Sola Scriptura / Abiding Grace

Contrary to what some may say, the church that is now called Abiding Grace Ev. Lutheran Church in Convington, GA, was formerly known as Sola Scriptura Ev. Lutheran Church located in Decatur, GA. In 2003, the church building in Decatur was sold and the church body moved its worship to Covington. This is the story of the origins of Abiding Grace.

FYI: Abiding Grace recently (2023) celebrated their “20th Anniversary”. This was actually the 20th anniversary of the arrival of Pastor Jonathan Scharf. The church itself, has a much longer and richer history than just 20 years. Here is the rest of the story…

History of Sola Scriptura

The name “Sola Scriptura” is Latin for “one scripture”. Information meetings for people interested in starting a WELS congregation in the Atlanta area were first held in early 1970. In June of that year the first service was held in the home of Frank and Verna Ratter in Mableton, GA. During those first months, when twelve people was an excellent attendance, members met in homes and had tape-recorded services. Vicar Carl Henkel held the first “live” service in August of 1970. Vicar Henkel also found a temporary worship facility for the members while canvassing the Atlanta area. Until the first church building was constructed, the Clayton County Civic Center was the worship center. During the first five months in the Civic Center, taped services were mostly used except for once-a-month when Pastor Karl Peterson from Birmingham, AL, would conduct the worship service.

In January of 1971, the church installed their first shepherd, Pastor John P. Meyer. Land was purchased in Decatur, GA in 1972 — three acres for $9,000. A parsonage was purchased in May of 1973 for $31,000. Groundbreaking for the church was held on March 3,1974, and the $163,419 worship facility was ready for dedication on September 1, 1974.

In January of 1976, Pastor Meyer accepted a call to Holiday, FL. After a six-month vacancy, the church was assigned a 1976 seminary graduate, Wayne L. Fischer. Pastor Fischer accepted a call to Wisconsin Lutheran High School in July of 1984, and nine months later they welcomed the arrival of Pastor Mark A. Haefner. Pastor Haefner served until June of 2002 when he accepted a call to a dual parish in Seward and Waco, NE.

The School

In 1977, plans began for a Lutheran Elementary School and in September of 1980, Sola Scriptura Lutheran School opened its doors, utilizing classroom space in the basement of the church. The first principal/teacher was David O. Ewerdt. Enrollment that first year was eleven students in grades K-8. In July of 1983, Daniel D. Schultz was assigned to be the principal/teacher. Later, as the school grew to two and later three classrooms, it was served by Kim (Krause) Mittelsteadt, Monica Schultz, Amy Schultz, Patti (Ebel) Appold and Jane Haefner. The Schultz’s accepted a call to Livonia, MI in 1994. In July of 1994, the school welcomed principal/teacher Scott Gostchock and his wife Shannon. Scott Gostchock served the school until 1998 when he accepted a call to Pilgrim Lutheran School in Minneapolis, MN. In 1998, the school was assigned principal/teacher Jon Engelbrecht and his wife Trisha. They served the school until 2001 when Jon accepted a call to Stoddard, WI. After 22 years of teaching God’s Word, Sola Scriptura Lutheran School concluded its operation at the completion of the 2001-2002 school year.

Post-School Years

In the many years since the start of Sola Scriptura in 1970, God has blessed the Atlanta area with several daughter congregations. Sola Fide in Lawrenceville (1976-present), Sola Gratia in Perry (1977-1987), Beautiful Savior in Marietta (1983-present), and Faith in Sharpsburg (1994-present) all began with a nucleus from Sola Scriptura.

The original mission of Sola Scriptura was to spin off congregations around Atlanta and unless it became a community church, close. God in His grace and mercy used Sola Scriptura to fulfill His good and perfect will as that mission was accomplished. On March 2, 2003, the doors of the worship facility in Decatur GA were closed as the church relocated to Covington GA and changed the corporate name to Abiding Grace. By relocating to Covington, the ring of WELS churches located around the circumference of Atlanta was completed. The property in Decatur was finally sold in late 2003 which officially closed the books on that part of our history.

The Restart

On March 9, 2003, the first service was held as Abiding Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Covington, Georgia. Worship services were held in a temporary location at Salem United Methodist Church on Salem Road in Covington. On May 18, 2003, the voters officially approved the name change and all the paperwork was filed with WELS and the State of Georgia to change the name of the corporation. It is important to note that only the name was changed. Technically, Sola Scriptura did not disband and start a new congregation in Covington. All of the id numbers with WELS, the State of Georgia, and the federal government all remained the same. This change was finally called, for simplicity, a “restart”.

In May of 2003, Abiding Grace received their first pastor. Pastor Jonathan E. Scharf (and family) arrived in July and he was officially installed on July 20, 2003. Many thanks went out to the vacancy pastor, Pastor Jonathan Schroeder from Faith in Newnan, as he handed the care of the Abiding Grace flock to Pastor Scharf. Worship services continued at Salem UMC as they canvassed and spread their name around the community. Membership began to grow steadily as a result.

In April 2004, the church applied for and was granted “mission” status with WELS which qualified them for financial support from the synod in the form of grants to carry out ministry work and it also made low-interest loans available to use through the Church Extension Fund (CEF).

In June of 2004, the temporary worship location was moved to Veteran’s Memorial Middle School on Brown Bridge Road in Covington. This move provided more space and allowed worship services to be held at a more traditional time on Sundays. Membership continued to grow despite being in a temporary facility as plans to purchase land in Covington were made. In March 2006, the decision was made to purchase a 30.72-acre tract of land on Hwy 212 (with a house on it) for $440,000. Shortly after closing on the purchase, the house on the property began use as a Ministry Center.

In June of 2007, the temporary worship location was again moved to Total Childcare Experience on Lover’s Lane in Covington. The owner of the facility graciously granted broad access to the facility on weekends to host events as well as for regular and special worship services. During this time, plans were coming along nicely for a permanent worship facility. In June of 2008, the sale of 20 acres of the property to a developer was approved to raise funds for the construction effort. A total of 9 acres were retained for the site of the new facility. In October of 2008, a Ground Breaking ceremony was held to commemorate the final push to construction. No one knew at the time that it would take over a year to complete the architect plans, secure the final funding, and gain approvals and permits from Newton County.

In November of 2009, the owner of Total Childcare Experience notified the church that he was being foreclosed on and would be losing access to the property. The church was once again faced with relocating the worship location even as construction on the facility neared. The worship services were moved to a nearby school, West Newton Elementary, where services began on January 3, 2010.  

In February of 2010, with all the required permits in hand, construction of the new facility in Covington finally started. Construction was completed in September and all permits granted in October. The church officially moved in for the first service on October 24, 2010.

The following is a partial list of the early servants of the church. All were loved and respected as they set about doing God’s work in those early years.

Pastors and Vicars Roster

  • Rev. Karl Peterson (1970) – first “contact” Pastor for Atlanta. Pastor’s church was in Birmingham, AL.
  • Vicar Karl Henkel – Summer Vicar (1970)
  • Rev. John P. Meyer (1971 – 1976) – first pastor called by Sola Scriptura
  • Rev. Wayne Fischer (1976 – 1984)
  • Rev. Mark A. Haefner (1985 – 2002)
  • Rev. Jonathan E. Scharf (2003 – present) – first pastor called by Abiding Grace.
  • Vicar Aaron West (Aug 2008 – Jul 2009)
  • Vicar Lincoln Albrecht (Aug 2009 – Jul 2010)
  • Vicar Nikolas Haasch (Aug 2010 – Jul 2011)
  • Vicar Daniel Johnston (Aug 2011 – Jul 2012)
  • Vicar Neil Birkholz (Aug 2012 – Jul 2013)
  • Vicar Isaac Crass (Aug 2013 – Jul 2014)
  • Vicar Jacob Jenswold (Aug 2015 – Jul 2016)
  • Vicar Micah Plocher (Aug 2016 – Jul 2017)

School Principals Roster

  • David Ewerdt (1980-1982) 
  • Daniel D. Schultz (1983-1994) 
  • Scott Gostchock (1994-1998)
  • Jon Engelbrecht (1998 – 2001)

School Teachers Roster

  • Kim Mittelsteadt (????)
  • Monica Shultz (???? – 1994)
  • Amy Shultz (????)
  • Patti Appold (???? – 2002)
  • Jane Haefner (???? – 2002)