Whenever one of the five Lutheran churches in the High Country region needs a pastor either for a Sunday or the interim, they can count on having one from the High Country Coalition of Lutheran Congregations.

Grace Lutheran Church of Boone, Holy Communion Lutheran Church of Foscoe, Bethany Lutheran Church on Big Hill Road north of Boone, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church south of Blowing Rock on U.S. 321 and the Church of the Savior Lutheran Church located off N.C. 194 between Newland and Elk Park, are part of the coalition.

“The general idea behind the High Country Coalition is that we try to associate with each other in ministry,” said Pastor Steve Troisi, senior pastor at Grace Lutheran.

The coalition started in 2008 as the need for Lutheran pastors in the region was identified. According to coalition leader John Bollinger, the idea was to keep churches that have been going for more than 100 years going without having to close due to not being able to afford a pastor.

“It’s worked rather well,” Bollinger said.

Grace Lutheran and Holy Communion are the only two of the five to have a full-time pastor in Troisi and David Mielke, respectively, so the coalition has a network of lay pastors who can lend assistance not only for a Sunday service when needed, but also to be there for church members in a time of need, such as hospital calls, deaths and special services.

“Initially, it was a group of active and retired pastors, but several pastors aged out,” Troisi said. “So we had a seminary on the mountain for lay pastors.”

“It takes a little extra effort on behalf of someone to be a lay pastor,” Bollinger said.

Bollinger organizes lay pastors for the coalition churches when needed.

“For us, John Bollinger is the High Country Coalition,” Troisi said.

Along with providing pastors when needed, the coalition has two or three annual meetings a year, Troisi said, along with a monthly lunch gathering. The churches also come together for mission and charity projects.

One of the bigger annual gatherings of the five churches takes place at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, as the annual High Country Coalition Picnic takes place.

In 2019, the picnic will be held at Holy Communion Lutheran Church, located at 1525 Clarks Creek Road.

“They just finished renovations, which made their fellowship hall bigger,” Troisi said of Holy Communion.

Troisi said that the location rotates every year, noting last year’s event was at Valle Crucis Park. Each church brings certain dishes and music will be available for enjoyment.

The small number of Lutheran churches in the High Country gives the coalition members a reason to band together, Troisi said.

“It’s been a positive thing,” Troisi said. “We’re a little isolated, so we thought it would be better to work together than separately.”

Lutheranism is one of the major branches of Protestantism, which came about as a schism from the Roman Catholic Church. The name Lutheran comes from Martin Luther, the 16th century priest and professor, who questioned many practices of the Roman Catholics, most notably the clergy’s actions of selling indulgences in his “Ninety-Five Thesis,” which is credited with starting the Protestant Reformation.

Today, the Luthern World Federation, the largest federation of Lutheran churches in the world, claims 75.5 million Christians in 99 countries as part of member churches, including the American branch, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

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