by Adriane Dorr
Rev. Gary Benedix recently retired from full-time ministry . . . but not really. “I have been a pastor and missionary for 42 years; the last 30 of those years were at Peace Lutheran Church in Filer, Idaho,” he states.
Although he retired as Peace’s pastor in June, he continued to serve Hope Lutheran in Jackpot, Nev., a mission church he had been caring for for the past 24 years. “Every Sunday, after church at Peace in Filer, my wife and I drove to Jackpot for worship at 2:00 p.m.,” says Benedix.
A mission congregation in the Northwest District, Hope receives financial and spiritual support from the district. It began “as midweek Sunday School for the children of Jackpot,” says Benedix. “Several Lutherans living and working in Jackpot wanted a Sunday School for their children in this tiny casino town on the Nevada-Idaho border.” When Benedix began to go to Hope back in 1986, he “worked with the midweek school and added a Sunday afternoon worship service.”
Hope’s members are just as unique as the town itself. “We’ve had as many as 24 members and as few as four or five,” says Benedix. “Some of them have been blackjack dealers in the casinos; some have been teachers. We have visitors from many places: Lutherans from Canada, snowbirds heading south in the fall and north in the spring; singers and other entertainers from the casinos; Lutherans from the congregations in southern Idaho; and people passing through the town looking for a bit of comfort.”
Despite ebbs and flows in membership and attendance, Benedix has “continued a Word and Sacrament ministry every Sunday for whomever the Lord led to church that day,” he says. “When we began worshipping on Sunday afternoon, we received a donation of 15 copies of Lutheran Book of Worship and 12 copies of The Lutheran Supplement. We knew, though, that we needed something else.”
What his flock really needed, he said, was “a resource with more worship options, more hymn options, but which kept us connected with the historical Lutheran liturgical tradition.” Hoping to introduce his parishioners to the new hymnal, “filled with beautiful old favorite hymns as well as many new tunes with Gospel-centered texts,” Benedix wanted to “introduce the congregation to the look, the feel, the emotion, the liturgical richness of LSB with the hope that Hope would then agree to purchase copies for our weekly worship services.”
The hymnal had another purpose, however. “I planned to give this first hymnal to my one confirmation student this year, McKenzie Heileman, so she might include memorization of some of the hymns in her confirmation studies and have the blessing of this devotional aid at home for herself.”
And so Rev. Benedix ordered one copy of Lutheran Service Book for his one confirmand . . . the one millionth copy. “It surprised us all at Hope,” he says.”What a surprise that her hymnal arrived with such joy!”
McKenzie’s hymnal arrived on the exact day when she would especially need the comfort of God’s Holy Word. McKenzie’s father died several years ago of melanoma cancer at the age of 34, and “McKenzie’s mother told me that the day my purchase of the one millionth copy of LSB occurred, August 9, was the birthdate of her late husband, McKenzie’s father.”
But the story doesn’t end here. Dr. Bruce Kintz, CEO of Concordia Publishing House, upon learning that Hope wanted eventually to purchase enough LSBs for the entire congregation, called Rev. Benedix himself, letting him know that not only had he purchased the millionth hymnal but that 30 additional copies were on their way to Jackpot, Nev., at no cost to Hope.
“We are so looking forward to receiving the very happy and generous gift that CPH is blessing us with,” says Benedix. “We cannot wait to begin to use these orders of worship, prayers, and hymns at our every week worship service.”
About the Author: Adriane Dorr is the managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.