From Cafeteria to Cathedral
How awesome is this place, this house of God, this gate of heaven! (Gen. 28:17)
For more than ten years, the people of Lamb of God Lutheran Church made an elementary school cafeteria "the house of God . . . the gate of heaven." First at Forest Park Elementary School, then at Stocker Elementary School, we faithfully set up an altar and worshiped.
THE EARLY YEARS
At first, the altar was a table, adorned by a bedsheet on which liturgical symbols had been sewn, with a borrowed cross in the center. As congregations around the Synod donated more liturgical appointments, and woodworkers in the congregation built a portable altar, the churchly atmosphere became more visible. Still, from the very beginning, there never was any doubt, each time we gathered for worship, that we were in the house of God.
The seeds for this house of God were sown in the 1960s, when the South Wisconsin District purchased an advance mission site in the 6500 block of Green Bay Road – one and one-half miles north of the present site. The congregation, which celebrated its first worship service on November 24, 1991, purchased the land outright from the District in 1996.
The Reverend Ron Rock, in his vicarage year in 1991-92, served as mission developer for Lamb of God. He provided the momentum for that first worship service, and built a foundation of confessional, liturgical worship which remains to this day. When he returned to the seminary for his senior year, the congregation eagerly anticipated its next shepherd.
In 1992, the Reverend Wayne Schiesow was called as assistant pastor to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Lamb of God’s mother congregation. He brought Lamb of God through its chartering as a member of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on Reformation Day, October 31, 1993. He was called to Lamb of God shortly thereafter, and served the congregation until October 1997. Pastor Schwiesow built a comprehensive church life for Lamb of God, leading worship services for virtually every major Christian festival throughout the year—proving that the house of God can exist, even on New Year’s Eve in an elementary school cafeteria.
The Reverend John Berg accepted the call to Lamb of God in April 1998. Through the Holy Spirit, the congregation continued to thrive during these years: worship life was enriched, and attendance kept growing. Pr. Berg served faithfully at Lamb of God until June 2007.
The Reverend Sean Smallwood accepted the call to Lamb of God on February 3, 2008. His love of history, his ability to listen and gently tend the flock, have endeared him to the congregation. We look forward to many happy years to come!
OUR FIRST BUILDING
In 1999, a developer approached the congregation to determine its interest in selling its property, and pointed to the present site--at that time, the building was a daycare center--as a means by which the congregation would be closer to worshiping in its own house of God. After much prayerful deliberation, Lamb of God sold its first parcel and purchased this site in May 2000.
Architects were interviewed throughout that summer and autumn. A Lutheran with considerable experience in designing, building, and renovating churches, Roger Potratz, of dh2w & Associates, Michigan City, Indiana, was selected to guide the congregation through the renovation process. The formal groundbreaking was celebrated August 12, 2001, and work began in earnest in early September. The first worship services in this house of God were held Wednesday, March 13, 2002.
The educational wings and the organ were dedicated on Sunday, April 14, 2002. Pastors Rock and Schwiesow both were present for the event, and the guest organist was The Reverend Dr. Daniel G. Reuning, Kantor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and retired Dean of the Chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary there. The nave and rest of the building were dedicated on Sunday, May 19, 2002, with The Reverend Daniel Preus, First Vice President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, preaching.
Ten years is a long time for a mission congregation to survive without a permanent home. Every time we met for worship, we rolled the altar out of storage and set up the appointments, only to reverse the process at the end of the service. Over the course of ten years, the altar made close to 1,500 trips in and out of storage! And, in the early years, we set up (and took down) all the chairs, as well. What you see today, at Lamb of God, is a reminder that God had His own plans for this congregation. This house of God was built on His timetable.
The beautiful altar you see in our chancel had not been used for nearly forty years. The pulpit, hymn board, and significant portions of the chancel rail were companion pieces to the altar. A local woodworker undertook the huge task of stripping, repairing, and refinishing all these pieces. The altar spires point heavenward, a visual reminder that our prayers rise before Him as incense.
The focal point of the altar—indeed, the focal point of this house of God—is a crucifix made by the Studios of Demetz in Italy. The focus of our church life, and the focus of the life of the Christian, is Christ’s suffering and death on the cross for our sins, and His victory over sin, death, and the devil in His resurrection.
THE BAPTISMAL FONT
The baptismal font is another lost treasure reclaimed by this church. The plaster font originally was used in a Roman Catholic church. It was painstakingly painted to look like woodgrain in order to match the wood in the church. Its placement at the entrance to the nave symbolizes the Christian’s entry into the church through baptism. The font features a carving of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.
The Abbott & Seeker pipe organ is a gift from Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Riverside, California. Repaired and installed by T. R. Rench & Company, Racine, this beautiful tracker-action instrument will lead worship services for generations to come.
How awesome is this place, this house of God, this gate of heaven!
We hope and pray you will join us often in singing praises to God in this, our beloved home.