The History of Peace Lutheran Church
Seeds of faith had been planted by God for some time for a Lutheran congregation that would serve the people of South Fort Myers and Sanibel Island. There were several attempts to plant a Lutheran congregation on Sanibel that served as one root of Peace. In 1977, the Rev. Judson H. Westgate led the development of Shepherd of the Islands Lutheran Church. While 39 people signed the charter on December 4, 1977, there were roadblocks to development and the mission was closed.
The Rev. Paul Sutterer led another opportunity to plant a Lutheran Church on Sanibel, called Lutheran Church of the Isles. 15 people were at the first service on March 29, 1992, held at Congregation Church of Sanibel. Attempts to find a suitable site for a church facility were unsuccessful and the group voted to disband.
Becoming Peace Lutheran
In 1994, Pr. Hafer suggested that the faithful remnant from the Lutheran Church of the Isles gather with a group interested in planting a new ELCA congregation in South Ft. Myers. This combined group chose the name Peace Lutheran Church, sensing the Spirit had led them to a mission filled with Christ's peace. The first service was held at Temple Beth El on February 5, 1995 with 28 people. On November 12, 1995, worship was moved to the Fort Myers Beach Masonic Lodge.
A land fund campaign, Peace Today for Peace Tomorrow, began on March 24, 2001. A 5.2-acre site at McGregor Blvd. and Thornton Rd. was purchased for $270,000 by the Mission Investment Fund in December 2001.
Building Peace Lutheran
In March 2003, a capital funds campaign, Building Peace Together, began. Many people and mission partners gave generously to the new facility. Compass Construction was selected as the contractor for the facility. Construction began in September 2004, having been delayed a month due to Hurricane Charley. The first worship service in the new facility was held on June 19, 2005. The 10,500 square foot facility was blessed with many memorial gifts that equipped the building. Several lots adjoining the church property on Hibiscus Drive were purchased for future development. The facility was designed for future growth, with a fellowship hall and additional classrooms to be added at a later date.
The facility continues to be utilized as a mission outpost to expand the vision of Peace Lutheran Church as a powerful force for God in Southwest Florida. Women's and Men's Small Groups were formed and began meeting regularly. The Parish Nurse program began with gifts from St. Armand's Key Lutheran Church in Sarasota and Lee Health Parish Nurse program, allowing for five hours a week of service. In 2005, a Day Camp, in conjunction with Lutheran Outdoors Ministry of Florida, hosted 40 children at the new facility.
Growing Peace Lutheran
The ministry of Peace Lutheran Church was blessed by the gifted and dedicated leadership of a growing staff. Ethel Baldwin began serving as the Parish Nurse in September 2007. Ric Jaeggi began to serve in September 2008 as the full-time Director of Music and Organist/Choir Director. Connie Schmucker was called in December 2008 to serve as the Director of Christian/Community Outreach. As the congregation grew, so did our faith in God to lead us through the Great Recession and beyond.
In 2013, as the congregation celebrated the 10th anniversary of organization, it started to become very clear that strategic expansion planning was needed. The amount of space for future growth became a genuine concern. We needed renovation and expansion of the 2005 facility for gathering, meeting, administrative, fellowship and parking space. A Building Committee and a Capital Campaign were formed. In March 2015, the Faith, Family, Future Campaign began, and $1 million was committed to the project within 3 weeks. Construction began in October 2016 and increased square footage to 17,403.
On February 4, 2018, the building dedication ceremony was held. Rooms were given a name of a location or story in the Bible, allowing Peace Lutheran Church to be a place where stories of salvation can be realized in everyday discipleship.
Peace Today and Tomorrow
The expansion of the church facility allowed for the growth of ministries, such as the ENRICH Senior Center, which was championed by Peace Lutheran Church but continues to be a resource for the community and bolstered by area churches and mission partners.
On the heels of a successful Holy Land Pilgrimage of 65 people from Peace, St. Columbkille, Messiah Lutheran and Synod staff in February 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic became a new reality. Online worship services began on March 15, 2020 and all meetings and events moved online as well. A task force was created and over time, reduced-capacity in-person services returned with the congregation wearing masks. Now, our services are mask optional and all are welcome.
On September 27, 2020, Pr. Walter retired from his senior pastor position at Peace Lutheran, having served faithfully for 21 years. At that time, the call for the next pastor of Peace Lutheran began. Rev. Gary LaCroix served as the Interim Pastor until Pastor Andreas Stein was called to lead. We have been blessed by God with many wonderful leaders and have complete faith in Pr. Andreas to continue to lead us into the future.