On Sept. 11, 2001, Gwen Wilhelm and her son visited her husband’s grave in Parker. On the way home, her son noticed many cars parked outside of Joy Lutheran Church and asked if they could stop to attend service.
Wilhelm was raised Lutheran, but said she lost touch from her religion as a teenager and young adult. On that day, Wilhelm says Joy brought her back to her roots.
“The minute I walked in the church on 9/11… everyone welcomed me and it brought me back to my Lutheranism,” she said. “I felt that, coming into that church, no one cared if I was white or Black or what I was. That it’s a place where people can come and be consoled and feel that they’re being heard and listened to.”
This year, Joy Lutheran Church is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Officially established in 1972, the church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Rocky Mountain Synod and has slightly over 1,000 members, according to Senior Pastor Rodney Hank.
According to its website, the church seeks to be an active, open, caring church that honors God while strengthening each other and its community.
Within its walls, there are weekly services, ministry groups for youth and adults and a preschool. The church also offers its space for other community groups to use, including the Boy Scouts of America and Alcoholics Anonymous, according to a press release.
A large part of the church’s work also takes place in the greater Parker and metro-Denver community.
In partnership with the Parker Task Force, which was co-founded by an early member of Joy and is directed by a current congregation member, the church helps provide food and other support to community members with the goal of homelessness prevention, Hank said.
Through the Winter Shelter Network, Hank said Joy offers meals and a temporary place to stay for mothers and children experiencing homelessness.
In addition, Joy maintains a room at Joshua Station in Denver that families can use as transitional housing, Hank said.
“Joy has always seemed to be a church that has jumped right into the Parker community,” Director of Music Ministry Linda Holcombe said. “It is not a church that just sits up there on the hill and just kind of looks out and doesn’t get involved. We get involved.”
In addition to its service to the community, Hank said the people at Joy are what make it a special place.
“They’re honest, loving, kind, hardworking people. And really easy to love,” he said. “They’re committed, not only to the community, but also to being faithful people and doing the work of Christ in those communities — which means, to them, loving, serving, welcoming and reaching out.”
Wilhelm wants the Parker community to know that, as it was for her on the day she first stepped inside, Joy is a place of acceptance.
“Everyone is welcome,” she said. “We always welcome anyone who walks in the door.”
At 9:30am on Sunday, Oct. 30, Joy celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special service featuring guest sermons, a variety of music and a lunch following the service.