National Lutheran News

Lutherans believe in grace, and they’re broadcasting it

On radio and television, Martin Luther’s key afirmation is finding a voice

Grace — the doctrine affirming that God’s love for sinful, fallen human beings is a pure gift, received unconditionally and without merit. The appropriate Christian response is a life of thankful service.

* * *

* “Grace Matters” (radio): Sundays at 6:30 a.m. on KSTP (1500 AM) and at 10:30 p.m. on WFMP (107.1 FM).

* “Time of Grace” (television): KMSP/Fox 9 Sundays at 6:30 a.m.

* * *

Two Lutheran media ministries reaching the Twin Cities have one thing in common: Grace is in their name — and central to their message. They are an independent Milwaukee-based TV series called “Time of Grace,” and an ELCA-sponsored radio program, “Grace Matters.” The radio broadcasts grew out of the nearly 60-year-old “Luther-an Vespers” broadcasts first sponsored by the Norwegian Lutheran Church (ELC).

The Rev. Peter Marty, who became speaker for the 30-minute radio broadcasts in 2005, said, “I believe that the Lutheran church must use every available means of communication to get out the good word of what it’s up to and what God is up to through its people.”

The Rev. Mark Jeske, said of his TV ministry, “This was never a particular dream or vision that I had, nor did it come from my congregation. The spark came from Bruce Eberle, who runs a very successful direct marketing company in Vienna, Vir-ginia. He is an energetic layman, passionate about evangelism and outreach, who served with me on the Board of Regents at Wisconsin Lutheran College here in Milwaukee. In mid-2000, Bruce recruited a team of eight other businessmen and me to investigate launching a television ministry to bring the Lutheran message to the people of America.

“It was his conviction that the Lutheran church had quite a few significant radio ministries, including the legendary ‘Lutheran Hour,’ but that nobody was speaking for us on television.”

For both Pastors Jeske and Marty, their media outreach ministries are part of the busy life of a parish pastor. Marty is senior pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport, Iowa, a 3,000 member congregation that he says is “constantly pushing into new territory and striving to be a faithful congregation.”

Pastor Jeske’s congregation, St. Marcus, is located in the Brewers Hill neighborhood of Milwaukee. The neighborhood’s low point came in the early 1980s when the Schlitz brewery world headquarters closed and 75 acres became a ghost town overnight. Pastor Jeske says, “The neighborhood is slowly coming back, and the congregation and parish school are growing again. St. Marcus was the first Lutheran parish school to try out the school voucher program that the state of Wisconsin provides for low-income families.” The school currently enrolls about 275 children, community outreach programs bring 150-200 kids a week and the congregation itself numbers about 825.

Pastor Jeske observed, “We have heard touching stories of people in prison who were given hope, of people who had become shut-ins who were able to enjoy faith-building Bible studies before they died, of fallen-away Christians who were inspired to give God another chance in their lives. One of my fears was that people would watch the [TV program] once or twice as a novelty, but that their interest would soon flag. To my surprise and delight, a significant number of people have made us a regular part of their Sunday morning routine.

“We have also been growing in our use of the Internet. We can now provide both streaming audio and video, with an archive of messages, as well as online devotions and Bible studies that people can download or print out.”

Grace Matters is carried by about 180 radio stations nationwide as well as a number of foreign countries. Pastor Marty explained, “Increas-ingly, people listen to it on the Web or podcast the program for their listening pleasure at more convenient times.”

The annual budget for Grace Matters is over $500,000, with program operations supported entirely by listener contributions. Marty said without do-nors, the ministry would shrink. He ad-ded, “I find that among the tallest orders is getting Web listeners to realize the whole process of getting the program ready for the Web is very expensive. It doesn’t appear on a computer monitor free, simply pulled from a hat.”

Asked about the mission of Grace Matters, Marty said, “One of our chief aims is to reach people who do not know the Lord, who do not know Christian community and who have no idea of what it means to invest their lives in the Word of God. I’m after their heart. And I pursue it with language, interview and stories that do not fossilize the faith but rather make the faith vivid and real. I’m a deep believer that one does not need to use ecclesiastical [churchly] language or holy-sounding speech to communicate the splendor of a Holy God. ‘Grace Matters’ is a program devoted to walking people into the beauty of the Christian life.”

“Grace Matters”’ predecessor, “Lutheran Vespers” began in 1947 in Yankton, South Dakota, hosted by the Rev. Harry Gregerson. Over the years its speakers have included the Rev. Conrad Thompson, the Rev. Dr. Richard Jensen, the Rev. Larry Gedde and the Rev. Walter Wangerin, Jr.

In describing his TV program’s growth, Jeske said, “We launched on the Fox station in Milwaukee in November of 2001. Two years later we launched on KSTP in St. Paul. In 2004 we added Green Bay, La Crosse and Madison. Last year we added Wichita, Orlando and the Caribbean island of Grenada. Coming in 2006, God willing, will be Wausau, South Bend, Flint/Saginaw, Kansas City and possibly Phoenix. Our media advisors estimate that we have a weekly audience of over 110,000 in our major markets. We also have eight or nine cable outlets around the country, as well as four radio markets.”

Time of Grace Ministry has an annual budget of about $1.5 million; in addition, the organization is raising funds for market expansion and upgrading of its technical equipment. Sup-port comes from direct mail, solicited gifts from key individuals and grants from Christian foundations.