wine from wild mustang grapes that grow on the land, and our community garden produce is donated to the local food pantry. It is a unique and wonderful place, and a spirit-filled faith community.
We joyfully invite you to 3 things:
Come and worship with us. Though we are organizing, we are still new, still forming, still finding our feet in some ways. We need your support as part of church together. Come and see. Visitors are so helpful. You can also visit our land anytime- there is a prayer labyrinth, picnic tables, a bird blind, and stations of the cross walking trails that feature rocks from the Fielder-Streng collection of Texas Lutheran. We extend a special invitation to all of you to join us in worship June 4, Pentecost Sunday, at 9 AM at New Life. Bishop Tiemann will preside over our celebration service. We encourage each congregation of this synod to send representatives to celebrate our milestone in mission together as a conference.
Consider a gift to our land fund. During this time of transition, we invite you to help this new congregation get set for success, ready to soar. We step out in faith, knowing that we have a substantial amount to pay down on our land, and that that will be a challenge for a small group, however enthusiastic. We’ve made regular payments, and have faithfully paid off a big chunk. We have also raised another big chunk from mission partners and donors. We are still left with several hundred thousand owed on the land. Without a building, we are a very frugal church, and a generous one: much of our giving is given away. We invite you to consider giving a launching gift to help us pay down as much of our debt as possible before we take over the loan, with interest, as well as insurance costs, etc. If your church is having a capital campaign or a special fundraiser, please consider adding a stretch gift for New Life’s land in these next few months. Any amount is appreciated. Contact me or Judith Spindt for any information.
Most importantly, we invite you to pray for this new church. Pray that we faithfully carry the good news of God’s amazing and unfailing love into our Hill Country community.
Thank you. We are grateful to be your mission start, part of the church together obeying Jesus’ great commission.