By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Rev. Dr. Will Rogers believes in building his church congregation by planting deep roots in his community.
His philosophy will help him as the newly installed pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, knowing that Mississippi has fewer Lutherans per capita than any other state.
Rogers has been serving in a leadership role for almost two years and was installed Saturday by Julian Gordy, the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Southeastern Senate.
The church’s longest serving member, Esther Brown, is like many other Southern Lutherans, a transplant.
She moved to Tupelo from Des Moines, Iowa, in 1979 and joined Holy Trinity Lutheran Church – Tupelo’s only Lutheran church at the time.
“Holy Trinity is a part of the Missouri Synod and I had always been in an ELCA church,” Brown said. “I became a member of Holy Trinity but I was not of some of the beliefs of the Missouri Synod.”
When two men came into her realty office in 1991 looking for a place to start an ELCA Lutheran church, she said she was blessed, and that’s when Christ the King Lutheran Church began.
Gordy said most Lutheran churches in the South use community service as a way to build congregations.
“Churches are called to be deeply rooted in whatever community they happen to be a part of,” Gordy said. “There are fewer Lutherans in Mississippi than any other state but we’ve had some success in some communities and I believe that happens when the congregation is deeply rooted in the community and sees itself as serving the community, not trolling for members.”
Colin Dube, a member of Rock of Ages Lutheran Church in Atlanta, attended Saturday’s installation service.
“You definitely don’t build a new congregation from the pulpit,” he said. “I can tell you that for sure.”
One way Rogers plugged his congregation into the community when he first arrived was by sponsoring a Boy Scout troop through the church. His wife, Jan Rogers, said they noticed there wasn’t a Boy Scout troop in the Ida Street and Lawndale Avenue area and wanted to change that.
Many boys attended Rogers’ installment service in their Boy Scout uniforms.
“We have one young man who became part of our church because of Scouting,” Rogers said. “There are several people who come that aren’t necessarily members of the church but are active through Scouting. We just open the doors.”
Rogers also said he takes the students in his congregation to the library every other Monday to play games and learn about reading. It’s an activity he said that benefits his congregation and also exposes the community to his church.
“I think that people are getting that the gospel has to do with your neighbor and that doesn’t always show immediate results,” Gordy said.