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Voices of faith: Grayson pastor has a passion for serving Gwinnett's less fortunate

The Rev. Matt Henning is the founding pastor of Community of Grace Lutheran Church in Grayson.

Married and the father of two young girls, Henning finds delight in raising his own family, and in serving an even bigger one through the South Gwinnett Cooperative Ministry. The co-op has been housed on the campus of Community of Grace since Sept. 29.

"It's about people and their needs," Henning said. "It brings churches together. It's God at work through many small actions."

Q: How long have you been a pastor? How long have you been at this church?

A: I was ordained as a Lutheran minister in October 1995. I'm the founding pastor of Community of Grace and have been the only pastor here. The members here began worshiping in 1999 at South Gwinnett High School. (Henning's wife, the Rev. Jill Henning, is a pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lilburn).

Q: How and when did you know that this is what you wanted to do as your life's work?

A: In college, I worked in the chaplain's office, and I really enjoyed that. I was a chemistry major, but when I graduated from VMI (Virginia Military Institute), I went straight to seminary.

Q: Did you ever consider a different career?

A: Yes, I thought about being a chemist, but the possibility of being a pastor excited me.

Q: What would you say is the most challenging thing about your job?

A: (laughing) Patience. I struggle with that. I see things that I want to have happen or that need to happen, and I lack patience.

Q: What's the most rewarding thing?

A: Seeing a life change. It's so humbling to be part of a church, to see it grow and see lives change. With the cooperative on our campus, that's been such an amazing thing. I get to meet great community leaders. It's exciting to be a small part of a greater thing. That's what keeps me going.

Q: What are your long-term goals as pastor of Community of Grace?

A: Years from now, I'd like for people in the community around our congregation to see a reason why we're here. If our church were to disappear tomorrow, would non-members notice? I want us to serve the needs of the community around us.

The cooperative is such a huge need, a huge opportunity for us to love people, to help them. I hope that type of growth continues for us.

Q: Who would you most like to meet, and why?

A: Well, besides Jesus, it would be Martin Luther King. Dr. King was the ultimate in applying faith to the world. To be around him would be a neat thing. I've read his writings, and they have transformed how I look at grace and love. He taught me a lot about being Lutheran, even though he wasn't Lutheran. He taught me that God can love people because they are his people.

Q: If you had to name one thing that's changed the most in Gwinnett's religious landscape over the years, what would it be?

A: The biggest concern I see is that there's a huge indifference when it comes to faith. In general, people see that what they believe really doesn't matter.

I don't know whether that means people think they don't matter, but the message of the church is that people matter, God matters and their neighbors matter.

There's more to life than just survival. Churches in Gwinnett work hard to teach that. Everyone tells me that they believe in God. In fact, it's the people who don't believe in God that want to spend a lot of time talking about him.

Community of Grace Lutheran Church is located at 1200 Athens Highway in Grayson. For more information about the church or the South Gwinnett Co-op, visit www.transformlives.org or call 770-972-4304.

Each week, the Daily Post profiles a different religious leader in Gwinnett. If you have a suggestion on who we should profile next, e-mail features@gwinnettdailypost.com.