NEW ULM - Grace Community Church recently expanded its Sunday services to weekly events at the New Ulm Community Center.
Pastor Phil Schenck, a Milaca native and St. Cloud State University graduate, initially created an Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) office in the Marktplatz Mall in order to establish a new church chapter in town.
EFCA is a protestant, evangelical Christian denomination based in Bloomington that emphasizes inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, and does not require strict doctrinal adherence of members.
Staff photo by Fritz Busch
Milaca native Phil Schenk is the new Grace Community Church pastor. Worship services begin at 9 a.m. Sunday at the New Ulm Community Center, 600 N German.
Specific beliefs based on biblical interpretation can vary somewhat due to the congregational governance system that give autonomy to individual EFCA churches.
Schenck said the EFCA's interest in creating a New Ulm chapter came from requests by local members who said it would be good to establish a New Ulm church since so many members drove to Mankato for services.
Schenck moved to New Ulm in May 2011 and operated out of the mall office to broaden awareness about the area branch.
Aimed at creating an accepting, family-friendly atmosphere, the local church began holding services every two weeks at the New Ulm Community Center, 600 N. German. Since September, weekly services have been held at 9 a.m. on Sundays for the church with about 80 members. Children's church for kindergarten through fourth-graders is held.
Bible study with tea, coffee and sweets have been held at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Schenk home. His wife Carol, who helps with church activities including womens bible study groups, works as a special education paraprofessional at Washington Elementary School.
"It's been fun to become part of the community. Joining Network New Ulm enabled me to learn how vibrant New Ulm is, what a family-friendly community it is and how New Ulm and the area has so many great things to offer," Schenk said. "I'm excited about the future of the church here."
Schenck said people and helping them build a strong relationship with Christ are his biggest passions."
Prior to coming to New Ulm, he was pastor at Evangelical Free churches in Grand Rapids for 13 1/2 years and 11 years at Mille Lacs Lake. In his earlier days, he worked six years in Humboldt and Fort Dodge, Iowa and other places across the country for Midwest Challenge, a Christian-based organization that provides transitional housing for adults who were homeless, released from prison, drug and alcohol treatment centers or were involved with prostitution.
The organization provides safe, supportive, drug and alcohol-free living environments for all residents, preparing them to successfully secure full-time, stable employment.
"I worked with needy people to help them make good life choices," Schenck said.
He said he's enjoyed meeting younger people, families with small children and senior citizens from New Ulm and the surrounding area including Lafayette, Sleepy Eye and Madelia.
The Schencks have three sons, two of which are married and have families in Jordan and Austin. Another son lives in Duluth.
He enjoys hunting, fishing and camping. Phil has been a registered Minnesota State High School League football, basketball, baseball and softball official.
For more information, visit www.gracemn.org or visit the church on facebook.
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org