WEEKI WACHEE — John Mau believes when a church reaches its 25th anniversary, there is cause for celebration. And for Nativity Lutheran Church, that time is now.
"There are two things in a church that I think are important in the life of a person," he said. "If you've ever had the privilege of being involved in building or dedicating a new building, that is extremely important. And I think celebrating 25 years is a high point.''
Mau, who heads a committee that has planned four events this year to note the quarter-century milestone reached by Nativity Lutheran, said the church has grown from 100 members to around 700 in that time.
Though Mau and his wife, Diane, have been members only since moving from Chicago in 2004, they looked into the history of the church and noted its many positive qualities before joining. They drive from Citrus County each week to participate in services and ministries.
"They are a very understanding group of people," John Mau said of the mostly senior congregation. "There's a caring atmosphere, a willingness to try different things. I don't think you find that everyplace."
The Maus also appreciate the strong music program.
"I think that is important," he said. "I love music and I'm involved in it."
John Mau, who is the president of the Citrus Community Choir, is also a member of the church's choir. Diane Mau participates in the bell choir.
According to a written history provided by John Mau, planning meetings were held by the Lutheran Church in America 10 years before the church was launched. "As a result of this study,'' Mau wrote, "10 acres on the west side of U.S. 19 were purchased."
The Rev. Bill Johnson, from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Spring Hill, was a moving force in helping the Rev. Paul Winemiller get the church started. Winemiller had been called as a mission developer pastor.
"Pastor Winemiller spent the next 12 months conducting a door-to-door survey," Mau wrote. "In three months he knocked on 4,000 doors from the River Country subdivision to the Heather, east to Brookridge, south on Mariner to Northcliffe and west to U.S. 19. About 325 individuals stated that they were interested in a new church. Consequently, Pastor Winemiller wore out 4 pairs of shoes."
The first service was held on Nov. 10, 1985, at the West Hernando Middle School. One year later 100 members signed the charter — the number required by the synod — and the church was born. On June 1988, ground-breaking took place and a new building was dedicated the following April.
"As the church continued to grow, Pastor Winemiller retired, and there were concerns as to who would lead the congregation," Mau wrote. The "Rev. Vicki Johanson became pastor in 1992, but in 1994 Pastor Johanson left to take on a new position in the Florida Bahamas Synod. In 1996 Rev. Dr. William Roen became the new pastor and was a strong force in developing Nativity Lutheran."
Membership growth continued under Roen's leadership during the six years he was pastor, Mau said. It became evident a new structure was necessary.
"The new church started construction in 2001," Mau wrote, noting that stained glass windows from the first sanctuary became part of the new building that was completed in 2002.
"Our sanctuary can handle almost 450 to 500 people at a single service," Mau wrote.
Regular Sunday worship services are at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., with Sunday school and adult classes at 9:45. Open Communion is offered at all services. Music is a blend of traditional and praise/contemporary music.
"Nativity Church is involved in many community outreach programs: shoes for migrant workers; a food pantry providing food for over 500 people every month; Crafty Ladies group that made over 365 quilts, which will be sent throughout the world; Kairos prison ministry; People helping People, which is a community project providing a free meal for those in need; and a big mission project, Village of Hope school in Haiti, and many other worthwhile mission projects," Mau said.
The church's celebration kicks off next weekend with a special service and dinner. The public is invited to both.
The service begins at 3:30 p.m. March 26 and will be highlighted by participation of former pastors and special inspirational music, while being led in worship by the current pastor, the Rev. Kristin Wee, and Assistant Pastor Philip Schroeder.
Afterward, an anniversary dinner will be held at 6 p.m. at Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Tickets cost $18 and reservations are required.
"Former pastors (William) Roen and (Paul) Winemiller are going to say a few things at the dinner, and I'm going to emcee," Mau said. "Charter members will be recognized, and there will be books on display of things that have been done by the church over the years."
Additional activities include a service and picnic on June 19, a patriotic presentation by Nativity's choirs along with the Harmonizers and Nature Coast Singers on Oct. 15, and a visit from the bishop of the church's synod on Nov. 13.
Mau said he hopes those in the community who do not have a church home will come to visit. They all will be welcome at Nativity, he said.