Sept. 28, 2008

'Pastor Frank' says farewell to flock

Story and photos by Buddy Moorehouse DAILY PRESS & ARGUS September 28, 2008
Brighton Township, Livingston Co., Michigan

Rev. Frank GravesThe Rev. Frank Graves is retiring today as the senior pastor at Shepherd of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Brighton Township, but he delivered his final sermon last Sunday. The title was "A Ministry of Joy; A Lifetime of Service."

"I thought that was a good title for it," he said. "It has been a joy."

Graves, 61, is retiring after 36 years in the ministry, the last 11 of which he spent at Shepherd of the Lakes, a bustling church at the corner of Hacker and Hyne roads. The congregation will say goodbye to "Pastor Frank" at a special service at 10 a.m. today.

Graves said he's heading into retirement with contentment in his heart, knowing he was able to accomplish a lot during his career. He also knows there's so much more to be done both by himself and whoever follows him at Shepherd of the Lakes.

Rev. Frank Graves"There are a lot of opportunities out there to share the great news of Christ," he said.

Graves grew up in Nebraska and attended Concordia College in Minnesota, Concordia Senior College in Indiana and the Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., graduating in 1972 with a master of divinity degree. Graves received his doctoral degree from the Western Theological Seminary in Holland in 1981.

He spent the first 25 years of his ministry in Grand Rapids, working at Immanuel Lutheran Church. Graves immersed himself in the community in Grand Rapids, serving on numerous boards and commissions, including the governing board of the Grand Valley Blood Center.

Graves was also heavily involved with the Lutheran district, serving in a variety of posts, including as vice president and chairman of circuit counselors.

Among the more interesting things he did in Grand Rapids, he said, was serving as the chaplain of the downtown Grand Rapids Days Inn. That opened the door for Graves and his family to visit all 48 contiguous states.

"That was a wonderful experience for us," he said. "We stayed at Days Inns, and back then, it only cost us $5 a night."

In 1997, Graves was asked to move to Brighton to take over as pastor at Shepherd of the Lakes, replacing the Rev. John Hirsch.

"We thought this was a wonderful opportunity," Graves said. "It was sort of a sleepy congregation, but a growing congregation. There was so much potential here."

Shepherd of the Lakes has grown in every way since Graves arrived, including:

Sunday attendance now averages about 750-800, up from about 450-480 when he arrived.

In 2004, the church dedicated its beautiful new sanctuary. "In the past, if we had a large crowd, people would have to sit outside and watch the service on monitors," Graves said. "It wasn't a good situation."

One of Graves' pet projects was to start a small-group ministry at Shepherd of the Lakes. "When I came here, we didn't have any small groups at all," he said. "That's essential if you want to grow the church. You have to start small if you want to get bigger."

Shepherd of the Lakes regularly takes part in a series of community projects, including 40 Days of Community, a program that helped collect food for the Gleaners Community Food Bank of Livingston. "That was wonderful," he said. "It brought our church community together in a way it never had before."

The church's school expanded to include grades K-5. It was only a preschool when Graves arrived.

About five years ago, Shepherd of the Lakes launched a "daughter congregation" in Howell Township, Heart of the Shepherd Lutheran Church. "They're doing very well," he said. "I believe they have about 200 people attend every Sunday."

For all he was able to accomplish, though, Graves said there's so much more to be done at Shepherd of the Lakes.

"It would be wonderful to have a senior citizen building here, so that we could provide spiritual care from the cradle to the grave," he said. "We've also always wanted a gymnasium, a place that would be open to everyone. We'd like to expand our school to eighth grade and beyond. And we really need to expand our outreach in the community. We'd like everyone to know about Shepherd of the Lakes."

Graves said he'll continue to do his part to serve people in every way possible.

"That's my main goal in retirement," he said. "To make a difference for the kingdom (of God). To make an eternal difference."

Graves said he has plenty of other goals for the next few years. He wants to become fluent in Spanish (his son, Scott, lives in Costa Rica). He wants to write a book about being a pastor, and the challenges that poses for the pastor's family.

Graves, a licensed pilot, also wants to become a pilot for Angel Flight, a nonprofit organization that provides air transportation for charitable needs.

Today, though, Graves has only one item on his agenda: Saying farewell to all the great friends he's made in the Brighton area.

The sermon today will be given by his best friend, the Rev. Howard Krienke, a pastor who lives in Minnesota.

"We roomed together in college, and we've been best friends ever since," Graves said. "I gave the sermon when he retired, and now, he's doing the same thing for me.

"It should be a pretty special day. I'm looking forward to it."