St. John of the Crossroads

St. John Lutheran Church is in a place of growth. Its rural surroundings are being replaced by the growing Austin to San Antonio metroplex, as cattle pastures become cul-de-sacs.


And onsite, the 130-year-old church’s daycare ministry is adding a $2 million expansion – next to the 500 tomato plants grown by the pastor.


Pastor Paul Theiss (pronounced ‘tice,’ like rice) started at St. John in 2019. He understands the need for quality childcare, having two kids of his own.


“The community around us is growing faster than people like – it’s a loss of a lot of the farmland, the old family land, so there’s some mourning, but at the same time we have to have the vision to be ahead of the game,” Theiss said. “The houses, families, children are coming.”

Pastor Theiss and his son Elijah

“Our small town is no longer a small town,” said Debbie Mattke, a congregant of St John who lives on the farm she grew up on.


The daycare already has a waiting list, and a strong reputation around town. The childcare business has strong finances, and St John’s Council approved $100,000 toward the expansion budget.

To be sure, such a huge project, utilizing the church for neighborhood needs, can test the Biblical teaching to ‘have no fear.’ Mattke said that although she has faith all will work out, it is a daunting project.


“But we were such a self-absorbed church for many, many years. It’s important that you get out of the walls of St John, that St John goes out into the community,” Mattke said. “You gotta break away from: Is there need in our church? Oh, all day long! But is there need in the world? Much more so.”


“There’s so many churches that sit empty all week and then get used for an hour on Sunday. It’s a piss poor use of your resources,” said Theiss, apologizing for his ‘Texas vocabulary.’


“In our prayers of intercessions every Sunday, we say, ‘Oh God help us to be good stewards of our resources. Then we use our church space just to mow grass and sit empty for a week. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Theiss said. “If you have the space, use it.”


And use it, he does. Pastor Theiss continued a family legacy of growing vegetables as a hobby, in part to pay off seminary student loan debt, and grew at least two tons of local food next to the parsonage this season. “If this little amount of space can provide this much, how much are we wasting?” Theiss asked.


“It’s a hands on example of a lot of the stories that Jesus tells, a sower went out to sow, I see that every day,” Theiss said. “That Scripture is not some old ancient text from people long ago, but it's alive and well now.”

Just some of the produce grown in one season at St John by Paul Theiss

Even in an agricultural region filled with food, hunger abounds. About half of the students enrolled in Marion Independent School District are in free lunch programs, Mattke said. After being asked by the school district, the church began packing backpacks to be distributed to students who requested food for the weekend, when they wouldn’t be receiving free meals at school. Now church members gather weekly to fill 70 backpacks picked up Friday morning by teachers.


“Anything that would create a bridge between community and church. Jesus was all about community, and fellowship, and sharing a meal,” Mattke said. She loves hearing feedback from the students, shared by the teachers who distribute the backpacks. The church hosts fish fries and bake sale fundraisers to cover the $16,000 annual cost of the food program.


“We’re unconventional and unorthodox in a lot of what we do, but that is the heart of what it is to be a Lutheran,” Theiss said. “It is very much at the core of our identity.”

Elijah admiring the harvest at St John

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