Thirty-five Macon Lutherans gathered to establish The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Missouri Synod in December 1951.
Conducting initial services at the downtown Lanier Hotel, the small congregation soon leased storefront property on Cotton Avenue to serve as a chapel. By 1957, having already become part of their denomination’s English District Convention, the congregation dedicated a facility on property of its own at 2500 Riverside Drive.
But according to records from the church’s 50th anniversary, the beautifully wooded property on Riverside proved too valuable when Interstate 75 was built parallel to it.
According to the church record, “Thus, much to the great sorrow of the congregation, the English District sold the entire nine acres, including the church which had to be demolished ...”
By the late 1960s, the pine knoll the church had sat upon was leveled to make way for shopping.
One congregant wrote, “Once you could approach The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity through a grove of great pines, stand in awe at the beauty if this contemporary house of God, reverently enter the sanctuary, and look out upon God’s unspoiled creation through unstained windows. Never again! The bulldozers have done their work well!”
For a season, the congregation returned to meeting in rented hotel space, but not for too long. With the English District giving the church a portion of funds from the sale of the Riverside property, new wooded acreage at 1899 Tucker Road was bought in 1970. By 1972 construction of a new facility with a 100-seat sanctuary was complete.
The church’s elaborate pipe organ also made the move from Riverside Drive to Tucker Road. The organ’s complicated structure was partially installed on Riverside in 1957, with final installation completed in 1965.
The same year the church bought the Tucker Road property it also moved from being part of the denomination’s English District to its Florida-Georgia District.
According to Laird Van Gorder, who has served as vicar at the church since 2014, members decided in the late 1990s to use the largest portion of their 17-acre Tucker Road property as a summer day camp for children.
After building play structures, a large camp pavilion and other amenities, the first camp was held in 1997.
A website for the camp is at www.trinitywoods.org. Additional camp and church information is on the church’s Facebook page.
“For about 20 years, Trinity Woods has been the main outreach of the church,” Van Gorder said. “There’s a lot of awareness about the camp and it’s well known in the community, but there’s not a lot of awareness of the church. There’s a waiting list to attend Trinity Woods each year, and with the facilities we have we’re limited to 160 kids.”
Van Gorder said registration for this summer’s camp began March 1. He said though the church’s members are mostly elderly, the church supports and operates the camp through a professional staff and volunteer camp counselors, many of whom once attended the camp themselves.
“Kids get to enjoy the outdoors and do all kinds of things,” Van Gorder said. “There’s archery, kickball and all sorts of sports and games with a lot of team-building activities. There’s play equipment and we bring in a water slide. We supply snacks but don’t have food prep here. Kids bring lunch. Each day we have devotions and the kids just have a great time.”
As vicar at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity, Van Gorder hasn’t taken the routine path to ministry but one that draws him deeper and deeper into service. He is retired from careers in the military and civil service.
“My last assignment was at Robins Air Force Base where I served at the Air Force Reserve Command,” Van Gorder said. “I had transferred here from Texas. I joined the Air Force during the Vietnam era and served active duty military and worked civil service. I came to Middle Georgia in 2002 with my retirement papers already in.”
Van Gorder said he and his family became members of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Warner Robins immediately upon moving to the area. Mount Calvary was begun in 1980 by a group of Houston County residents who attended The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in Macon but wanted a church closer to home.
“I jumped right into being active at Mount Calvary when we came, and when I retired I just jumped in deeper,” he said. “It was then I began getting more and more interested in theology and the ministry.”
Van Gorder said he became involved in the church’s lay deacon program, which allowed him greater latitude to assist pastors and serve the congregation. By special permission, he was allowed to begin serving at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity not only as its preacher but as someone who could administer sacraments. With changes being made to the lay deacon program and new programs established to help second-career and other individuals fill what Van Gorder said were more than 400 pastoral and ministry roles not being filled by young seminarians, he decided to go even deeper still in his education and service to attain his current designation as vicar.
After completing four years of “part-time school” and mentoring by an ordained Lutheran pastor—who in Van Gorder’s case is his former Mount Calvary pastor, the Rev. David Brighton—Van Gorder will reach the next level of denominational recognition.
If he desires to become a fully rostered, ordained minister who can take assignments on his own at Missouri Synod churches, he will have to complete an additional two years of seminary to get a Masters of Divinity degree.
Though it’s not the traditional or routine path many take into ministry, Van Gorder said he’s certain it’s the one God picked for him.
“Right now I’m serving the church and taking online classes with occasional campus visits,” he said. “That along with meeting regularly with my mentor. I’m doing all this as a retiree, but some are doing similar work while still working full-time jobs. I know what that’s like because I went to school with a family and a job in my younger days. The Lord put me on this journey and has been leading me all along the way. God talks to me and he walks with me daily. I’m here as his servant.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.
The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity
Address: 1899 Tucker Road, Macon
Leadership: Laird Van Gorder, vicar
Worship: 9:45 p.m. Sunday Bible study, 11 a.m. worship