A WELS family with Catholic roots stands in amazement of God’s enduring grace and faithfulness.
Why are you WELS?
For John Boggs, a first-generation Lutheran with Catholic roots, the answer has everything to do with God’s grace. “[I’m WELS] because this church body that walks together in faith and ministry and joy preaches and teaches and shares the unaltered grace of God in every way, shape, or form,” he says. “They do it imperfectly, sometimes they do it in different ways, but God’s grace reigns supreme here and I get to be a part of it.”
The Boggs family’s passion for the grace of God runs deep. Currently, John is a professor and coach at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. His wife is a WELS teacher, and they have four children who are either in public ministry or attending a synodical prep school.
But John Boggs and his family of origin were not always WELS. Looking back at his family’s Catholic roots, John often finds himself asking, “How in the world does a little Catholic boy from Indianapolis, Indiana, wind up serving in the public ministry of WELS?”
The answer is simple. “It’s all about Jesus. He uses different families in different ways to accomplish his good will,” explains John. “You don’t have to have every single answer to how it worked out the way it did but never take for granted that it did. And then use that amazement to propel you forward in God’s grace.”
Roman Catholic roots
John’s mother, Jan, grew up Catholic, and as an adult, she faithfully brought her young children to worship every Sunday. While John’s father, John Sr., grew up attending church, he did not attend as an adult.
Gradually, the Holy Spirit began working in Jan’s heart. She began questioning the infallibility of the Pope, among other aspects of her experience within the Catholic Church. Then one evening after a Lenten service, the priest would not allow her two young sons to take home one of the small crosses being handed out to adults. Most important, however, Jan struggled to reconcile the words in her Bible with the messages she was hearing during Mass.
John’s sister, Jill Doering, recalls their mother often explaining that in the Catholic church, parishioners would listen to what the priest said without ever turning to God’s Word themselves. “We just never read our Bibles,” Jan would say.
She felt in her heart that there must be something different.
But when one of her neighbors invited her to attend a Bible study, Jan was uncertain. After a few invitations, however, she went along to the inter-denominational Bible study fellowship gathering. “I ended up attending with my friend again, and after hearing the sweet message of the gospel, full and free, the Holy Spirit worked faith in my heart,” says Jan. “I call it a miracle, because I was never sure of my salvation, but by the power and mercy of the Holy Spirit, he gave me a sure hope of eternal life with God in heaven!”
That friend then introduced Jan to a Lutheran acquaintance. Jan explains, “She thought that since the liturgy of the Catholic Church was similar to the Lutheran Church I would not feel intimidated.” That church happened to be Divine Savior, a WELS church in Indianapolis. The following Sunday, Jan attended Divine Savior and signed the guest register.
The next day, Jan was praying earnestly for God’s guidance about where to send her oldest child to kindergarten. She says, “I got up from praying, and I noticed that the pastor from the church I had attended the day before was walking up our driveway!”
She invited him in, and everything changed.
Rather than sending their son, John Jr., to a Catholic school, Jan and her husband, John Sr., enrolled him in the local public school while continuing to attend Divine Savior on Sundays. Divine Savior’s pastor also visited once a week to study the Bible with the couple.
That Bible study turned into Bible information class, and soon Jan and John Sr. were confirmed. When Divine Savior voted to start a Lutheran elementary school a couple of years later, the Boggses enrolled their three young children in the new one-room schoolhouse, bringing the total number of students to eight.
Building a lasting legacy
As the Boggs family grew in faith and in number, they began building a legacy of service, leadership and ministry. John recalls, “[Our parents] taught us growing up how not to be consumers of ministry but how to be partners in ministry. The first memory I have of joining Divine Savior is of our family cleaning church all the time.”
After vacuuming and cleaning windows together, in the dim light emanating from the sanctuary of the church they loved, the Boggses would gather in the front pew for nightly prayers. Suddenly, this newly Lutheran family began to feel that they were a part of their church. “And when they did a building addition, man, we were writing Bible passages on the 2x4s. This is our place,” John says. “I think that foundational building has worked its way into the bone and sinew of our ministries and our lives and our families.”
John and Jill have never stopped standing in awe of how God called their family into his family of believers. “The Lord has taken one lady starting to read her Bible, and from that has come an army of Boggs people who are excited to share that message with those around us,” John explains.
John and his seven siblings are now all active members of Lutheran churches that focus on the truth of God’s Word. Most are married, and many have begun families of their own. Four of the Boggs siblings are or have been called workers, two are married to called workers, and others are actively serving in their congregations.
“For us, it’s not just that the Lord plopped us out of heresy and into salvation by grace alone,” explains John. “He had big plans, which have given our family many, many different opportunities to serve in all different ways.”
A path to ministry
John didn’t always know that he wanted to be a pastor, but God led him there all the same. As a young boy at Divine Savior, John was befriended by an older boy who was encouraged by his pastors to attend high school at Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS), Saginaw, Mich., to study to become a pastor. So, when John was also encouraged to attend MLS, he decided to go.
Next, John attended Northwestern College (the predecessor to Martin Luther College) because many of his friends were going and he wanted to play football. It wasn’t until his vicar year at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., that he fully embraced the desire God had placed in his heart to be a pastor.
He continues, “By the end of my training, I said, ‘Lord I don’t know if you’ll have me do this, but I’d like to serve you this way.’ That’s what’s neat now. I serve at a synodical prep school to have kids ask those same questions. Some of them will [become called workers] and some of them won’t, but all of them are going to be important parts in our synod moving forward in God’s grace.”
Looking back at the path their lives have taken, John and Jill are overwhelmed with thankfulness. Jill says, “God saw fit to wrap us in his love and say, ‘But you are mine.’ . . . I just think there’s an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. How can you do anything but live your faith?”
John adds, “I think the miracle of grace that is our family has taught me that truly God can do anything. I think that has the effect with us and our children to live boldly, to pray boldly, to share boldly, and to not be too amazed when God fulfills his promises that his Word will not return empty. Because in our case, it has returned sevenfold blessings.”
Author: Stephanie Boeckman
Volume 110, Number 1
Issue: January 2023
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