Neat piles of clothing, packs of crackers and other snacks were situated on tables throughout the fellowship hall, as the Rev. Robert Kasting walked between them.
“We’re getting these ready to pack up for the Seafarer’s Center in Brunswick for their Christmas at the Sea program,” Kasting said, gesturing to the tables.
And that’s just the beginning of the list of activities that Lord of Life Lutheran Church has planned for the upcoming holiday season. It’s lining up to be a busy but exciting period for Kasting, who will be officially installed as the congregation’s pastor at a special service Sunday afternoon.
Kasting, a New York native, first felt the call to join the ministry as a teenager.
“I remember telling my mom, ‘I could be a pastor,’ after church when we were coming out of church ... but (the call) got very strong a few years later,” he said.
He completed seminary and spent time in North and South Carolina, as well as his native New York. Since heading South for his new venture, he’s felt entirely at home.
“I love it ... everyone is so friendly. And of course, the weather is great,” he said with a grin.
“I have friends and family coming in for (the installation service). The bishop will be here, which I believe it will be the first time he has visited the church.”
While Kasting will officially take the reins this weekend, he’s been working with the church since the summer, and he’s been welcomed with open arms.
“I moved here in July and my wife, who is retiring, is still in New York but will be coming down soon. She does come to visit. We both love it here,” he said. “The congregation has been so welcoming. It’s a church who loves who they are and the love of Christ really comes through. It’s definitely a church that walks the walk.”
That includes engaging the community through volunteering with programs like Christmas at Sea for the Seafarer’s Center. Lord of Life also serves as a drop off location for Operation Christmas Child. The international initiative asks participating individuals and churches to pack shoeboxes full of items that little boys and girls need.
“These go all over the world. Last year, the program sent out 9.1 million boxes all over the world,” he said. “This year, the goal is 9.7 million.”
Items for the boxes are broken down by age and include small toys, clothing and personal items. Some examples are hair brushes, soap and washcloths, toothbrushes, toys, games, puzzles, books, stuffed animals, jump ropes, balls, flip flops or shoes, pencils and notebook paper, markers or crayons, socks, hats and pajamas. No toothpaste or candy should be packed.
Kasting says the public can help the cause by dropping off packed boxes. Those are being collected from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 15 to 17; from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 18 and 19; from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 20 and 21; and from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 22.
In addition to Lord of Life, other area churches gathering Operation Christmas Child boxes include Altamaha Baptist Church in Jesup; CenterPoint Church in Brunswick; First Baptist Church in St. Mary’s and Hortense Wesleyan Church in Hortense.
“If anyone has questions, they can just call the church,” he said.
The church will also welcome the broader community throughout the season. They will offer weekly Advent services which include a light supper at 6:15 p.m. Dec. 1 followed by a 7 p.m. worship service.
“We also have our Longest Night Services with the choir and handbells at 7 p.m. Dec. 21,” Kasting said.
The light of the holiday season, he adds, is definitely much needed after two difficult years. He hopes that it will be a time for everyone to refocus on what matters most.
“It’s been so hard. I think it’s so important for us to remember what Christ said about loving our neighbors as ourselves, and I hope we will start being kinder to one another. We need to learn how to listen to one another again. I don’t think we talk to each other anymore and we need to get back to that,” he said.
Kasting makes it a point to incorporate that theme into each of his sermons.
“I really preach love and grace, which comes through Christ, that is the most important thing,” he said.
While he’s a devoted man of the cloth, he also preaches another gospel of sorts. Seated in his church office, adorned with oodles of Buffalo Bill’s memorabilia. He offered a parting invocation, of sorts, that is very important to him.
“Go Bills,” he said with a laugh.