In March 2012, Forward in Christ introduced its readers to Living Promise, Morristown, Tenn., a home mission approved for support from WELS Home Missions in 2011. The same year, Matthew Westra, a 2011 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., was assigned to serve as Living Promise’s home missionary. The conclusion of the 2012 article read, “Reaching out in this predominantly Baptist area is a big undertaking for such a small congregation, but with God’s guiding hand and the support of WELS members far and wide, Westra says that Living Promise feels confident in its future. He notes, ‘We may not be the biggest church or have the fanciest worship facility. I may not be the best preacher. But people are showing up, and you can’t give the credit to anyone but God. It’s exciting to imagine what God has in store for us.’ ”
So, where are they now?
Matthew Westra and his wife, Rachel, arrived in Morristown in July 2011. The congregation he first served consisted of five members, who were joined at his installation (left) by some of the pastors and other WELS members who helped the mission before he arrived. On Aug. 13, 2023, Living Promise had 152 worshipers in a service to celebrate the opening of Living Promise Academy, an early childhood ministry that is serving 23 students in its first year. Westra notes, “As much as I love hearing the Bible stories of the lions’ mouths being closed and thousands being baptized, I am more amazed at the steady and constant grace God gives. More than 100 people now gather here on a Sunday. Every Sunday, sins are forgiven and Christ is seen more clearly. People walk out the doors and the love they have been shown by God spills into their homes and world. The very next week it happens again. It might not make headlines, but it is this steady and constant grace that causes me to whisper a quiet and heartfelt ‘thank you.’ ”
Members of Living Promise originally worshiped in a Seventh-day Adventist church. On Jan. 15, 2012, Living Promise dedicated a storefront location that served as its worship home until Aug. 28, 2016, when members participated in Moving Sunday (pictured above left). On Moving Sunday, the congregation began worship in its storefront location and then picked up their chairs and other worship materials, loaded them into the moving van, unloaded them at their new location, and then concluded the service there. Living Promise’s members credit WELS Church Extension Fund with helping them purchase land and then build their own worship facility
Bobby Greenlee (middle in each of the above photos) was the first confirmand of Living Promise. He showed up for worship because of a flyer left on his door. Over the years, he has served as church president, secretary, and treasurer. Worshipers often find him ushering or greeting. As he notes, “If there’s a need and I see it, I’ll do it.” Pictured with Greenlee is his grandson, Josiah, who is beginning confirmation classes this fall, and Westra’s daughter, Noelle.
From the beginning, Westra says that Living Promise’s members—and WELS members from across the synod—have stepped up and volunteered in unexpected ways. As the congregation was building its own worship facility, members installed drywall, flooring, and trim, saving the mission $80,000. In 2020, members built a platform for Westra to preach on as he conducted outdoor, drive-in worship. This summer, 28 teens and 7 adults from St. John, Wauwatosa, Wis., helped the mission run a science-themed vacation Bible school for 81 children.
Learn more about one of WELS’ newest home missions in this month’s WELS Connection and by visiting wels100in10.net.
Volume: 110, Number 10
Issue: October 2023