History of Abiding Grace
Information meetings for people interested in starting a WELS congregation in the Atlanta area were first held in early 1970. In June of that year the first service was held in the home of Frank and Verna Ratter in Mableton, GA. During those first months, when twelve people was an excellent attendance, we met in homes and had tape-recorded services. Vicar Carl Henkel held our first "live" service in August of 1970. Vicar Henkel also found a temporary worship facility for us while canvassing the Atlanta area. Until our first church building was constructed, the Clayton County Civic Center was our church. During the first five months in the Civic Center, we continued with taped services except for once-a-month when Pastor Karl Peterson from Birmingham, AL, would conduct our worship service.
In January of 1971, we installed our first shepherd, Pastor John P. Meyer. Land was purchased in Decatur, GA in 1972 — three acres for $9,000. A parsonage was purchased in May of 1973 for $31,000. Groundbreaking for the church was held on March 3,1974, and the $163,419 worship facility was ready for dedication on September 1, 1974.
In January of 1976, Pastor Meyer accepted a call to Holiday, FL. After a six-month vacancy, we were assigned a 1976 seminary graduate, Wayne L. Fischer. Pastor Fischer accepted a call to Wisconsin Lutheran High School in July of 1984, and nine months later we welcomed the arrival of Pastor Mark A. Haefner. Pastor Haefner served us until June of 2002 when he accepted a call to a dual parish in Seward and Waco, NE.
In 1977, plans began for our Lutheran Elementary School and in September of 1980, Sola Scriptura Lutheran School opened its doors, utilizing classroom space in the downstairs basement of our church. Our first principal/teacher was David O. Ewerdt. Enrollment that first year was eleven students in grades K-8. In July of 1983, Daniel D. Schultz was assigned to be our principal/teacher. Later, as the school grew to two and later three classrooms, we were served by Kim (Krause) Mittelsteadt, Monica Schultz, Amy Schultz, Patti (Ebel) Appold and Jane Haefner. The Schultz's accepted a call to Livonia, MI in 1994. In July of 1994, we welcomed principal/teacher Scott Gostchock and his wife Shannon. Scott Gostchock served us until 1998 when he accepted a call to Pilgrim Lutheran School in Minneapolis, MN. In 1998, we were assigned principal/teacher Jon Engelbrecht and his wife Trisha. They served us until 2001 when Jon accepted a call to Stoddard, WI. After 22 years of teaching God's Word, Sola Scriptura Lutheran School concluded its operation at the completion of the 2001-2002 school year.
In our 40 years so far, God has blessed us with four daughter congregations. Sola Fide in Lawrenceville (1976), Sola Gratia in Perry (1977-1987), Beautiful Savior in Marietta (1983), and Faith in Sharpsburg (1994) all began with a nucleus from Sola Scriptura.
The original mission of Sola Scriptura was to spin off congregations around Atlanta and unless it became a community church, close. God in His grace and mercy used Sola Scriptura to fulfill His good and perfect will as that mission was accomplished. On March 2, 2003, the doors of the worship facility in Decatur GA were closed as we relocated to Covington GA and changed our corporate name to Abiding Grace. By relocating to Covington, we completed the ring of WELS churches located around the circumference of Atlanta. The property in Decatur was finally sold in late 2003 which officially closed the books on that part of our history.
On March 9, 2003, the first service was held as Abiding Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Covington, Georgia. We began worshipping in a temporary location at Salem United Methodist Church on Salem Road in Covington. On May 18, 2003 the voters officially approved the name change and all the paperwork was filed with WELS and the State of Georgia to change the name of the corporation. It is important to note that we changed in name only. Technically we did not disband the congregation of Sola Scriptura and start a new congregation in Covington. All of our id numbers with WELS, the State of Georgia, and the federal government all remained the same. This change was finally called, for simplicity, a "restart".
In May of 2003, we received our first pastor as Abiding Grace. Pastor Jonathan E. Scharf (and family) arrived in July and he was officially installed as our shepherd on July 20, 2003. Our many thanks went out to our vacancy pastor, Jonathan Schroeder from Faith in Newnan, as he handed the care of the Abiding Grace flock to Pastor Scharf. Worship services continued at Salem UMC as we canvassed and spread our name around the community. Membership began to grow steadily as a result.
In April 2004 we applied for and were granted "mission" status with WELS which qualified us for financial support from the synod in the form of grants to carry out ministry work and it also made low-interest loans available to use through the Church Extension Fund (CEF).
In June of 2004 we relocated our temporary worship location to Veteran's Memorial Middle School on Brown Bridge Road in Covington. This gave us more space and allowed us to worship at a more traditional time on Sundays. Membership continued to grow despite being in a temporary facility as plans to purchase land in Covington were made. In March 2006, the decision was made to purchase a 30.72-acre tract of land on Hwy 212 (with a house on it) for $440,000. Shortly after closing on the purchase, we began to use the house as our Ministry Center.
In June of 2007 we once again relocated our temporary worship location to Total Childcare Experience on Lover's Lane in Covington. The owner of the facility graciously gave us broad access to the facility on weekends to host events as well as for regular and special worship services. During this time, plans were coming along nicely for our own permanent worship facility. In June of 2008, the sale of 20 acres of the property to a developer was approved to raise funds for the construction effort. We retained a total of 9 acres for the site of the new facility. In October of 2008 we held a Ground Breaking ceremony to commemorate the final push to construction. Little did we know at the time that it would take over a year to complete the architect plans, secure the final funding, and gain approvals and permits from Newton County.
In November of 2009, we were notified by the owner of Total Childcare Experience that he was being foreclosed on and would be losing access to the property. We were once again faced with relocating our worship location even as we approached the day of construction on our own facility. We moved our worship services to a nearby school, West Newton Elementary, and began services there on January 3, 2010.
In February of 2010, with all the required permits in hand, we finally began construction of the new facility in Covington. This will be our first permanent facility in Covington and as Abiding Grace although technically this is the second permanent structure for the corporation now known as Abiding Grace. However you look at it, we were very excited about it as it began to spring out of the ground. Construction was completed in Spetember and all permits granted in October. We officially moved in for our first service on October 24, 2010.
Pastors and Vicars Roster
- Rev. Karl Peterson (1970) - first "contact" Pastor for Atlanta. Pastor's church was in Birmingham, AL.
- Vicar Karl Henkel - Summer Vicar (1970)
- Rev. John P. Meyer (1971 - 1976) - first pastor called by Sola Scriptura
- Rev. Wayne Fischer (1976 - 1984)
- Rev. Mark A. Haefner (1985 - 2002)
- Rev. Jonathan E. Scharf (2003 - present) - first pastor called by Abiding Grace.
- Vicar Aaron West (Aug 2008 - Jul 2009)
- Vicar Lincoln Albrecht (Aug 2009 - Jul 2010)
- Vicar Nikolas Haasch (Aug 2010 - Jul 2011)
- Vicar Daniel Johnston (Aug 2011 - Jul 2012)
- Vicar Neil Birkholz (Aug 2012 - Jul 2013)
School Principals Roster
- David Ewerdt (1980-1982)
- Daniel D. Schultz (1983-1994)
- Scott Gostchock (1994-1998)
- Jon Engelbrecht (1998 - 2001)
School Teachers Roster
- Kim Mittelsteadt (????)
- Monica Shultz (???? - 1994)
- Amy Shultz (????)
- Patti Appold (???? - 2002)
- Jane Haefner (???? - 2002)