Our History


On November 6, 1951, a group of 22 Lutherans held a meeting at the Leesburg Recreation Center with the Reverend A. M. Himes, D. D., of Fruitland Park, FL and the Reverend Martin L. Swanson of Zion Lutheran Church in Groveland, FL to discuss the viability of a Lutheran church in Leesburg. Those in attendance began services on Sunday, November 25, 1951 at the Woman's Club of Leesburg.  On April 27, 1952 the congregation began to worship in the upstairs auditorium of the Lassiter-Ware Insurance Building in downtown Leesburg. Sunday School classes began as well.

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church continued to grow under the guidance of Duane Carlson, an intern from the Augustana Theological Seminary in Rock Island, IL. It was officially organized on October 26, 1952, as a mission of the former Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church with 48 adult and 15 child members.

The charter membership roll was closed on January 1, 1953 with 50 charter members. On January 21 of that same year at the first annual congregational meeting, the congregation voted to purchase a lot at 130 Lone Oak Drive. At one time this was the location of a depot where Spanish tree moss was collected and shipped north to the Fisher Body Corporation in Detroit to make "horse hair" stuffing for automobile seats. The congregation decided to build as soon as possible.

Just 18 months later on December 12, 1954, the new church building was dedicated by the Reverend Thorston Gustafson, D.D., President of the New York Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Church. The cornerstone was laid by the Reverend Arne Andell, President of the Florida District of the Augustana Lutheran Church. A copper box containing the history of the congregation, a hymnal, newspaper reports, and the charter membership list was placed in the cornerstone. By the end of 1954, the Parish Record listed 88 members and 59 enrolled in the Sunday School. This was an increase of 83% in adults and almost 400% in children in just two years. The Baby Boomers had arrived!


The '60s

In 1962, the year of Gloria Dei's 10th anniversary, the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church joined with three other Lutheran church bodies to become the Lutheran Church in America. Since Gloria Dei was a member of the Florida District of the Augustana Lutheran Church, the name was formally changed to Gloria DeiEvangelical Lutheran Church. 
Growth in Leesburg was reflected in Gloria Dei's full pews. A second service was added to the regular 9:30 a.m. service. Gloria Dei attracted not only full-time members, but also seasonal members from the North.

The 70's

The physical church continued to change to accommodate the growth of the congregation. Among the most notable changes was the addition of a gabled roof, a narthex, additional pews and the first organ.

Gloria Dei's outreach ministry was increased to include World Hunger Appeal, Lutheran World Relief, sponsorship of several children in other countries, and the benevolence work of the Mary-Martha and Dorcas circles.

Gloria Dei reflected the change in the surrounding community with the recent influx of "snowbirds" into the area. These seasonal worshipers wanted to fully participate in Gloria Dei's rich spiritual life and Gloria Dei welcomed them with enthusiasm.
A Welcome Desk was implemented in the narthex where visitors were greeted by an usher and asked to sign the guest book.

In 1977, Gloria Dei celebrated its 25th anniversary.

The '80s

Reverend Wallace Kemp arrived to shepherd Gloria Dei for the next 20 years until he retired in 2000. Gloria Dei added changes to the existing structure including a new sanctuary and a complete lower floor for offices, meeting rooms, and storage areas. 
Gloria Dei established a memorial garden, which is maintained by members of the church.

The 90's

Gloria Dei happily burned the real estate mortgage and companion in the church parking lot in March 1990. As an indication of the sign of the times, Gloria Dei had their first women ushers! A pictorial church telephone directory was produced for the first time. 
Dedication of the bronze church bell was rung for the first time on December 27, 1992. It was originally cast in 1892 and formerly hung in Philadelphia, which made it exactly 100 years old when it was installed at Gloria Dei. The bell continues to be rung before worship services, funerals, and weddings. 
Renovations continued to be made including installations of stained glass windows in the narthex that were made possible by donations of Gloria Dei members. The Living Christ life-sized wood sculpture in the sanctuary was installed. 



Members of the congregation worked on needlepoint cushions using designs created by church member Robert Terry. The themes include the seven last words of Christ, Psalm 1, and a summation of our journey of faith through the church year.

Gloria Dei expanded its outreach by participating in building a house with Habitat for Humanity and the Angel Tree project, which provides gifts and food to children who have a parent in prison.  Other projects, such as the Pig Project for Haiti, provided pigs to the poorest of the poor enabling them to become self-sufficient.

A series of musical concerts took place with music ranging from black gospel music to violin concerts. All concerts were well attended. In 1994, the congregation voted to purchase a Baldwin Organ, which was replaced for a newer model in February 1997.
A Columbarium Chapel was constructed in 1998 for use by members and their families.

Several seminary scholarships were funded for a number of students and missionary ministries in Africa continued to be supported.


"The Purpose Driven Church" seminar, which is a structured approach to change and a new identity, was conducted and attended by over 100 church members. 
Communicants are given the choice of receiving communion wafers or bread and an Altar Guild is organized and a Fellowship Committee will organize social events throughout the year. The newsletter receives a new name: The Glorion. The name signifies that the Glory of this House of God will go on for many generations to come.
Gloria Dei has its first website and Gloria Dei continues to fund scholarships for seminarians. A Nursery/Wee Worship for small children is instituted during worship. The church sound system is updated.

In 2001, Gloria Dei begins a year-long 50th anniversary celebration that kicked off with a sermon delivered by the Bishop of the Florida-Bahama Synod and an anniversary dinner at Silver Lake Country Club.

New doors at the entrance to the church were installed and painted red. A series of piano and organ and choral concerts continue to be offered and are well attended by the congregation. 
An Altar Guild was established in 2001 and has the responsibility of maintaining the main altar in the sanctuary as well as the altar in the Columbarium. 
The Memorial Garden was renovated and a memorial stone was installed. It is inscribed with the names, dates of birth and death of persons whose cremains are placed in the Memorial Garden. 

Pastor Thomas S. Church accepts the call to become pastor of Gloria Dei Gloria Dei in 2002.

Gloria Dei once again participated in building several houses in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity. Members raised nearly money and gave hours of labor to these projects.

Gloria Dei approved a new shorter mission statement: "Gathering in Christ…Sharing His Love," which is printed on the inside cover of the Glorion monthly newsletter.
Renovations continued to take place with changes made to the kitchen, Fellowship Hall, and the conversion of the former choir room to a vestry for the pastor and assistant ministers to robe.

A bronze Living Memorial was installed in May 2004 and is located to the left of the center doors leading into the sanctuary. A gift of $1,000 per name on the plaque is invested in the Mission Investment Fund of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. These fund are used to begin new missions in the ELCA.

2010 – Present

In 2013 Gloria Dei continued its outreach efforts by collaborating with First Presbyterian Church of Leesburg (our next door neighbor) to form Joining Hands in Food Ministry (JHIFM) to feed the hungry in Leesburg.  Volunteers from both churches join hands on the second Friday of every month at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. to feed local families in need. Each family is given enough food to last a week. JHIFM is an authorized partner agency of Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, and a 2018 Grant Recipient of the United Way of Lake and Sumter Counties. Gloria Dei Thrivent Financial members use their Action Team grants to fund $250 of food for each month. Thanks to a bequest from a GDLC member, a new van was purchased in 2017.



Gloria Dei partners with The Salvation Army in a number of projects. The Christmas Angel Project is a partnership with the Salvation Army to provide gifts for children and seniors. The Community Hunger Project supplies several thousand pounds of food to the Salvation Army's emergency food supply. Souper Bowl provides cans of soup and bags of crackers for the hungry. Blankets and sweaters are provided to the Salvation Army for distribution to the homeless and those with inadequate heat during cold spells.

The youth of the Leesburg community are a continuing project for Gloria Dei. The Book Buddies after School Project encouraged members to share a snack with a child and share a story by reading one-on-one with a child. Children across the globe benefited from the Samaritan purse Christmas Shoe Box Project, which provides toys and clothes. School supplies drives for Oak Park Middle School in Leesburg are a successful annual event every fall. The Priscilla Circle addresses other needs at the school as they arise. Gloria Dei contributes food to the Backpack after School Program, which provides weekend food supplies to children who participate in the school Free Lunch program.

Gloria Dei supported a mission church in Wildwood, FL, which eventually became Rock of Ages Lutheran Church. Gloria Dei assisted a volunteer in the new church to become a minister. Gloria Dei also supported Lutheran Outdoor Ministries for "camperships and Luther Springs Activities.

Many of these outreach projects are carried out in conjunction with Thrivent Financial. Members apply for Action Team Projects and Thrivent donates $250 for each project.

WELCA continues to provide assistance to victims of worldwide assistance in the form of beautiful handmade quilts. Over 300 quilts a year are donated to Lutheran World Relief as well as to several local charities. WELCA also sponsors "Rachel's Day," a day in recognition of abused and battered women and children.

Gloria Dei began its participation in the Lutheran World Relief Coffee Project that supports small-scale farmers and the environment. This coffee is used for church gatherings and is also available for purchase for use in the home.

The Welcome Desk continued to be refined with the addition of a welcome bag filled with goodies, such as a newsletter, Pastor Marilyn's contact card, a Gloria Dei brochure, information about the Joining Hands in Food Ministry, the Lord's Prayer bookmark, and a Gloria Dei pen. The most popular item in the bag is the packet of M&Ms that represents Missional Ministries.

In 2015, Funeral Plan booklets were implemented and made available to GDLC members to complete. These books contain information about funeral wishesmaking it easier for survivors of the deceased. Members retain a copy and another copy is kept in the church office.

Gloria Dei participated in the Traveling Martin Luther (aka Flat Luther) project, which was a fun way to keep Martin's Good News message of God's grace moving. Congregation members enjoyed taking small paper figures of Martin on vacation and to church activities.


This was in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that was celebrated on Sunday, October 31, 2017.



Gloria Dei members also make time to have fun. The social time after worship continues to be well attended.

In 2016 Paul Motto joined Gloria Dei as the new organist and music minister. In addition hearing enhances were purchased to asst people with hearing aids who still have difficulty hearing the worship service.

Periodic events such as Mardi Gras, Bingo, and Octoberfest give us all the opportunity to enjoy time with each other.

In 2018, a multimedia sign was installed in front of the church. Its colorful graphics highlight the many activities and sermon series that take place at Gloria Dei.

In 2020 Gloria Dei upgraded the fire alarm system to meet fire code.

Also various building and grounds improvements were made, including landscaping, painting, a new chandelier in the entry, a new badge holder and accommodations for the Covid 19 restrictions. These were adding sanitizing stations, plastic in front of desks, new arm opening handles on doors and requiring a mask be worn and social distancing be maintained. Other Covid accommodations were conducting services on Zoom, holding communion services in the parking lot, devising a coffee hour on Zoom for socializing, and conducting meetings on Zoom. The Call Committee met nearly every week beginning in April, 2020, while observing these Covid restrictions. Christmas Eve service was held in the parking lot in December, 2020. 

Bob Keim was hired in summer 2020 as Maintenance Supervisor and Paityn Miller was hired in February 2021 to be our new webmaster.  Paul Motto, organist retired. An audiovisual booth was added in 2021 to run the live streaming of church services. Pastor Ed Barnett's first sermon was June 13, 2021. Our new parish musician, Charlene Cranmer, was hired September 1, 2021.


Below is a list of pastors who have blessed and guided Gloria Dei through the years:


Albert M. Himes


Duane Carlson (Seminarian)


Martin L. Swanson


Duane Carlson (Seminarian)


H. Allison Linne


Evans M. Carlson


Dale C. Holt


Duane H. Sandstrom


James H. Goss


Albert W. Keyser


William C. Kaiser


Charles P. Snyder


Wallace Kemp


Richard L. Baker (Interim)


Thomas S. Church


Roy Stackpole (interim)                                         


Marvin Oechler

August, 2014- May, 2019

Marilyn Crosby

May, 2019 - June, 2021 James Young
June, 2021 - Present Ed Barnett