Our Church History

History of New Life Lutheran Church

Lutheran Logo sealNew Life Lutheran Church is currently located at 8010 Fruitville Road Sarasota, FL 34240. However, you may find it interesting to read how we came into existence and how we have grown since the early 2000s.

Below, please find a history of our church, prepared by Laura Lee Hoffmeister, for your reading pleasure.
Also, at the very bottom is a brief note on our Anniversary

Martin Luther

Background and History

When asked to write a short history of our church, I really wasn’t sure I could do it justice. But I felt I had to begin with another church, Holy Cross, from which the nucleus of our group came.

Holy Cross was a thriving, growing congregation with upwards of 700 members plus visitors. We had just run a huge building program and purchased several pieces of property behind us on Gladstone Street with plans to grow our facility and a possible gymnasium in the future. When a disagreement arose between the pastor and the better part of the congregation, we were eventually asked to leave. In 2001, I along with many others received a registered letter telling us we were no longer welcome there, we who had served on the council in past years, taught Sunday school, led youth groups, sung in the various choirs, supported the church in so many ways, were no longer counted.

To say we felt like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness is an understatement, worshiping in school yards, mobile home recreation halls and the Farm Bureau before finally landing in the Knights of Columbus (K of C) hall on Fruitville Road. Pastor Carl Thrun was a tremendous help to our group and aided in keeping us on track. A Steering Committee of some of the most dedicated men and women worked tirelessly to make sure we were headed in the right direction. Pastor Darwin Polesky, a retired northerner, was willing to step in and help Pastor Carl by preaching on some Sundays.

To say we felt like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness is an understatement, worshiping in school yards, mobile home recreation halls and the Farm Bureau before landing in the Knights of Columbus (K of C) hall on Fruitville Road.

A hanging Disco Ball

Announcement of 500 years since Reformation Sunday school was held in the bar! If you ever wondered why New Life has a hanging Disco Ball, it's one way to remind us of our beginnings in K of C. And that’s how it was before the Synod brought us a mission development minister by the name of Bill Stehr. We continued meeting at the K of C and became the Community of Hope and spent many happy months worshiping there. In 2005, a group of us along with Pastor Bill even managed to go on another mission trip to Nicaragua and spent hours filling freezer bags for that trip. Many different volunteers also helped me count Sunday's offering on Monday morning at one of the volunteer's home, I would take the cash deposit to the bank and then the rest to the Farm Bureau office, where Pastor Bill had rented a tiny office space for our newly hired secretary, Cindy Sloan to carry on the church’s business until a trailer was put in place on our property.

We started taking the steps to have our own church once again. Because of all the development in the eastern part of the county, the Synod wanted us to find something east of I-75. Several pieces of property were looked at until eventually, we found our spot on Fruitville Road. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because soon after, the county informed us they wanted to make a Jug Handle at the intersection of Fruitville and Sarasota Center Boulevard and made us a deal to purchase the front part of our property. It was the beginning of several instances that helped us get closer to building our church and was just one of the many “Godwinks” that we witnessed. We also had a connection with Mary House, a home in Bradenton for Women's Recovery from addictions. Pastor Carl was their spiritual leader. Because of her daughter's struggles, Mary Lou Mickey started this very needed ministry and came to our church. Our men even volunteered there when work was needed on that property. When the time came for the property to be sold, we were involved in that too and Mary Lou generously donated the proceeds of that sale to New Life. Such a blessing!

A dedicated group of men and women started working on our new property (and still come to work every Friday morning). As time went by, we held many Saturday flea markets there, even renting out space to other vendors, we cooked hot dogs and sold lunches and worked really hard to further our efforts to get a building. At Christmas time, one of our favorite couples, the Downings, dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus and would stand at our entrance road to bring customers in, and Pastor Stehr would hand out information about our church to each car that came in. It truly was a joint effort!

We were doubly blessed with Pastor Stehr because along with him came his wife, Lola, who worked for a contractor and when the time came for actually starting our building, she was exactly what we needed to make sure everything was done the right way with the right people. It was not an easy road for sure as there were many obstacles to overcome, but God was in control and doors were opened and blessing upon blessing reminded us that this was God’s house for sure.

Rollie Vaughn, Dick and Gloria Lowe and many others went to work to create our beautiful cross. Rollie crafted the altar and the pulpit, a genius to be sure. Ron Coppinger was also a great bonus to meeting county requirements. While we were doing our best to get off mission status, we were still short of being self-supporting. In 2011, we reached out to the Mission Partner Program of the Lutheran Church to get some help and they responded with almost $38,000. Through all of this, the steering committee agreed and voted to tithe any gift money our church received in obedience to God.

In 2013, we held a special meeting to organize with a regular council needing to be elected, agreeing unanimously to extend a call to Pastor Stehr, and also explored the possibility of obtaining the beautiful wood wall carvings, Franz Foster had made which were still in Holy Cross. We were told their price was $5,000 but through the providence of God and the benevolence of two of our members, they became ours, only because Andy Anthony went there and offered $2,000 for them which they accepted as they did not recognize him as a member of our group.

Early on, Pastor Marilyn came as a pastor in training for 4 months and was a tremendous blessing in so many ways, afterward filling the pulpit when Pastor Stehr would be away, along with Connie Struzik, our saxophone playing, preaching pastor. And we wouldn’t be the great creative church we are without the blessing of Cheryl Best, pianist, organist, choir director, actress, imaginative soul, I mean Best!

The passing years saw many changes. Because of possible confusion with Hope Church who had many directional signs along Fruitville Road. We decided to change our name and New Life came into being. There were other changes, some trials, some celebrations, we were privileged to witness the baptism of Aunt Helen, the 100-year-old aunt of one of our seasonal members which brought tears to the eyes. Several musicians came and went and one left with some of our equipment! We are so blessed now with our glorious trumpeters Jim and Chris Earp, who also makes some mean pancakes for our pancake breakfasts!

We held a duck derby along the river our men made on our property, to raise money to ditch the ditch. In 2018, we burned our mortgage, no small feat for our little group but when God is in it, there are wonders to behold. We then took on a mortgage to fill in the ditch surrounding us. We did many outreaches to our community, vacation Bible schools, Habitat for Humanity, letters sent each week to neighbors, Pastor giving talks at Sun N Fun, collecting needed school supplies, socks and underwear for foster children, our rag doll ministry, our prayer shawl ministry which included various other needed items, going out into the neighborhood to witness, creating and selling a church cook book and just too many others to mention here.

We had a wonderful celebration for Pastor Stehr’s 40th ordination anniversary and were saddened when sometime later he announced his retirement. We had come a long way together! Then in January of 2022, we were privileged to witness the installation of Pastor Jeff Gross who is another one of God’s gifts to us. We are so excited for many more blessings for New Life!

New Life’s Logo

New Life Lutheran Church LogoIn the early days of our mission, Pastor Stehr asked Franz Foster, a member and artist, about developing a logo that would point to hope, life and victory. After a few tries, our logo was born – a fallen rose showing the victory we have in Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection and a Periwinkle flower growing in an unlikely place where there were only rocks, announcing great hope and New Life.

Franz’s wife, June, lost her 26-year-old brother to Leukemia when there was little treatment for the disease. June learned years later that research was being done on Periwinkle to develop treatments for cancer including leukemia. Chemotherapy developed from Periwinkle became known as Vincristine. This drug has been a successful treatment for many, including the Pastor Stehr’s son. One day, years after learning about the Periwinkle research, the Fosters noticed a flower growing through a crack in their driveway; it was a Periwinkle.

Anniversary Celebration

Our ten-year anniversary was on March 3, 2023. We had a lovely celebration of cake and ice cream on Sunday, March 5th. The history of the beginnings and past ten years of New Life Lutheran was shared. Our Anniversary Prayer is:

Dear Father, As we look back on these ten years, we are so very grateful You brought us through the wilderness into our beautiful church. Thank you for touching each person who worships here, bestowing on them answers to their needs, encouraging them with your mercy and filling them with hope in the future. Inspire us now to continue to be obedient, grateful, generous and humble.

We can’t thank you enough for all who have graced this place at any time, for those who are now with You in heaven, for those who have gone to other places, and those who are no longer able to meet with us. They are our family, we love them and pray for them and each of us to continue to grow in faith, walking ever closer and drinking ever deeply of your well.

As your eyes search back and forth across the whole earth, may we be a people whose hearts are perfect toward You, thankful for your great power in helping us. Thank you for bringing needs to our attention and hearts to respond to those needs. Thank you for all grace to abound in us so that in all things, at all times, having all we need, we will abound in every good work. In Jesus name, Amen.