By Catherine Warner
It’s a daunting calling, said the Rev. Paul Yanke, who is being installed Oct. 4 as the new pastor at Living Faith Lutheran Church in Marine City.
It’s unclear if he was talking about his decision more than 22 years ago to commit his life to spreading the Word of God or about the one he made a month ago to accept the call to lead Living Faith, or both.
Whichever it is, Yanke, 61, said he’s up for the task. He certainly has the experience to guide the small congregation, which hasn’t had a full-time shepherd for the past five years.
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He and wife Karen, who is very involved in Lutheran Church ministries, bought a house on Belle River Road and are ready for the challenges ahead.
“My ministry has been about challenges,” Yanke said. “And Karen has shared those with me and taken on her own, ministering to troubled young women and working with the youth in the communities where we’ve lived.”
A native Michigander, Yanke grew up on a sesquicentennial beef, dairy and row crop farm in Amble, where he served as assistant chief for the local fire department. After graduating from Ferris State University with a degree in criminal justice, he became a police officer and detective for the city of Stevensville, near Benton Harbor – a high crime area – and counseled young people in those communities through the police department’s drug awareness program.
“I believe God trains pastors not just through formal education but through life’s experiences as well,” said Yanke, who was known as the “Christian Cop” during his years on the police force.
He entered the Lutheran pastoral formation process in 1998, attending Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and served as pastor and principal of the school at St. John Lutheran Church in Ionia, Mich., for three and a half years. For the past 19 years, Yanke was the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fairhope, Pa., and, starting in 2013, also assisted at St. Peter Paul Lutheran Church in Central City, Pa.
“When I received the call to be pastor at Living Faith, I was torn,” said Yanke. “I enjoyed my time at Trinity and at St. Peter Paul and, of course, the Godly people of those churches. But after a lot of prayer and discernment, I knew I had to answer the Lord’s call to help this church become more vibrant so that together we can bring God’s Word of love, mercy and forgiveness to more of His people.”
Living Faith, which grew out of First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Algonac, started in Marine City in 2006. Initially meeting in each other’s homes, then at Belle River Elementary, the small congregation since 2011 has met in the former Ward Cottrell High School at 310 S. Parker St. (Living Faith in early 2011 bought the property from the East China School District; the 70-year-old building hasn’t been used as a school for nearly two decades.)
While acknowledging the church’s small numbers, the Rev. Gerhardt Doroh, who served for the past five-plus years as vacancy pastor at Living Faith, said, “The people are a people of great faith. The congregation is fully convinced that the Lord has placed them in Marine City to reach people for eternity.”
Added Yanke, “As one congregant put it, we’re few in numbers, but we’re mighty.”
In addition to its 9:30 Sunday morning worship service, Living Faith has a Sunday Bible study and an after-school program for K-8th Grades on Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m., as well as several volunteer ministries. (For more information, visit www.livingfaithlc.org.)
Yanke wants to build on that foundation.
“A major goal is to grow the congregation,” said Yanke. “But it’s not just about an increase in numbers but growth in the knowledge of God. That’s what compels people to get involved in serving others and helping their communities. And that fits the mission of Living Faith: ‘Loving God, Serving Others, Living Our Faith.’”
Catherine Warner is a resident of Marine City and a member of Living Faith Lutheran Church.