The blood of Christ, shed for you." For members of Peace Lutheran Church, Washington, Mo., these familiar words took on new power during a special service last year. After years of hard work, they celebrated their first communion with wine made from grapes grown on church property.
"As the wine trickled warmly down my throat, I became more aware of Jesus being alive in me, in all of us, more than I'd ever felt it before," says Margaret Dye, church treasurer.
That Sunday was also a time to remember Berk Berges, the member who started the grapevine project. Parishioner Judy Cook says Berges, who died of cancer, was a "big, teddy-bearish fellow" who "lived the presence of Jesus every day."
Member Tom Sepplin recalls Berges' logic in starting the project: "We have lots of strong backs, we have the perfect soil, the perfect climate, the perfect slope to catch sunlight and a professional winemaker, Mark Bachmann, right in our midst. God must be telling us to grow grapes and make our own wine."
Under Bachmann's supervision, 13-year-old Patrick Stewart adopted the planting as an Eagle Scout project. Church members, scouting buddies, community businesses and Aid Association for Lutherans provided muscle, materials and money.
"After all the blessings God and my church heaped on me, I felt this small vineyard offered me an opportunity to give something back," Stewart says. "And it fulfilled the vision of my friend Berk."
After four fruitless seasons of watching, waiting and tending, the congregation flocked in 1998 to mature vines, grasped clusters of grapes and laid them in baskets. Bachmann processed them and brought the wine for communion the following Easter.
The experience has helped members reflect on matters of faith. "Like those vines each of us is planted in the soil of the church," says member John Harman. "As the grapevines are productive for the Lord, our church family is called to be productive for the Lord too."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers