40 Years: What Has NOT Changed?

By Randy Brandt
Pastor, Connect

I’ve been a member of SOTV for 28 years of our 40 year history. During those years, I joined others and hung on for the wild ride of changes for our growing, vibrant congregation!

If you walk our church hallways, you can view posters on the walls that capture the history of Shepherd of the Valley and see the multitude of changes, hallmark events, and building additions. You can also find these posters online at sotv.org/walk-down-memory-lane.

But as I look back, I also identify elements in our congregational history that have NOT shifted. There are stable, core characteristics that have been essential for who we’ve been for decades, and will be critical as we live into the future. It’s as if our core DNA has remained unchanged, even as we have grown through the years, gifting our community with an enduring, stable identity and mission.

Here is what I notice:

From our inception, SOTV has been at its core a community of caring relationships.

This is a place where all are welcome without judgment, where we want names to be known, caring prayers and supportive friendships support one another, a faith community where we want visitors and guests to feel like they belong, and before COVID, a place where people share warm conversations over coffee, donuts, potlucks, and lunches. 

Our founding pastor, Paul Harrington, for decades modeled the skill of nurturing caring relationships that make a really big church feel small. Caring relationships are found all around SOTV. Our confirmation program features small groups, allowing each student to experience God’s love in caring relationships. Congregational care ministry nurtures these relationships with prayer shawls, communion, visits, phone calls, and cards. These are tangible signs of compassion and support that makes SOTV feel like home.

I also see the continuity of how SOTV is a spirited Lutheran faith community with a commitment to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ!

Back in the mid 90’s, I was an elementary school teacher who had been a Lutheran pastor. Engaging, Christ-centered sermons were a priority for the church my family would join. What we found at SOTV was God’s love and grace in Jesus truly is the foundation for our proclamation, devotions, Bible studies, and worship. 

A church that fully embraces the message of God’s grace practices acceptance, forgiveness, humility, compassion, and gratitude. Secure in faith, the community is open to learning from others. There is confidence in God’s dependable presence and guidance for all that is yet to come.

And finally, I am so proud to be part of a congregation that has always actively cared for both “neighbor and stranger” in our community and throughout the world.

SOTV has contributed to relief efforts after natural disasters, both near and far. We’ve sent out many on dozens of mission trips, provided volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, collected thousands upon thousands of school backpack, winter clothing, and Christmas present donations for families in need. God cares for the community in which we live. We’ve reflected that care by establishing a food shelf ministry. Following the example of Jesus, we immerse ourselves into contemporary world issues of justice, discrimination, and equity out of our compassionate concern for the marginalized.

I am only skimming the surface. Our congregation also has an incredible history of music ministry, gifted staff, and strong lay leadership. And our partnership with the Iringa Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania is 20 years strong! I am grateful for such a rich history of outreach, serving, and care. May we continue to make straight a path for the Lord to work in the decades to come.