Not quite five years ago, a small group of Lutheran people left their established church to form a new one.
They didn’t have a pastor, and they weren’t sure they knew how to start a church. They just knew it was something they had to do.
“God said, ‘Get up and go, and you did,’” said the Rev. Mark Steinke during his sermon last Sunday at Tree of Life Lutheran Church in Inverness.
They met in someone’s home, then they met at Whispering Pines Park, with part-time and/or occasional pastors.
Not quite five years later, they have a pastor and a rented church building, a hope and a future and a desire to make a difference in the community.
As their vision statement says: “We are a family on a journey. Living grace, living truth and reflecting Jesus. We are an unfinished collection of travelers. Single and married, young and old, bound together and captured by a glimpse of Jesus big enough to convince us that life is not about us, but all about Him.
“We pursue transforming truth rather than stagnant knowledge. We desire to constantly move toward one another in unconditional love and forgiveness. Worshiping together, playing together, living together. We are wounded healers embracing the stranger, strengthening the weak, empowering the poor and seeking the lost. We are seed throwers, fire stalkers, hope peddlers and grace givers. We want our world to be different because God has sent us.”
Their new pastor, Mark Steinke, and his wife, Laurie, recently moved to Citrus County from Port Charlotte.
Mark is a math teacher in Yankeetown and Laurie teaches first grade at Crystal River Primary School.
“This is my fourth congregation,” Steinke said. “I’ve been without a pulpit for about 12 years, and there’s been a gigantic hole. I’ve been driving through small towns, and I’d see a church and wonder what it would be like to live in an area like that and to be a pastor there.
“So, I think God’s been gearing me up to be a pastor of a small, small church,” he said, adding that his first church had fewer than 70 people and the one before that had more than 500 and he much prefers small churches.
“At a small church, you’re a personal pastor,” he said. “You get to know the people better.”
Sue Fullerton, a Tree of Life founding member, said they received about six pastors’ resumes, and when they read Steinke’s and interviewed him, they knew he was the one.
“With him, it’s just a really good fit,” she said.
Although they’re a small church, they’re serious about making a difference,
especially in children’s lives.
Each month, they invite children in foster care to do something fun. One month the kids came to Fullerton’s house to swim and take a buggy ride with Fullerton’s horses. Another month they had a trip to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Wildlife State Park.
This month they’re having a movie day at the church.
“It’s exciting how the church is growing,” Fullerton said.
The church, part of the English Missouri Synod, meets at 9 a.m. for Bible study and 10 a.m. for worship each Sunday at 2991 E Thomas Street in Inverness.
For more information about the church, visit online at treeoflifelc.org.