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Joy beneath the sadness

On Nov. 7, 2021, Divine Peace, Milwaukee, Wis., held its final worship service after sharing the gospel with its neighborhood for almost 65 years. It was an emotional day filled with memories of weddings and baptisms, confirmations and Christian funerals. Yet there was a joy beneath the sadness—a joy that only peace in Christ can bring. The members of Divine Peace know that they are a part of God’s bigger plan for the kingdom.

“There does come a time when God leads churches to close because he has another use for them or their resources,” says church president Brian Gottschalk. “God had a plan for Divine Peace, and it is good. God has a plan for his church on earth, and it is good. I pray that our members and others recognize that and thank God for the wonderful opportunity he has given us to serve him as his people here on this earth.”

Divine peace interior
To continue its outreach ministry even after closing, Divine Peace divided its assets
between WELS and Wisconsin Lutheran High School Foundation. WELS President Mark Schroeder (far right) and Kenneth Fisher, president of Wisconsin Lutheran High School (second from right), were at Divine Peace’s final worship service.

When Divine Peace was established in 1957, it was built on the outskirts of a growing city, surrounded by farmland. Over the years, farmland gave way to starter homes and apartment buildings. As homeowners began to move to the suburbs and those in the apartments constantly came and went, it became difficult for Divine Peace to build lasting relationships with its transient neighbors and sustain its membership.

As the congregation began to run out of resources and its pastor took a call to another congregation in June 2021, Divine Peace’s leadership knew it was time to prayerfully evaluate its future. Retired Pastor James Aderman, a member at Divine Peace, worked with church leadership to ask some tough questions. “We asked ourselves, ‘What does God want our congregation to do and be like?’ ’’ he remembers. “We then asked, ‘Do we have the resources to reach out with the gospel to our community?’ ” Members also looked at the density of WELS congregations that are now in the area—four within a 1.5-mile radius.

“As the congregation discussed whether to soldier on with limited manpower and diminishing finances, I was pleased to hear members say things like, ‘I hate the thought of closing our church, but if all we are able to do is exist and not actively share the gospel, we should not continue. Church is more than having a service on Sunday,’ ” recalls Aderman.

By the end of August, after extensive Scripture study and prayer, open forums, and a special sermon series, the congregation determined it no longer could carry out a sustainable ministry. “We believed it was a better use of our time, talents, and treasures to close Divine Peace and redeploy these gifts to other areas of ministry. This redeployment would involve sending our membership to other WELS congregations in our community to support and strengthen those churches,” says Gottschalk.

Divine Peace also could now continue a ministry that has always been of utmost importance to the congregation: reaching outside the church’s four walls with the gospel. They decided to work with WELS Foundation to sell the church and parsonage and split the assets: 80 percent to WELS to support WELS Missions and Congregational Services and 20 percent to support Christian education at nearby Wisconsin Lutheran High School through its foundation’s endowment. Even though Divine Peace closed its doors, its legacy of faith will continue for years to come.

Founding Divine Peace member Elaine Cook admits she will miss the relationships she and her family built at the church over the past six decades. But she trusts God’s plan and continues to lean on the faith that has sustained her for 95 years: “Although I don’t always understand, I know that God is directing. And you leave it there. I just pray and thank God we had Divine Peace in our lives. That we could be part of it was a gift.”

Volume 109, Number 01
Issue: January 2022

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