Deep Community Roots

Woodbury Lutheran Church celebrates 50 years with a look at its history and its future.

Founded in 1967, Woodbury Lutheran is a church with deep roots in the community. It has been an integral part of Woodbury nearly as long as the city itself has been established. Today, it remains a strong presence in the community and is known as an especially warm and welcoming place of worship. This month marks Woodbury Lutheran’s 50th anniversary, which members are calling their “Year of Jubilee.” To celebrate, they look back at their history as well as forward to their mission and call for the future.

Throughout the past five decades, Woodbury Lutheran has both undergone and witnessed many changes, growing alongside Woodbury itself. When it began, it was small—just 89 members strong—and currently has more than 4,000 members and two other locations within the east metro: the Oak Hill campus in Stillwater and one at Liberty Ridge Elementary School.

Since the church’s founding, three senior pastors have served the congregation: Paul Pfotenhauer from 1967 to 2000, Dean Nadasdy, 2000 to 2012, and current pastor Tom Pfotenhauer, who is also Paul’s son and grew up attending Woodbury Lutheran. “The foundation that has been built here has been so amazing,” Tom Pfotenhauser says. “Other leaders, both lay and staff people, have made this an amazing place to serve.”

Tom Vaaler is an active Woodbury Lutheran church member since three years after the church was started. “We’ve had wonderful experiences of independence and growth, but we’ve also lived in a community that was growing,” he says. “Somebody once said to me, ‘Boy, you’ve really grown as a congregation,’ and I said, ‘Shame on us if we didn’t,’ because the whole place has been growing.” When the church was founded in 1967, Woodbury’s population was barely 3,500 and has since skyrocketed to more than  65,000. “It would have been out of the question—we would have had to be dead in our beds to not have grown,” Vaaler says.
As Woodbury Lutheran has stayed rooted in its values, particularly service to others. Pftotenhauer says that there are at least 100 community meetings a month just in the Woodbury building alone. “The doors are basically open from 6 in the morning to 9 at night,” he says.

The church provides meeting space to various community groups, such as Boy Scout troops and Alcoholics Anonymous groups, in addition to housing a range of outreach programs, like the food shelf and clothes closet. This, members say, is at the heart of the church’s identity and faith. “As a community church, we’ve done what we’ve been asked to, which is to reach out,” Vaaler says. “We love this community, and we will continue to serve this community.”

Oct. 29 is the 50th anniversary of the very first service held at Woodbury Lutheran, and members have big plans to mark the special occasion. Throughout the month, worship services will highlight the church’s path to discipleship, which is rooted in worship, growth, service and outreach. Members will also hold an Oktoberfest-style picnic on Oct. 8 and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

But such celebrations are not so much about Woodbury Lutheran’s past as they are about its future. From expanding missions work, to reaching out to millennials, to packing 1 million meals through Feed My Starving Children, the church has big plans for the years ahead. Pfotenhauer says, “The biggest theme moving forward is in the changing context of culture; how do we continue to multiply those who follow Jesus?”