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Church of Dunes congregation grows with new pastor's family

Becky Vargo • Jul 3, 2017 at 12:00 PM

While the congregation of the United Methodist Church of the Dunes requested a pastor with children, they may have gotten more than they bargained for.

So says Pastor Lou Grettenberger, who recently moved to Grand Haven with his wife, Karen, and 10 of their 19 children.

Grettenberger, 55, officially began working at the church this past Saturday and will conduct his first service there on July 9. 

He replaces the Rev. Glenn Wagner, who retired in 2015 after two years with the church. The Rev. Jack Harnish has served as interim pastor for the past seven months.

Grettenberger said he believes children were an important part of the equation church officials created in hopes of keeping a pastor at the church longer than a couple of years. His congregations have grown along with the size of his family during his 30 years of ministry at Methodist churches in Manton, Traverse City and Sparta.

During five years in Manton, the size of the congregation more than doubled, and an addition and renovation were completed to the church.

The Grettenbergers’ three biological children were born during that time. Their two daughters and son all became professional musicians, following in their mother’s path, Grettenberger said.

Grettenberger spent the next 16 years in Traverse City, growing Christ Church from 30 to 200.

While in Traverse City, Karen and Lou adopted seven children from Thailand, Columbia and Russia. All of those children had a variety of special needs.

Then the large family moved to Sparta.

It looked like they were going to become empty-nesters when they decided to help nine refugee children, ages 10-21. The three newest children came from Haiti, four are from the Karen tribe of Myanmar (Burma) and two are Myanmar Rohingans.

Grettenberger said their desire to help children started while he completed his Master of Divinity degree at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. During that time, the Grettenbergers parented 10 troubled teenagers through a program developed by the Menninger Foundation, called CHARLEE (Children Have All Rights Legal Educational and Emotional).

Grettenberger said he wouldn’t be surprised if they always have kids at home.

“That’s what we do,” he said. “That’s who we are.”

He’s especially proud of his oldest daughter, who recently took in a refugee child.

“It’s kind of neat to see it go full circle,” he said.

Grettenberger was born in Argentina, the son of missionary parents. His childhood was spent in Cadillac, where his father, George, served as pastor of the United Methodist church.

“I received my calling as a child, but fought it a little bit,” Grettenberger said.

He was looking at becoming an interpreter, a lawyer or a musician when he decided his desire to help people, and his talents were perfectly in line with becoming a pastor.

He earned a degree in Spanish from Manchester College, after transferring from Hope College. He moved to Indiana so he and Karen could marry.

“She was fifth-generation Manchester College,” he explained. Her grandfather was a longtime president at the now-university. 

Grettenberger said he believes strongly in an intergenerational church, and that children are an important part of the church now, not just for their future potential. 

“I have a background in church planting, so I have knowledge of ways to help draw new families in,” he said.

But the new pastor said he has no plans to make any changes at this time. The church is strong, he said, and there are no problems. 

“It’s always important first to get to know your congregation,” Grettenberger said. “We need to become a family together so we can get to work together in a positive way.”

More information on Pastor Grettenberger and the United Methodist Church of the Dunes can be found online at www.umcdunes.org. The church is located at 717 Sheldon Road in Grand Haven. Sunday worship times are 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.

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