A Brief History of Grace Lutheran Church

As early as 1948 a group of women began meeting regularly for Bible study. They lived in the Des Moines area and some were part of Kent Lutheran Church. Moving slowly and with reluctance the North Pacific District of the former Evangelical Lutheran Church established a mission congregation in Des Moines in 1956. Rev. Don Hinderlie was called to be the first pastor. Grace Lutheran Church was officially organized on May 14, 1956 with 149 charter members. After meeting for a time at Midway Elementary School the congregation joined together and built a church. It was a great community experience, with the builder being a member of the congregation and everybody “pitching in.”

In 1959 Pastor Reuben Sorensen was called as the second pastor. He lived and ministered in Des Moines for thirteen years. In 1962 the next major item was the building of the educational wing. It was a feeling again of great camaraderie and community as the congregation rallied together to build again.

From 1962-63 there was expansion and growth of the Boeing Company, a major employer in the area. The community built all kinds of new houses and Grace Lutheran Church was growing by leaps and bounds. However, between 1968 and 1972 the Boeing Company began to sputter, and it was said in Seattle in 1971, “The last one to leave town, turn off the lights.”

The Bethel Bible Series was introduced to enhance adult education. Six seminary interns served for one year each, under the leadership of the pastor. After 13 years of spiritual leadership Pastor Sorensen resigned in 1972 to take another parish call.

In 1973 Pastor Edward Markquart was called to be pastor of Grace Lutheran. At that same time Boeing bottomed out, began to stabilize, and grew once again. There was a new infusion of vitality in the worship life and total congregational experience with this change of pastors. In 1974 there was a remodeling and renovation of the sanctuary, making it a more beautiful worship facility. Again, this was accomplished by the people in the parish and was a time of camaraderie.

In 1975 there was a decision in the congregation to become seriously committed to the fight against world hunger and its root causes. Since 1975 Grace Lutheran Church has given over $2,000,000 toward this cause. In 1979 there was a renewed commitment to evangelism and reaching out to the unchurched. Between 1975 and 1980 the congregation began sponsoring refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Approximately thirty Asian families were sponsored. Each refugee family lived in one of the member’s homes for one to two months, so that loving closely knit relationships developed.

Six more Seminary interns served the congregation for a year each between 1974 and 1980.
In 1980 Grace Lutheran expanded staff and called David Cox as an associate pastor and Kenn Duley as minister of music. Under their added leadership there was an additional infusion of vitality and energy. During the years of 1982-83 the church had an expansion of ministries. Ministries had multiplied under the addition of good leadership: new choirs, new singles group, new retired group, new evangelism calling, new reading groups, and new preschool.

In 1984 Pastor John O’Neal was called as the next associate pastor at Grace. Again new ministries were added and the congregation continued to grow. The Youth Summer Mission was instituted to give youth a cross-cultural experience in Mexico. The Haiti and Jamaica Sister Church program began to give members of Grace the opportunity to have short-term cross-cultural mission experience. These programs ultimately expanded to include sister churches in Russia and former East Germany. The congregation purchased the former Des Moines Library and opened Grace Children’s Center in 1989, with infant/toddler and before-and-after school programs beginning in 1996. The preschool program was expanded to include kindergarten classes in 1991.

From 1983-84 the sanctuary was expanded to seat four hundred and for the next few years through the generous offerings of time and talent from the members of the congregation more expanding of the building in terms of office and classroom space was accomplished.

From 1988-1993 Pastor Lynn Peterson served as our first woman pastor. She was followed by Pastor Sue Volden who served from 1993 to 1995. With two male pastors on staff the leadership believed that we needed to establish some gender diversity and made special efforts to call a woman for the third pastoral position.

In 1995 to 1996 the building went through major remodeling and expansion. A new six-hundred seat sanctuary was added, with classroom space beneath and major reconstruction was accomplished on the existing structure.

In 1996 Chris Kramer was hired as a full-time youth director who expanded and continued to grow the program for senior and junior high youth. Chris served until enrolling at Luther Seminary in 2003. Tim Oleson then joined the staff as youth director.

The next addition to the program staff was Pastor Stephanie Coltvet in 2004. She joined the long-term team of Pastors Markquart and O’Neal, adding a new perspective and expanding the small group and young adult ministries. She accepted another call in 2006.

In May 2006 Grace Lutheran celebrated 50 years of ministry in the Des Moines community.

On January 7, 2007 Pastor John O’Neal was officially installed as the new Lead (Senior) Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church after serving as co-pastor with Pastor Edward Markquart for several years and as Associate Pastor for many years before that.

On March 4, 2007 Pastor Ryan Alexander was installed as our next Associate Pastor.

After 34 years of ministry Pastor Markquart retired from full-time ministry on May 31, 2007.

A new staff position was added in 2008 with Kelly Maloney as the Director of Children and Family Ministries. Also, in 2008 our congregation wide campaign faith in ACTION transitioned into our ongoing grace in ACTION mission and ministry to our local community.

Staff transitions in 2009 added Pastor Mitch Watney and a new Director of Children and Family Ministries, Kathy Bekkerus, to the staff team at Grace.

The year 2010 brought another change as Pastor Mitch Watney took a call across the country and JT (John Telyea) was hired as our new Youth Director while Tim Oleson began his full-time Seminary studies. Pastor Stan Jacobson served as Interim Associate Pastor at Grace until January 2011, when he was called as part-time Associate Pastor with responsibilities for Short-Term Missions and Small Groups. Newly graduated Pastor Jason Lukis joined the GLC staff as a full–time Associate Pastor in April 2011 overseeing Children’s, Youth and Young Adult Ministries.

Mission trips to Haiti focused on rebuilding after the major 2010 earthquake, helping with the building of Rutilio Grande Lutheran church in Buena Vista, El Salvador and starting a relationship with El Refugio, a women’s shelter in Guatemala.
Grace continues to grow and change each year! When JT moved to Minnesota to continue his seminary training, Denny Burda was hired as our new Youth Director in 2012. Carol Ervin, long-time beloved Office Manager retired in August 2012 and Kristi Kath moved into Carol’s role, assisted by Ruth Coleman. October 2012 saw the first-ever 12-Step Mission Trip to Guatemala to work with a squatter’s village there.

World Hunger Sunday on October 14, 2012, was a celebration of giving to World Hunger of over $3,000,000!!!! Video greetings from Bishop Mark Hanson (ELCA Presiding Bishop) as well as thoughtful words from Bishop Chris Boerger (NW WA Synod) and Rev. Dr. John Nunes (Director and CEO of Lutheran World Relief) inspired everyone in the combined worship service, followed by a great luncheon.

Pastor Jason Lukis took a new call to a church in Ramsey, MN in July of 2013.

The year 2013 saw a refurbishing and renewal of our Sanctuary worship space, leading the way to a new media/sound system, electronic reader board and stained glass redesign. We are excited for the future possibilities this new technology brings.

The Graceful Quilters have been quilting several Thursdays a month for many years and on April 10, 2014, reached a milestone goal of cutting, stitching, folding and packing 10,000 quilts for Lutheran World Relief.

We continue to upgrade the facilities and equipment at Grace, and in 2015 were able to add Charles Reinmuth as our Director of Sound and Media. Additionally, a team worked with the city of Des Moines to install and begin use of an electronic sign to advertise all that is happening at Grace Lutheran Church in March 2015. Installed on the corner of the Kent Des Moines Road and 24th Ave. S, this sign gives Grace events and programs great visibility in our local community.

As the times change, it becomes necessary to review and update the GLC Constitution and Bylaws. This took place in 2015 and was approved by the congregation in January 2016. Also during 2015, a restructuring of the Church Council to a Congregational Board model, and Council Members to Ministry Leadership Team Members took place and was finalized in August of 2015.

Youth Director Denny Burda took a new position in London in September 2016 and Miranda Winter was hired as our new Youth Director. Also that year, long-time custodian Serge Marchenko resigned, and his sister, Luba Veselova, took over this important position.

Our Lutheran World Relief project with the Chorti Maya people of Honduras was completed in 2016, with total donations over $190,000. These donations went to help with cash crops, as well as sustainable crops for families to use as food.

Our long time bell director, Marlene Anderson, retired after 15 years in 2017. Our bell choirs honored Marlene with a great send-off, and our new handbell Director, Brian Tervo was hired to continue this music ministry.

In the spring of 2017, Pastor Stan Jacobson announced his retirement effective at the end of June 2017. Pastor Dave Astrup was hired to begin an interim position working at Grace beginning in July 2017.

In 2017, we will honor the life of Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, as we celebrate 500 years of the Lutheran story together.

In 2018, there were several staff changes. On May 20, 2018, Pastor Chad Johnson was installed as our Co-Lead Pastor. Angie Cadwell took the position as Budget Manager in May. Heather Halbakken was hired as our new Office Manager in September as Kristi Kath moved back home to Minnesota.