Letter Published in the Wisconsin Dells Events Newspaper, November 30, 2011
On behalf of Karen and me and the Grace Fellowship congregation, I wish to extend our sympathy to the St. Cecelia Perish on the death of Msgr. Felix. I had two opportunities to talk with him at length – once in his home and once over lunch. I found him to be exceptionally gracious and respectful. He will be missed in this community.
I also want to announce that, beginning January 1, 2012, Grace Fellowship will not have a Wisconsin Dells community presence. We will terminate our office lease at the Community Action Building and will not be holding weekly Sunday Worship Services. We will retain our church charter for at least the calendar year of 2012. This will be done, realizing that we will likely close down the church as an operating tax-exempt business in a year or two. Our members share a forty-year history together, so I hope to have some contact with our members indefinitely. However, I have encouraged all members to seek out a local church in their respective communities. Karen and I will do this as well. In this transition I will do bi-weekly Bible studies with some who wish to do that. And I will meet with any individual or small group to discuss faith issues if they do not have a pastor.
I will briefly explain why this action has become necessary. Grace Fellowship began as a congregation of the Worldwide Church of God denomination in 1972. That denomination began in 1934 and was built by media efforts as a church having exclusive views of prophecy, church history, world history, and our place in Christianity as whole. Exclusive groups, by definition, exclude people, and so locally we drew members from a wide area. When we dropped our exclusivity in 1995, the shock of the change left us with very few local members. Thus we have never had a local core group that would be the seed of a growing church. I became the Pastor in 2008 after having earned a Master’s of Divinity from Bethel Seminary the previous year. The denominational name Worldwide Church of God was changed to Grace Communion International in early 2009. At that time our local congregation adopted the name “Grace Fellowship”.
Since 1995 we have endeavored to make the transition from an exclusive church to a community church, but with members separated geographically, and with few local members, and with virtually all members being boomers or older, the decision to begin a shut-down was inevitable. With Karen’s serous illness, I immediately decided that this was the time.
I wish to thank the God I serve for my Christian journey. Without that journey, I would not have really known Him. I wish to thank Him for giving me more days of life with Karen, after a real scare a couple of months ago. I wish to thank our community for their outpouring of well wishes and prayers and gifts during Karen’s illness. I wish to thank our membership for their support since I became Pastor in 2008. I want to especially thank the following: Ethel Olson from Richland Center for being one who has stayed in contact with all members who once attended in the Dells; Suzanne Tesch from New Lisbon who has been the head worship leader through some deep family health trials; Bob Abel, from Madison also leads worship and serves in many other ways; Earl and Lou Annear from Richland Center for their support, even though times have been hard for them financially and health-wise; the Rev. Dr. Daniel Gezzi and his wife Debbie for making a valiant effort at planting a community church for more than a year; the Wisconsin Dells Ministerial Association for their support and friendship since I have been a Wisconsin Dells Pastor. Finally I wish to thank Fred Hebert and those at the Wisconsin Dells Central Wisconsin Community Action Council Building, from whom we have leased worship and office space. We could not have had better facilities anywhere else in the Dells.
All Christians are ministers. Karen and I are looking forward to continued ministry in this community for years to come.