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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 13, 2002

'All are welcome' at Joy of Christ

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Faith Editor

Pastor Ruth Peterson, shown here holding a service Wednesday, says of Pearl City's Joy of Christ Lutheran Church: "It's a friendly church. Everybody says it ... but we really do mean it."

Jeff Widener The Honolulu Advertiser

Name of church: Joy of Christ Lutheran Church.

Our denomination: Lutheran (officially called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

Where we are: 784 Kamehameha Highway, Pearl City.

Our numbers: Average attendance is 75, but 200 are counted as members.

Our pastor: The Rev. Ruth M. Peterson.

What we believe: "Our motto is 'All are welcome,'" said Peterson. "The main core of beliefs is grace, or the unmerited mercy of God displayed in the suffering of Christ for our behalf."

The church's "identity statement" is that "we are celebraters of the joy of Christ, an open community of Christians committed to spiritual growth."

Its mission statement: "To celebrate Jesus Christ as our savior and to reach out to all with this good news. We seek to enrich our relationship with God through worship, learning, witness, service and fellowship. We are caretakers of God's creation. We will affirm each other's spiritual gifts and care for all without reserve, joyfully sharing God's love."Ê

From the outside, many Lutheran doctrines and much of the worship service looks very much like their Catholic, or even Episcopalian, counterparts. The views are similar about the infallibility of the Bible, for example: "We accept the Bible as the true source of Christian love, guidance and direction for our life, not the infallible word of God," Peterson said.

Joy of Christ believes in the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian creeds, the basic tenets of which are: Man was created by God, but is free to disobey, resulting in tragedy in human life; and, Jesus saved humanity through the resurrection. The church also believes in the Trinity.

Unlike Catholics, they ordain women as priests, and clergy are allowed to marry. They do not have a pope.

Lutherans also join Presbyterians in their belief in just two sacraments: baptism and communion. The number of times communion is practiced changed about 50 years ago. Back then it was celebrated quarterly and monthly, now, it's celebrated weekly. "We have recovered and rediscovered the power of the sacrament, returning to our roots in understanding how important it is for our life as Christians," Peterson said.

Lutherans today are moving toward ecumenism, she said, noting that the national body of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has strengthened ties with some Presbyterian and Episcopalian groups. "People who believe in these ecumenical relationships see it as a way for Christians to speak more loudly as one voice," said Peterson.

Our history: Lutherans first arrived on the U.S. East Coast as immigrants to Pennsylvania in 1748.

Hawai'i's first Lutheran church was settled on Kaua'i more than 100 years ago, started by transplanted German workers. The original church was destroyed in Hurricane 'Iniki, but has since been rebuilt.

While the second-oldest is the 101-year-old Lutheran Church of Honolulu, most Lutheran churches were started in the 1950s and 1960s, said Peterson. Joy of Christ was one of those, though when it began in 1961 with its founding pastor, the Rev. Lester W. Hoffman, it was called the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. The name was changed in the mid-1990s.

Because Pearl Harbor, Hickam, Schofield and Fort Shafter military bases all feed into the church, it draws many of its members from the military.

What we're excited about: "In the last several months, there's a real sense of revival and recommitment," Peterson said. For example, the midweek gathering for worship and fellowship, usually held just during Lent, is being continued at the behest of regulars. They meet for a meal and worship, and the turnout averages about 30-40 people.

Outreach is important, added Peterson, who said the church will be taking its annual trip to Kalaupapa, and serves food at the homeless shelter monthly. "We're a small congregation, but our reaching out is tangible," she said.

What's special about us: "It's a friendly church," Peterson said. "Everybody says it, and everybody says they really mean it, but we really do mean it."

Because Joy of Christ serves so many military who are away from family, they're good at welcoming new people and saying goodbye, said Peterson. "All members view it as their responsibility to meet and ... extend a welcome. ... (Yet) we have a core of kama'aina and local families who keep the history and the story going."

Contact: 455-1138 or www.lava.net/~joynews.