First, there was a planning meeting on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon in August 1961. A year and three months later, the church became official with 83 charter members.
First, there was a planning meeting on a hot, humid Sunday afternoon in August 1961.
A year and three months later, the church became official with 83 charter members.
For several years, the members rented a converted storefront in downtown Blue Springs, before ground broke in the summer of 1964 on a dedicated space.
Fifty years after its beginning, Timothy Lutheran Church has grown from those 83 founding members into a congregation of 3,200 strong.
That’s a powerful number, considering the total population of Blue Springs in 1962 was around 4,000 residents.
At the start, Diane and Debbie Lohman were young girls, 10 and 8, respectively. Along with their parents, Verna and Donald Lohman, they were among the 28 family units who started Timothy Lutheran in November 1962.
Now 60, Diane Mayfield remembers moving musical instruments into a room and creating a makeshift altar for worship services.
“Basically, I thought it was kind of interesting to use a gymnasium for a church,” Mayfield says, “but, it worked fine.”
Did Mayfield’s mother think that little start-up church would one day include 3,000-plus members?
“No way. No way,” the now-widowed 81-year-old says, smiling. “I had no idea this was going to happen.”
If William Gerike, Timothy Lutheran’s first resident pastor who served from 1962 until his death in 1981, were still alive, “he would just be amazed,” Lohman says.
Senior Pastor Richard Steensma’s cell phone beeps, a signal that a new message awaits him.
He removes the phone from his shirt pocket, reads the message and quietly says, “Oh my – sorry,” before resuming the question of what Timothy Lutheran Church in Blue Springs might look like in its next 50 years.
The text message, although a less-than-happy report about someone’s surgery, represents what Steensma says he enjoys most about his job.
“I love preaching, teaching and being with the people,” he says. “We just buried a 13-year-old a week ago, which was heartbreaking, but I was able to be there when they removed the life support, and there was nowhere else I would’ve rather been.”
Steensma took over as senior pastor on June 1, 2011, after working as an associate pastor at Timothy Lutheran for three years. Among Timothy’s 3,200 members, about 800 attend Sunday service each week.
What’s really interesting, Steensma says, is about half of the total congregation members worship once a month, but not every week.
“There’s just a new normal,” he says. “Regular church attendance is no longer every week.”
That reflects one of the biggest changes – societal, not just unique to Timothy Lutheran – in the past half century, Steensma says. While the reason for attending church has always been about worship, he says, nowadays, it’s less about social interaction compared to years past.
“Fifty years ago, church was a gathering place for people to come and visit and to see one another,” Steensma says. “And now, with email and Facebook and everything else, we’ve got so much instant information that coming to church is less about catching up and seeing brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Despite the changes, Timothy includes generations of family members, such as Verna Lohman and her daughters; Diane Mayfield’s children; and now Mayfield’s 5-year-old granddaughter, Emma.
But there also are newer members like Stephen Davis, who officially joined last summer with his wife and son. Davis says they were happy attending their previous Methodist church, but his son had attended Timothy Lutheran School as an eighth grader.
“It was such an awesome experience for him and our family, so we just started attending there,” Davis says. “We just kind of gravitated there and started attending, and the next thing you knew, we were joining.”
What is it about Timothy Lutheran Church that makes its membership so strong, that makes it a prominent part of Blue Springs and greater Eastern Jackson County?
“There are so many things – how do I prioritize?” Davis says.
The people are first, he says, followed by its longevity in town – and the steakburger booth.
Oh, those famous Timmy Burgers.
They’re often the first exposure that non-Timothy Lutheran members have to the congregation. Attendees of the Blue Springs Fall Fun Festival are known to wait in line at 11th and Main streets – sometimes, for an hour or longer – for one of the well-known steakburgers.
The tradition started in 1981 with a 10-foot-by-10-foot booth at the Fall Fun Fest. There were 500 pounds of meat, and some congregation members worried they’d have leftovers. The goal? To fund a renovated kitchen in either the fellowship hall or a new building.
The vision was accomplished by 1994, with the Timmy Burger sales paying for nearly $151,000 in expenses. By 1995, the booth had reached 50-foot-by-10-foot, 4,000 pounds of meat and 300 volunteers giving a weekend of their time.
The burgers are now a staple of Fall Fun Festival, Steensma says, but the church isn’t just about a once-a-year food specialty.
“I think it’s our most visible exposure because so many people do experience that – people know Timothy for Timmy Burgers,” Steensma says. “What they don’t know is that there’s so much more to Timothy, but it’s just not as big and visible to the public.”
From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today, the burgers will be available at Timothy Lutheran’s south campus on Wyatt Road, “which,” Steensma says, “is a miracle in and of itself because we don’t do Timmy Burgers other than at Fall Fun Fest.”
As Blue Springs’ population grew in the 1970s and 1980s, so did the membership at Timothy Lutheran.
“Timothy has always been a very people-oriented, touching-lives-for-Christ-oriented church, even from the early days,” Mayfield says. “People were just very concerned and eager to gather to worship and to spread the word of Jesus Christ. That fellowship and closeness in the spirit has kept Timothy very alive and well for 50 years.”
Pastor Francis Lieb, now an associate pastor, served as senior pastor from 1987 until mid-2011 before retiring from full-time ministry. Timothy Lutheran doesn’t exist just as a church or a building, Lieb says.
“We exist to be a family of believers,” he says. “I’ve seen families that have been drawn together in a powerful way through the ministry to their children. I’ve seen it in men’s and women’s small group ministries. From Sunday to Sunday, we’ve reached so many as they’ve come to know the Lord in a better and a closer way.”
Associate Pastor Ted Schubkegel came to Timothy Lutheran 24 years ago to help with outreach efforts, looking for the next step to connect with the community. He, along with Steensma, Lieb and Associate Pastor Rod Lindemann, round out the current pastoral staff.
Timothy Lutheran, which is a Missouri Synod church, is “not steeped in tradition,” Schubkegel says, “but yet it respects the Lutheran church.”
For example, rather than use the traditional responses in the singing hymnals, Timothy Lutheran wrote its own responses, “writing those with language for the person who was just coming off the street and wasn’t familiar with our church,” Schubkegel says.
“The church has to be making that bridge for them,” he says. “If we don’t connect with the community, then we’ll fall out in that effort.”
The 50th anniversary celebration’s theme is from John 15:8 – “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
That verse, Steensma says, speaks to his goals for Timothy Lutheran.
But more importantly, Steensma says he wants more people in Eastern Jackson County to know Christ. The senior pastor’s byline, a sentiment he includes in every sermon, is “sharing and showing the love of Christ.”
That’s what is really all about, Steensma adds.
“The church – in general – has always been viewed as a museum,” he says. “It’s not about a building. The church is the people, and it’s not just the hour on Sunday. It’s the Monday through Friday, when you’re at work – how are you showing love to others? You may not be sitting and telling me about Jesus, but you’re sitting and treating me as a fellow human being.”
As time passed and social and technological practices changed, so did Timothy.
The church now celebrates five services each weekend, offering traditional and contemporary worship services on both campuses. Timothy Lutheran also has an active website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
Steensma said he thinks the next 50 years for Timothy Lutheran include possible multiple sites across Eastern Jackson County. Mayfield also says satellite locations have been considered as expanding outside of the two current campuses.
“I would not be surprised if a sanctuary was built on our south side. That has also been on the drawing table, as far as the possibility of selling the R.D. Mize site and building a sanctuary down south,” Mayfield says. “That may be in Timothy’s future, but a lot of that depends on not only God’s timing but also what happens socioeconomically and demographically in this area.”
The next half century also will likely include the addition of live webstreaming worship services. Now, services are recorded and are mailed on CDs. The sermons also are recorded and are posted on the church’s website, www.timothylutheran.com.
As technology evolves, though, what needs to stay the same?
“The message,” Steensma says. “The message never changes, whether it’s on a cassette tape or through webstream. Christ is our savior, and He loves us and gives us the gift of life.”