History of Crown of Life

(As written by Rev. David Sternhagen)

The History of Crown of Life Lutheran church could have the theme, “The hand of God among us.”  Back in the 1960’s the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod decided to reach out into parts of the United States where we had no presence.  That included many eastern and southern states.  It was decided that this new outreach would occur in the larger cities of those states.  There was a handful of Midwestern transplants who had come to the New Orleans area because of job opportunities.  In 1966 they began the first services in one of their homes north of New Orleans in Slidell.  They decided that it would be better to move to the only part of New Orleans that was building and growing, New Orleans East.  They began worshipping in the Holiday Inn on Chef Menteur Highway at I-10.  Not exactly the most inviting place for a worship service.  “Come worship at our new church; we meet in a hotel room.”  But the hand of God held this intrepid group together.  They called their first full time pastor and decided they needed a permanent place for the pastor to live and the church to worship.  Somewhere the Home Mission Board came up with the idea of the parsonage/chapel.  Think of the savings.  The pastor could live in the house and the people could worship in his garage.  It was a definite money saver.              So in 1973 they built one at Rockton Circle only a couple miles from the current church.  Now you could invite someone to a real church.  “Come to our new church; it looks like a house but the garage is very worshipful.”  And when they got there they would discover most of the members had a funny Midwestern accent and Green Bay Packer stickers on their cars.  At some point the Mission Board learned that this was not good for outreach so they came up with the Worship Education Fellowship Building.   It was designed to look more like a church if you squinted hard.  It was your “Starter Church.”  Once your membership grew you were allowed to build a real church and use the old building for education and fellowship.  Once again it was cost effective and didn’t saddle a small congregation with a huge debt.  We built our WEF on the current property in 1980. The fact that the Mission Board no longer builds parsonage/chapels or Worship/Education/Fellowship buildings speaks volumes.  In spite of our fumbling human efforts to build a church, God was building a church.  The congregation by the power of God’s Word grew.  At that time the Lord blessed the congregation with its first African American members, which would become more important with time.  New Orleans East was initially about 50% White and 50% African American.  The Lord knew the future. Then in the late 80’s New Orleans suffered the Oil Bust.  New Orleans economy was highly dependent on petroleum.  When the oil prices tanked so did the economy.  So many members of Crown of Life who had come for good jobs would now also leave to get good jobs elsewhere.  With the economy bad, in 1988 we were able to build our Chapel for what today would seem like a song.  Now we had a church that looked like a church.  What could go wrong? What seemed to be the death knell was what followed, white flight.  Suddenly 30 percent of the houses on our blocks were for sale.  White people where moving to the suburbs.  What seemed to be a bad thing turned out to be the hand of God with us again.  Houses for sale meant new people moving into our neighborhood.  God had helped us break the “color barrier” so we were ready to welcome our new neighbors and with the hand of God our church grew again. I guess every church has this kind of swings from good times to bad but what happened next in 2005, would test our church in a new way, Hurricane Katrina.  As the water broke through the levees it flooded the homes, hopes and dreams of most of our members along with the church, fellowship and parsonage.  We were back to the beginning, worshiping in the homes of members whose houses didn’t flood.  With no place to live most of the members had to find lodging and work in other cities.  Our church was scattered across the country.  Would our church survive this great test?  Would our members be able to come home?  The hand of God was with us again.  Over the next 3-4 years, God sent helpers from all over the country to help us rebuild our homes and our churches.  They were once again the hand of God.  Many could not return but most did and the Lord by his power brought our church back again.  Every church has its story.  Through the years thousands have passed through our doors, even when we didn’t have doors.  Some came to know their Savior here.  Some grew in their faith here, others moved on and still others moved on to heaven.  Through it all, our story is one of a powerful and loving God and group of truly thankful people.     


Brief History Continued…During Easter Week in 1966, the WELS Synod sent 6 seminary candidates to Louisiana to canvass the New Orleans East and Slidell areas. Their ground work helped start the first WELS Mission Church in the New Orleans area. Later that year, the first worship service was held in Slidell, LA at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Langston. Five years later in 1971, the 26-member congregation was granted a charter by the state of Louisiana and by 1973, a 1/2 acre lot in the Warwick West Subdivision was purchased and a small chapel and parsonage were built. By 1978, New Orleans East was rapidly expanding with increased opportunities for mission work so the congregation applied to the WELS as a Relocation Project and purchased the current Morrison Road 2.9 acres property. In 1980 the first Worship/Education/Fellowship Hall was built and eight years later in 1988 the first Crown of Life Chapel was built and dedicated.

In 2005, the Category 5 Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and completely destroyed all three church buildings and everything in them.   Hurricane Katrina: Hurricane Katrina was a Stage 5 hurricane with winds gusting to 175 mph.  In its wake it left 1,200 people dead and clean up took 5 long months. During the aftermath Pastor Dave Sternhagen authored a weekly email blog while volunteers from  WELS congregations around the synod, Jerry’s Kids, Builders for Christ, Kingdom Workers, Mold Krewes arrived to assist with clean up and rebuilding projects. We thank them for their amazing service.

As we celebrate 54 years of Christian fellowship at Crown of Life, we wish to thank and honor the following servants for their dedication and service to our congregation.  Candidate Douglas Weiser Resident Missionary Served 1970-73 then Called to Africa; Pastor Philip Koeninger 1973-1974 Called to Detroit, Michigan Pastor James Warner 1975-1981 Called to Watertown, Wisconsin; Pastor Mark Bitter 1982-1985 Called to become Dean of Northwestern Prep, Watertown, Wisconsin; Pastor David Sternhagen 1985-2013 Retired; Pastor Jonathan Kehl 2013-2023 Called to Antigua; Pastor Daniel Kramer 2023 – Present

History of Lutheranism

“Where did Lutheranism start?”

A brief history of Martin Luther and the birth of the Lutheran Church

  For the first five centuries after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the Christian Church grew and spread in spite of government persecution. The devil – seeming to realize that attacking the church from the outside only caused it to grow stronger – then began to instead attack from the inside, attacking truths of the Word.  Sometimes those attacks were met and turned back, other times they made inroads.  Unfortunately towards the end of the first millennium, quite a number of false teachings had intruded into the church’s creed. Just one example: for hundreds of years, the clergy had – correctly – been free to marry; around the year 1000 the church decreed that clergy would have to remain single.  It was contrary to Scripture, and was one of many errors which had intruded themselves into the official teachings of the church.  At one point the church even decreed that it was sinful for any person, other than a clergy person, to even read the Bible!

Of those errors in teaching, the most damaging was the false teaching that Jesus HADN’T done everything necessary for salvation, that instead people needed to do good works to earn salvation.  The Church taught that only those who held to the Church’s rigidly prescribed teachings could have a chance.  If you were part of the Church, but hadn’t done enough good works, the Church said that you would first go to a place called “purgatory,” where you’d suffer for your lack of good deeds.   The Church even went so far as to claim that you could pay money to the church, and in exchange you would be “sold” forgiveness of sins!  How sad!  No one could be sure of salvation, because no one could be sure that they’d done enough good works!  It was a time of spiritual darkness. 

“Martin Luther” It was into this religious climate of fear and uncertainty that Martin Luther was born, November 10, 1483 in Eisleben, Germany.  A bright boy, Luther began training to become a lawyer, but he was preoccupied with spiritual concerns. He recognized his sinful short-comings, and he agonized over the awful gap that he saw between himself and God.  Luther was troubled, filled with uncertainty.   While a college student, a fateful journey would turn Luther’s life.  Luther was caught in a terrific thunderstorm.  When a bolt of lightning struck a tree near him, he cried out in fear, “Saint Anne, save me!  I will become a monk!”  Having survived the storm, he took the vow seriously, and against the wishes of his parents, he entered the monastery, hoping there to find the peace he so craved.  Luther proved himself to be an exemplary monk. He prayed continuously, worked diligently at any tasks given to him, and spent much of his day in earnest confession. And yet, the troubled Luther knew that his piety was insufficient to please a perfect, holy God. He could not escape his terror.  At one point, feeling so overwhelmed with guilt, he even whipped his own body, thinking that thereby his conscience could find rest.  None of it worked.  His superior, a man named Staupitz, saw both Luther’s talents and his troubled heart. He gave Martin one word of advice: “Martin, don’t look so much at yourself.  Instead look at Jesus.”  But what could Luther do?  The official position of the Church was that you had to look to yourself, to your own good works!  But Staupitz’ advice was good, and perhaps it planted a seed which would later sprout.  Staupitz attempted to help Luther by keeping him so busy that he’d have little time to consider his shortcomings.  So in 1508 Luther – by that time an ordained priest, but only 25 years old – was appointed to a teaching position at a new University in Wittenburg, Germany, where Luther  would be instructing his pupils in Bible. While preparing for a class on the book of Romans, Luther’s conscience was captured by this passage: “the just shall live by faith.”  Luther caught the point: the church had taught him that salvation was something you earned by what you did.  But God’s Word was saying something completely different.  God’s Word was saying that salvation was something that God gave to you freely, through faith.  What a contrast!  Luther later commented that it was like the doors of heaven being thrown open!  Where formerly he had feared God, thought God was unreasonable and angry, now Luther began to view God correctly, as a loving Father, eagerly desiring our salvation.   Good news!    “Good News” What do you do with good news?  You share it!  And Luther did so.  He excitedly began to teach, “Forgiveness of sins is not something which we earn for ourselves by our own good deeds. Rather, it is a free gift which God gives to us as a result of all that Jesus did for us.”  Many were struck by this “new teaching.” In reality it wasn’t new at all.  Instead, it was a return to what the Bible had always taught, and what the church had therefore originally taught!  So now Luther’s desire was that the entire church would reform itself, would return to what it had originally, and correctly, taught.  As Luther continued his studies of the Word, he slowly began to unlearn many of the falsehoods which the church had taught him, and in turn shared those truths with his classes and with the people at the church in Wittenburg.  (Luther was so popular that in addition to his professor’s duties, he was appointed to be preacher at the town church.)  Things came to a head on October 31, 1517, when Luther posted the 95 theses (“sentences”) on the Wittenburg church door, protesting the abuse of indulgences.

Indulgences were sold by the church – the pope claimed the authority to grant forgiveness of sins when the indulgence was purchased.  And of course the claim was that the more money you paid, the more sins were forgiven, either your own sins or someone else’s.  The pope even claimed that he could grant forgiveness to those who had died, who were now suffering in purgatory!  Luther protested this practice and he offered an open challenge to a debate on the subject.  Soon all of Europe was in a stir!  Because the printing press had been recently invented, soon the 95 theses had been re-printed and distributed all over the continent!   

“Reformation” How would the church respond?  Unfortunately they demanded that Luther come to Rome and give answer to the charge of false teaching!  Luther’s political ruler, the elector of Saxony, used his influence to insist that Luther’s case be heard in Germany instead.  Several meeting were held, in which Luther continually went back to the truths of the Bible, while the church’s representatives instead used the traditions of the church as their basis for argument.  So, no agreement could be reached.  As these years passed, Luther studied the Word more and more, more truths became clear to him, and his desire to take people into the Word become even more keen.  Events culminated four years after later, in a meeting at Worms (pronounced “warmz”), Germany in 1521, when Luther was called before THE political ruler of the day, the Emperor Charles.  The Turks were attacking the empire, and Charles needed the German princes to help fight the invasion.  So, he sought an expedient end to this “religious matter.”  Very simply, Emperor Charles called Luther before him and had copies of Luther’s writings there.  He told Luther that he had no interest in hearing a debate on the truths of the Bible; rather, Luther was simply to admit that all he had written was false.  If Luther refused to do so, he would be declared an outlaw, and anyone could kill him after 20 days.  Luther asked for one day to consider it. The following day, Luther responded, “Unless you can prove from the Bible that I have made wrong statements, I cannot and will not take back anything. My conscience is bound by the Word of God.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.  God help me.  Amen.”  The results?  A) Luther was declared an outlaw, but his local ruler protected him from harm.  B) The church had made clear that it had no interest in returning to the Biblical truths on which it had once stood, so many years ago.  C)  Those who stood with Luther on the truths of the Word were no longer welcome in the church, and so a “new” church was born. 

In reality, that “new church” wasn’t really “new” at all. Instead, it was a church which had returned to the original truths of the Word of God, the truths which the early church had joyously proclaimed.  The enemies of Luther immediately branded the people who had returned to the Word with the derisive name, “Lutheran!”  It stuck.  And Emperor Charles would be kept so busy with the Turks that more than 20 years would pass before he could again give this “religious problem” any attention.  By that time, the truths of the Word were well-rooted in many, many hearts, assuring that the clear words of God would continue to be proclaimed for all to hear!

“Today” Today, Crown of Life Lutheran Church – and the church body to which we belong – continues in the same tradition. We believe and teach that the Bible is the Word of God.  We do not “follow” Luther or claim that he is the Church’s foundation. Luther was important only as an instrument through whom God brought His truths back to light.  Only Jesus Christ is our shepherd, and only Jesus is the true foundation of the Christian Church. We retain the name “Lutheran” because hopefully it reminds us that we stand on the same truths on which Luther stood.  We take our stand on Scripture alone, as the only authoritative message from God.  We take our stand on God’s grace alone, not looking for any merit or worthiness in ourselves.  And we’re sure that we will spend eternity in heaven as a free gift, a gift given to us by God, a gift given to us by faith alone.  It’s a gift meant for you, too!