MOVILLE, Iowa (AP) — Just over two years ago, the nominating committee of Trinity Lutheran Church didn’t have a full slate of people to fill the next year of volunteer positions at the worship center in Moville.
One of those was a three-year stint for deacon.
“Jokingly, I thought, (church member) Irv Martin turned around and elbowed me, and said, ‘Why don’t you do it?'” Blake Stratton told the Sioux City Journal .
Stratton, who was a sophomore at Woodbury Central High School, found out a week later that his name was on the list of people for church members to affirm as deacons and other positions in January 2016.
Now in his final days of high school, with graduation looming on May 20, Stratton isn’t just a deacon. The 18-year-old is also a co-chairman of the Trinity 125th anniversary committee, which is planning events for the big day on June 17. He has attended Synod Assembly on behalf of Trinity for three years, and now serves on the Western Iowa Synod Council.
Serving at Trinity is just something that comes naturally for Stratton, as he began that prior to age 10. He knows it is rare for a high school student to hold such important positions in a church. Stratton said he’s been told he’s the first high school student to fill an elected Trinity church council post.
“I didn’t know at the age of 16 how the congregation members would take that, but they have accepted me pretty well,” he said. “I hear something about every week from people. The older generation say they need more kids like me. There is a lot of appreciation. They will thank me. To me, I don’t think of it as that big of a deal, I just do it.”
That old Nike slogan quote has fit Stratton, the middle of three children of Jill and Casey Stratton, for about a decade at Trinity Lutheran Church. He took to sitting in the back pew with a grandfather, Tom Chartier, who has worked a host of church roles for decades.
Soon thereafter, he started helping Chartier with sound system and other duties. Then head usher Phil Sanderson urged him to pass offering plates. When Trinity kids reach seventh grade, crucifer and acolyte roles are required, for confirmation training.
“By the time of confirmation, I was like, ‘Oh, this is easy,'” Stratton said.
He said being a deacon isn’t difficult. During Sunday services, the deacons help with communion distribution. He also attends a monthly council meeting, where decisions on program spending are made.
“We are the eyes and ears of the congregation. It is our job to welcome visitors, acknowledge that they are there. We also help with anything else in the service, (Scripture) reading,” Stratton said. “The work spreads out easy, and you never feel overwhelmed.”
The Rev. Barb Spalding, the pastor at Trinity, said Stratton is a boon to the church.
“He has a heart for seniors (citizens) and their living history, and has shown that care in working during high school with local funeral directors. He participated with others from Trinity in a youth group traveling to the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) national church gathering in Detroit in 2015 and will attend another this June in Houston,” Spalding said.
Stratton isn’t the only Woodbury Central student who stepped up to serve on a Trinity church council three-year position. Jordan Martin, another 2018 graduate and a daughter of Irv and Kelly Martin, served on the board of education from 2015 to 2018.
Attending church gives Stratton a sense of structure and peace.
“When I am going through a tough time, it is just nice to be there, and it makes it seem like everything goes away. … Home is a perfect word. Trinity feels like home to me,” he said.
Stratton peppered his comments with references to names of his family — Rippkes, Keucks and Chartiers — who have long involvement at Trinity Lutheran. The baptismal font was donated by his great-great-grandmother, Margretha Rippke.
Unlike some graduating seniors who leave the area, Stratton plans to continue living at home while attending Western Iowa Tech Community College in Sioux City. He’ll do that for a year, so he can finish his deacon term in January, before leaving for likely a four-year college in Northwest Iowa, with the goal to become a high school history teacher.
“It means a lot to have an elected position in the church that my great-great-great grandfather (Heinrich Rippke) had a role in founding. So it just hits close to home,” Stratton said.