Every Picture Tells a (Lutheran) Story

by Kim Plummer Krull

When you picture “a Lutheran,” whom do you see? Your pastor, perhaps preaching on Sunday morning? A loved one, praying before a family meal? A favorite teacher or choir director? Maybe your neighbor across the street?

Those might be some of the more typical images we conjure of fellow LCMS members. But as a church body of nearly 2.4 million members, you may be surprised at our variety of interests, backgrounds, professions, and pursuits. Among our fellow LCMS members we include

  • a world-class BMX racer;
  • a pioneering black model for Coca-Cola;
  • a veteran forensic investigator, now with Laborers for Christ;
  • a Lincoln scholar;
  • a mother-daughter duo who helped inspire the fi rst National Childhood Cancer Awareness Day;
  • a former Liberian accountant who translates worship services into the Konobo language for his fellow countrymen now living in Kansas City.

These are just a few of the people we have encountered the past year or who have come to our attention through your efforts. Before we trek too far into 2009, here then are some “snapshots” from 2008 that celebrate the variety of members with whom our church has been blessed and who share with us the blessings of our Lutheran Christian faith.



Sharon Hinck
St. Michael Lutheran Church
Bloomington, Minn.

In each of her seven published novels, Sharon Hinck tells the story of a woman who becomesan unlikely hero. Her latest, Stepping into Sunlight (Bethany House), is about the challenges of a Navy chaplain’s wife during her husband’s first deploy-ment—including witnessing a shocking crime. Hinck generally presents Christian characters with-out specifying their denomination. But in her new novel, Hinck, a 2008 Christy Award finalist, hints at the heroine’s Lutheran roots. As a Christian novelist, Hinck appreciates her Lutheran foundation—especially, she says, “as it relates to grace and how that plays out in the lives of my characters.” This mother of four (ages 16 to 25) only published her first novel in 2006. She writes at a prolific pace and also makes time to host Christian writers groups and retreats. Says Hinck: “God is so awesome and multifaceted that we need a variety of art forms to communicate with Him and about Him, including the very vibrant and powerful art form of fiction.”


Lorraine Rosso and Al Weatherly
A ‘Hugger and a Mugger’
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Macomb, Mich.

St. Peter Lutheran Church in Macomb, Mich., has grown to more than 3,200 members but keeps its small-church charm with the help of two dedicated lay-people—a “hugger and a mugger.” Longtime member and former St. Peter teacher Lorraine Rosso covers the narthex before each of the five weekend services, greeting worshipers with her trademark smile and warm embrace. For first-time visitors, that hugging is followed by another St. Peter tradition—a mugging. Al Weatherly, armed with a travel coffee cup bearing the church logo, makes home visits to all St. Peter’s guests. “People are surprised to see me, and surprised that the church would give them such a nice mug,” Weatherly says. “But, boy, do they love it!”


Dr. Leo S. Mackay Vice President, Corporate Domestic Business Development, Lockheed Martin Corporation
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Va.

Dr. Leo S. Mackay has worn many hats. A 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he flew F-14s with the Navy’s Fighter Squadron 11 and attended Fighter Weapons School, the TOPGUN program. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, in addition to his corporate duties, Mackay also serves as chair of Lutheran Housing Support, the LCMS charitable and educational organization that strives to revitalize communities, strengthen churches, and turn families into first-time homeowners. Mackay is passionate about helping LHS reach out to the nearly 200,000 veterans who are homeless on any given night, according to VA statistics. “It’s a great tragedy when one who has worn the uniform of our country finds himself or herself homeless,” Mackay says. “Enabling affordable, decent housing for all people—but especially for these heroes—is a priority.”


Bethany Price
World Class BMX Racer
Grace Lutheran Church
Eugene, Ore.

She’s a mother, a bookkeeper, and—hang on to your helmet!—a world-class BMX (bicycle motocross) racer. As a youngster at Life! Lutheran School in Eugene, Bethany Price loved to ride mountain bikes with her friends. Last spring, at 28, she captured second in the 2008 Union Cycliste Internationale BMX World Championships in Taiyuan, China. When she isn’t coaching the dance team at her old school, Price is perfecting her jumps, preparing to compete in the 2009 World Championships in July in Australia.



Stacy Moriarty and Kennedy Bougher
Mother-Daughter Duo Who Helped Launch First National Childhood Cancer Awareness Day
Peace with Christ Lutheran Church
and School, Aurora, Colo.

I think God chose me for a reason.” When 12-year-old Kennedy Bougher told her mother she thought there was a purpose for her bone cancer, Stacy Moriarty took that belief all the way to Washington, D.C. The duo launched a campaign that led Congress to proclaim Sept. 13, 2008, the first National Childhood Cancer Awareness Day. In conjunction with the observance, the “Warrior Princess” (Kennedy’s nickname in her battle back to good health) and her mom took part in the debut Miracle Party Masquerade Ball in Denver to support kids with the devastating illness. Kennedy missed most of the 2007–2008 school year to undergo treatment. Now the sixth-grader, who was pronounced cancer free in July, bravely tackles catch-up challenges at Peace with Christ Lutheran School in Aurora. The Warrior Princess and mom already are making plans for the second annual National Childhood Cancer Awareness Day and Miracle Party in September. Their vow: to do all they can to conquer a disease that strikes some 12,000 children every year. To learn more, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/kennedy1.


Melissa Salomón
LWML Gospel Outreach Chair;
Director of Lutheran Hour Ministries—Mexico;
Community Life Director at Concordia Lutheran Church
Chula Vista, Calif.

In 1992, Melissa Salomón reluctantly agreed when the Pacific Southwest LWML invited her to speak at the district convention about the Hispanic ministry where she came to faith. Why, she wondered? She felt no connection to the LWML or, for that matter, any part of the Lutheran church outside her little Spanish-speaking congregation in the San Fernando Valley. To her surprise, Salomón discovered she shared much in common with LWML women—wives and mothers with a passion for doing the Lord’s work. Today, helping ethnic women connect with the church-at-large is the personal mission of this former attorney and mother of two college students. As a member of the LWML Gospel Outreach Committee, Salomón helped create Heart to Heart Sisters, a program that links ethnic women with the church beyond their congregations and, in turn, helps the church use their unique gifts. She is looking forward to this summer’s national convention in Portland, Ore., when the LWML expects to welcome its 100th Heart to Heart Sister leader. How exciting, Salomón says, that the LWML is reflecting the church’s diverse ministries, which, in turn, reflect the diversity of heaven.



Rep. John Shimkus
United States Congressman
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Collinsville, Ill.

Those teaching skills he honed at Metro East Lutheran High School, Edwardsville, Ill., still come in handy, says U.S. Rep. John Shimkus. “As a member of Congress, you have to educate your constituents about the impact of public policy,” says the representative from Illinois’ 19th congressional district. He cites one recent example: the $700 billion bailout. “You not only cast your vote, but you have to explain, in layman’s terms, about capital systems, the law of supply and demand, and competition.” When he starts his seventh term in 2009, Shimkus will be one of three LCMS members in Congress. (The others: Reps. David Reichert, Washington, and Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming.) As the top-ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the legislator expects that addressing food safety (and preventing problems such as last year’s challenges with tainted imported veggies and meat) will remain a top priority. He’s a Holy Cross member, but Shimkus also worships at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Collinsville, where wife Karen is a part-time organist. A Shimkus family highlight on tap for 2009: middle son Joshua’s confirmation.



Kyle Sorkness
Puppetry Dream Team Member
Trinity Lutheran Church and School
Fergus Falls, Minn.

In the hands of Kyle Sorkness, foam and fabric characters captivate all ages. This creative high school senior helped start Trinity’s WASSUP (Worshiping an Awesome Savior Using Puppetry), a troupe so popular there’s a waiting list clamoring for performances. In July, Sorkness won a spot on the Puppetry Dream Team at the International Festival of Christian Puppetry and Ventriloquism near Chicago, Ill., a gathering of some of the world’s top performers and teachers. With college around the corner, this busy young man is considering director of Christian education or Christian outreach programs. Sorkness is interested in a career where he can continue to reach out with puppetry—a unique way to present a message, he says, and make it memorable.


Ken and Ellie Chitwood Lutheran Church of New Zealands
First Director of Christian Education Intern
and First Director of Parish Music
Manawatu Lutheran Parish,
Palmerston, North New Zealand

When Ken and Ellie Chitwood met, the Concordia University, Irvine, students connected over a conversation about international missions. One month after their 2007 marriage, the new graduates were heading Down Under to serve a Lutheran parish. Ken, 24, is the Lutheran Church of New Zealand’s first director of Christian education intern. Ellie’s role also marks a first: the LCNZ’s debut director of parish music. Although the pair are new to the New Zealand church body, both have been assigned a surprising number of national responsibilities. Ellie, 23, is editor of the LCNZ national newsletter and directed a national youth camp. Ken taught two semesters at the Bible College of New Zealand and has served on LCNZ national committees. The outdoors-loving Chitwoods also make time to enjoy the country’s many recreational opportunities—even the hugely popular extreme sport of bungee jumping. In February, this internationally inclined twosome takes off for South Africa. Both will serve at the Themba Trust, a faith-based foundation that operates two boarding schools for South Africa’s rural poor.


Suzan Reeve
Mother of 13, Mission Team Volunteer
Marathon Apple-Pie Baker
Trinity Lutheran Church, Glenwood, Iowa

To raise the kind of dough needed to help fund a fast-approaching mission trip, Suzan Reeve helped stir up another dough—pastry for 123 apple pies, in one day! This mother of soon-to-be 13 (ages 11 to 20, including six birth children, six adopted children, and another adoption in the works) had participated in an LCMS World Mission short-term mission trip to Cambodia and wanted to share that life-changing experience with her children. At the urging of fellow Trinity Lutheran member Jean Jaskierny, Reeve and daughters Taylor, 15, and Kristina, 17, signed up for a mission trek to inner-city Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico, coordinated by the Iowa District West’s IOWAY (Individual Outreach with Adults and Youth). Jaskierny, Anna Nebelsick, and other members helped peel, mix, and roll during the marathon baking day, selling pies from the church kitchen. In July, the Trinity group joined people from 24 LCMS churches on the mission trip, sharing Christ’s love through neighborhood cleanup and VBS projects. How does a mother of 13 make time for volunteer mission work? “I pray,” says Reeve, who also credits a great husband and support system. “If someone is considering a short-term trip with youth or your own children, you should consider that to be the Lord calling you.”


Nina and Dave Lett
Registered Nurse and Retired Forensic Investigator, Now with Laborers for Christ
Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, Englewood, Ohio

For 22 years, Dave Lett probed the manner, mode, and cause of death as a forensic investigator in Montgomery County, Ohio. Today, he and wife Nina (a retired registered nurse) travel the country as participants in our Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s Laborers for Christ program, helping LCMS congregations tackle building projects to strengthen ministry and stay within their budgets. These veteran Laborers (13 years) help build Lutheran churches and schools that will touch lives for generations to come. The change from his former tools of trade, Lett agrees, is like night and day.



Edith ‘Edie’ Smith
LCMS Foundation Planned-Giving Donor
Zion Lutheran Church, Cincinnati, Ohio

In her 80 years, Edie Smith has been through a lot: Running from Russian troops in the middle of the night during World War II. Living through risky brain surgery and cancer. Scrambling to earn a living after a divorce at age 57. Smith has “learned to trust in the Lord completely,” she says, and hasn’t been disappointed. God, she says, “will get you out of anything.” Smith, who is German and a lifelong Lutheran, says giving to the church has always been important to her: “I feel if you’re blessed, it’s your duty to give back.” When her husband left her, Smith had no income. Intent on staying out of debt, she picked up odd jobs and then worked at a day-care center, living frugally and buying stock when she could. About seven years ago, she decided to share her wealth with the church through an LCMS Foundation gift annuity, which provides her with a lifetime income and will benefit her favorite ministries upon her death. She feels “a little selfish,” she says, because she gets such joy out of giving. Smith encourages others to give and says “it will come back to you, many times over. You can never out-give God.”


Rev. Paul A. O. Boecler Longtime Professor from Longtime Pastoral Clan
Our Savior Lutheran Church
Grand Rapids, Mich.

When Rev. Friedrich Boecler began his ministry in Strasburg, Germany, in 1680, he launched a long line of Boeclers who would serve the Lord. In November, more than 300 years later, friends and family highlighted the latest chapter in the Boecler pastoral history—the 77th birthday of Rev. Paul A. O. Boecler and the 50th anniversary of the year the veteran pastor and professor began his ministry. The 1956 Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, graduate arrived at St. Mark Lutheran Church, Milford, Ohio, in 1958. Over the years, he touched countless young lives, teaching for a decade at the late Concordia Senior College, Fort Wayne, Ind. (1966–76) and for 24 years at Concordia College—New York (1976–2000). Another ministry stop: serving West Point cadets as vacancy pastor at the academy’s Lutheran chapel. Between Friedrich and Paul, the only break in the Boecler pastoral parade happened when Paul’s great-grandfather emigrated from Germany to America. That Boecler pursued business instead of ministry. But, as most clans can surely attest, every family tree has at least one branch that grows in a different direction!

When Mary Alexander’s dorm mother insisted that the college student interview with Coca-Cola officials scouting for models, Alexander thought it would be a waste of time. “Nobody is going to pick a country girl to do modeling,” said Alexander, who, in 1955, was a Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) junior. But the pretty coed was the only student selected, turning the youngest of 10 children from an Alabama farm family into a pioneering model. When Alexander appeared in magazines and on billboards in the mid-1950s, she was the first black woman (except for famous athletes and entertainers) to represent Coke in print ads. After graduation, Alexander left modeling for a career as a teacher and school administrator. She rarely thought about her days before the camera—until the beverage giant tracked her down in 2007 with an invitation to the new World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. That’s where Alexander’s ads are on display and where she was honored for her milestone role in Coke’s African-American marketing initiative. In Ocala, fellow congregants were surprised when Pastor Ronald Mueller posted a clipping about the Our Redeemer member. “I never talked about it,” Alexander, 74, says of her “model” past. “We’d been married for three years before my husband even knew!”


George Kottwitz
Veteran Humor Hobbyist
Trinity Lutheran Church, Edwardsville, Ill.

As hobbies go, George Kottwitz’s may be the most amusing. That’s because the former railroad conductor and switchman has collected jokes and funny stories throughout most of his 89 years. After reading or hearing a “good one,” what this master of “did you hear the one about” enjoys most is giving others a good laugh. Of course, the decorated World War II and Battle of the Bulge veteran has seen some grim times. But he prefers to focus on life’s lighter side, compiling 13 self-published
joke books. His gags and one-liners have appeared in national publications, including the Saturday Evening Post and Capper’s Weekly (now Capper’s). A Kottwitz joke printed in Reader’s Digest tickled Johnny Carson so much the comedian told it on his late-night television show. For the past 20 years, the veteran humor hobbyist has delighted Lutheran Witness readers with faithful contributions to the magazine’s “Shedding Some Light” page. Even before a certain editor reads a postcard from Kottwitz, he’s grinning from ear to ear!


Steve Magee
Lutheran Layman’s League Member,
Longtime Reformation Service Participant
Trinity Lutheran Church, Sacramento, Calif.

As a boy, Steve Magee joined other children each October to sing before hundreds of worshipers. More than 40 years later, Magee has graduated to the adult choir and still joins in jubilant performances of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” at the annual Reformation Sunday service sponsored by Lutheran Layman’s League Districts 4 and 19 in Sacramento, Calif. The Oct. 26, 2008, celebration marked the 63rd consecutive service. As always, hundreds of people packed the event, held at Town and Country Lutheran Church. Choirs (adult, children’s, bell, and chime) performed glorious music, anchored, of course, by a majestic pipe organ. Rev. Paul Hoffmann, son of the late Lutheran Hour Speaker Dr. Oswald C. J. Hoffmann, preached. Dr. Gil McMillan, president of Districts 4 and 19, maintains the master list of volunteer organists and choir directors, who rotate from year to year. Most recently, Dianne Stopponi guided the junior vocalists. Like Magee, 56, a system software specialist for the state of California, many former children’s choir members still participate in the long-running service. “It helps us remember Martin Luther, who helped remove ‘man’s requirements’ for eternal salvation,” Magee says. “It’s a celebration of freedom.”


To read more Web-exclusive LCMS member profiles, click here.

(Paula Schlueter Ross, Jennifer McBurney, Ellie Menz, Lois Wolf, Dr. Victor J. Kollmann, Rev. Brian Davies, and Rev. John W. Otte also contributed to this story.)


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