Closing church makes $300,000 gift to LTSS

Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University serves to train the next generation of pastors, Christian leaders and servants to the world.

For nearly 200 years, LTSS has produced ministers who've served congregations and communities, and one beneficiary of that work — the former Redeemer Lutheran Church in Pearisburg, Virginia — has gifted $300,000 in a scholarship trust to support the next generation of Lutheran pastors interested in attending the seminary.

"We are grateful for the foresight and generosity of this gift," said the Rev. Mary Hinkle Shore, Ph.D., rector and dean of LTSS. "The scholarship directly supports seminary students. With this gift, members and friends of Redeemer Lutheran Church are making a difference for students today. In turn, through those students and their ministries, Redeemer's service to the gospel will extend far into the future."

Redeemer was founded in 1959, and it welcomed several pastors to its parish who were educated at LTSS. A few of them also attended Lenoir-Rhyne.

LTSS Pastors who Served Redeemer Lutheran Church:

  • The Reverend Charles E. Seastrunk, Jr., 1958 LTSS graduate, was mission developer for Redeemer and first called pastor 1959–1962. Pastor Seastrunk also served as an Air Force Chaplain.
  • The Reverend C. Richard Duncan, a 1964 graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University and 1968 LTSS graduate, served Redeemer from 1968–1970 before becoming a Navy Chaplain, eventually serving as senior chaplain at the U.S. Naval Academy. He and Pastor Seastrunk were acquainted, having met in Norway. He is now retired.
  • The Reverend Martin Saarinen, named honorary LTSS alumni in 2009 taught at LTSS before retiring to Wytheville, Virginia, where he lived while serving as a part-time pastor to Redeemer from 2008–2011. Besides providing weekly services and visitations with members, he made the 100-mile roundtrip mid-week to help mow the church property. He now resides in South Carolina.
  • The Reverend Grady "Buddy" Beaver, a 1979 LR graduate and 1984 LTSS graduate, served Redeemer from 2011–2018 providing support during the closing of the church. As a retired pastor living in Wythe County, he also made a 100-plus-mile roundtrip to Redeemer weekly for services and often for special services, home visits and the many activities involved in the closing. He continues to visit with elderly Redeemer members and to provide other pastoral services. It was largely in recognition of his second-career calling that Redeemer made the recommended parameters of the scholarship.

Preference for the scholarship is given, but not restricted to, those embarking on a second career, hoping to serve in rural areas and who are from and wish to serve in Virginia.

End of an era

In Giles County, Virginia, Lutheran parishioners have found faith and family in the church dating back to the 1750s.

Declining membership took its toll, however, and Redeemer closed in 2018. It became the last of 10 Lutheran churches in the county to shutter its doors, putting an end to ministry dating back more than 250 years.

"The most challenging thing we had to do was to persuade several members that we could do more good by closing and sharing our blessings than we could to just die a longer agonizing death and leave nothing behind," said Marilyn Albert, who presided over the council that closed Redeemer.

Established in 1960, Redeemer Lutheran Church met for its first services in the Pearis Theater building, while the church building was under construction. It held its first service at what became the church on Nov. 4, 1962.

As time went on, children grew up and moved away. Elderly members passed away and average attendance dropped to nine by 2018, prompting the decision to close. On Nov. 18, 2018, Redeemer held its last service with a celebration of the life and mission of the church.

The council offered furnishing and supplies to other area churches. The bell tower and cross from the front of the property were donated to Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Christiansburg, Virginia. A baptismal font, Paschal candle, lectern and altar linens were used to establish a small chapel at a retirement home in Staunton, Virginia. The church organ was donated to Asbury Methodist Church in Rural Retreat, Virginia, and items of historical value were donated to the Giles County Historical Society Museum at the Andrew Johnston House, which now features an exhibit including Redeemer's wooden altar cross, a stained-glass panel from the original front doors, a baptismal font and the charter roll of the original members.

What wasn't donated was sold, including the property — which will become a pharmacy according to Albert — totaling $300,000 that was put toward the Redeemer Legacy Endowment Scholarship to fund tuition for students interested in attending LTSS as recognition of the outstanding and dedicated pastors who served Redeemer over the years.

Lenoir-Rhyne University is grieving the loss of one of our student-athletes. Omari Alexander, a 19-year-old sophomore from Concord, North Carolina and member of the LR football team, was killed overnight on November 20 in an off-campus incident in Hickory.

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Lenoir-Rhyne University will receive $4.3 million as part of the North Carolina state budget that was signed into law on November 18.

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