A Few Memories from the First Years of the Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA

Feb 21, 2023

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

I graduated, was ordained, got married, and headed to Iowa for my first call in 1988. 1988 was also the first year of the new Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. At 35 years now, as we begin taking a look at rethinking our polity and governance, it seems like a good time to take a step back and look at our history here in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.

When the ELCA was formed in 1988, the ALC Bishop was Augie Wenzel. The LCA Bishop was Phil Wahlberg. Bishop Wenzel had attended Texas Lutheran College and Trinity Seminary in Columbus. He had served as a parish pastor, campus pastor, theology professor, and president of the Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest. He was elected Bishop of the Southern District of the American Lutheran Church (ALC) in 1973.

A graduate of Texas Lutheran College, Lenoir-Rhyne, and Southern Seminary, Phil Wahlberg served St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Corpus Christi, then was elected president of Texas-Louisiana Synod of the United Lutheran Church beginning in 1958. In 1962, he was elected president of the same synod, now part of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). He held this position until the formation of the ELCA, a total of 29 years!

At the formation of the ELCA in 1988, this synod was first called the Southeastern Texas-Southern Louisiana Synod (SETSLA). Later the name would be changed to the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod (TLGCS). The first Bishop of this synod was Martin Yonts. He had been serving as Mission Director from 1973 until his election in 1987. He served one term, 1987-1991.

In 1991, Paul Blom was elected Bishop of the TLGCS. A graduate of St. Olaf College and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, Paul Blom served as pastor of Bethel (1967-1970), Calvary (1970-1979) and St. Timothy (1979-1984), Lutheran Churches in California, then Kinsmen Lutheran Church in Houston (1984 to 1991). In this photo, he is pictured at First Lutheran Church in Pasadena at their 50th anniversary in 1991, with Pastor Anton “Sunny” Kern (far left) and two others (on the right). He served 16 years.

You may recognize Pastor Kim Little-Brooks (Advent, Houston) on the left side of this photo at the graduation of the Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest (LSPS) in 1992.

Before the ordination of the first five Peruvian Lutheran pastors (1999), a delegation from the Gulf Coast Synod visited our companion church in Peru in 1996.

A few years later, in 2000, we received a delegation of leaders from our other companion synod in the Central African Republic.

In 2000, the synod staff consisted of Bishop Paul Blom (center), Reyna Pereira (top), Peggy Hahn (2:00), Sally Ahrens (4:00), Joyce Weidner (6:00), Susa Neitzel, and Pastor Rob Moore (10:00).

The photo below shows the graduation at the Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest in 2004, with the other two Texas bishops, Kevin Kanouse (left) and Ray Tiemann (right).

On March 2, 2002, Eric Youngdahl was ordained at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas. Pastor Youngdahl now serves at House of Prayer in Houston.

Eric Youngdahl’s ordination in 2002. Left to right, front: Charles Holm-Roesler, Tom Robinson, Stephen Youngdahl, Eric Youngdahl, Bishop Blom, Beth Marie Halvorsen, Emily Tietz, Tim Leaf. Back: Brian Peterson, Merle Franke, Phil Wahlberg, Wayne Walther, Marcus Otterstad, and Ray Pickett.

Paul and Marie Blom are retired and living in Georgetown, Texas. Members at Christ Lutheran Church in Georgetown, they are enjoying grandkids and their ball games. Though we haven’t since the pandemic, we have met up from time to time to share stories and catch up.