Assisted living facility grateful for Risen Savior pastor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Shortly after 2 p.m. every Sunday, a toddler named Drew races through The Windsor of Lakewood Ranch with one of his siblings, possibly curly haired Donovan, 4, smiling Daria, 8, thoughtful David, 10, bright Danae, 12, or efficient Deanna, 14, in hot pursuit.

These excursions are greeted with delight by many of the 80 residents of the assisted living residence on Nature’s Way, who, it seems, have held Sundays dear ever since 2006 when The Rev. Dan Witte of Risen Savior Lutheran Church volunteered to preach there from 1-1:45 p.m.

Witte’s wife, Deb, brings Drew and the rest of the Witte children and plays the piano for the Windsor services.

“I think they love seeing the children,” said a smiling Witte on a recent Sunday.

Roughy 25 residents attend Witte’s services at the Windsor on Sunday and others attend his Bible study from 11 a.m. to noon Thursday.

Witte drives to the Windsor after preaching to his Risen Savior flock from 10-11 a.m. each Sunday at McNeal Elementary School.

He’s noted over the years that his Windsor congregation is comprised of Methodists, Protestants and about two Lutherans.

“At first I wondered, ‘Why are they coming to hear a Lutheran pastor?’” Witte said. “But then I realized, ‘It’s not me they are coming to hear.’ Jesus said, ‘My sheep hear my voice.’ They recognize the shepherd’s voice.”

Witte also remarks that, for some of the Windsor residents for whom memory has become a challenge, every Bible story he tells is brand new and amazing. Witte said he is thrilled to see their faces light up when they hear for the “first” time, the story of Noah or Joseph.

Witte is about to have his own amazement at a “first-time” event.

Risen Savior broke ground recently on its own sanctuary and is on track to have its long-awaited first services in a brand-new church in July.

It will be a special occasion for the Wittes, who have been serving East Manatee since June 2001 without a brick and mortar church.

The new church will be located on 10 acres at 14605 59th Avenue East, at the northeast corner of Lorraine Road and 59th Avenue East at Lakewood Ranch.

Concrete footers are going in this week and the foundation will be poured next month.

“The walls are going up by Feb. 1,” Witte said. “And the first services will be in July.”

Builders for Christ

Witte is the kind of pastor who loves networking and providing help for others, hence his work at Windsor. He also enjoys having those who are gifted in things he is not provide help.

That’s why he says it means a lot to him that 19 couples from Builders For Christ, based in Milwaukee, Wis. and operating through the Wisconsin Lutheran Synod, will be setting up a temporary RV park at the new church site at the end of January in order to help build the church.

The group will be working on Risen Savior from mid-January to about the first week in April.

The couples will set the trusses, sheet the roof, install windows and doors, hang dry wall, install flooring, work on baseboards, do the crown molding and paint.

Manatee County has already given permission for Builders For Christ to work on Risen Savior, Witte said.

The couples will be providing roughly $40,000 of free labor for the church, Witte added.

“Having their help to save us money is, of course, great,” Witte said. “But then you think you are part of the family of churches they worked on. That’s an amazing feeling.”

After 20 years, Builders For Christ, comprised chiefly of retired craftsmen and women from all over the country who want to donate their labor, has worked on roughly 75 churches, said Dick Fuoss, a retired general contractor from Hendricks, Minn., who will be the project manager at Risen Savior.

Fuoss has been with Builders For Christ since 2002. This is his 10th project.

“There’s one main thing that makes what we do special,” Fuoss said. “That’s working for the Lord, doing the Lord’s work, giving back to him a little for so much he does for us. These people want to do their best work for the Lord.”

The Builders For Christ couples sleep in their RVs, but are invited to congregation members home for supper after long days of work.

“We get to meet wonderful people and have wonderful fellowship,” Fuoss said. “The congregation families feed us good. We rate the projects on how much weight we have gained. We get so attached that there are a lot of tears shed at the end when we have to leave.”

Witte remembers when Builders For Christ helped build his father’s church, Abiding Peace Lutheran, in Elgin, Ill., five years ago.

“My father watched as one man looked at an interior kitchen wall’” Witte said. “My dad said, ‘It looks good to me.’ The man said, ‘That’s not straight enough. We are going to rip it out and do it over.’ My dad appreciated their work ethic. It wasn’t something he expected they would change. He was surprised how careful and diligent they were.”

Builders For Christ has had to turn people way who wanted to come to Manatee County to help build Risen Savior, Witte added.

Touching lives

A brick-and-mortar church is nice, and a dream come true for Witte and his flock, but one can’t underestimate the impact a pastor, or anyone else perhaps, can have just by sharing themselves and their family.

On the same Sunday that everyone was trying to catch Drew at The Windsor, Witte was in the lobby, laughing and joking with a resident named Lionel.

“Here’s your chair back,” Witte, rising in the lobby to give Lionel his favorite chair.

A little later, a resident named Gloria Lewis asked Witte to take something to the front desk for her.

“We have watched his children grow up over the years,” Tammy Trent, marketing director of The Windsor, said of Witte. “We’ve been fortunate we have him.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.