Pastor Luther D. Kistler
Pastor Luther D. Kistler
  • November 18, 1929 - December 12, 2017
  • Celebration, Florida

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Luther Kistler A Celebration of Life The story of Christmas as told in the Gospel of Matthew cites the immortal words of the angel who visited Joseph. Prophesying the birth of Jesus, the angel says, “His name shall be called Immanuel, which means God with us.” It was upon these words that Luther Kistler built his church, The Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palm City—and his life here on Earth. Throughout his 88 years, Luther embodied the idea of God with us, because God was surely with Luther in every step he took. Luther Kistler was welcomed into the kingdom of heaven in the early morning hours of December 12, 2017. He passed peacefully after a brief illness, joining Immanuel, the Savior foretold in Matthew 1:23. Born November 18, 1929, in Everett, Washington, Luther was the son of the Rev. Dr. Daniel D. Kistler, former President of the Pacific Synod of U.C.L.A. Luther’s mother, Jessie, was consecrated Deaconess and served parishes in Johnstown, PA and New York City. Life in the ministry is often a well-travelled one, and Luther’s own path proved no exception. As a teen, he hitchhiked to music camp to study the violin at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. He graduated from Coopersburg, PA High School in 1947. During World War II, he served the U.S. Army in Japan as a part of General MacArthur’s Intelligence Headquarters. From time to time, Luther was given the task to fetch the map in the General’s office to be updated. Each time he entered the office, MacArthur would simply puff on his pipe, never once acknowledging Luther. In relating the story of his military service, Luther would say, “I served under MacArthur,” then add with a smile, “two floors under him.” In 1953, Luther graduated from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and in 1956, he graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia with a Bachelor of Divinity Degree. The year 1956 proved a banner one for Luther as it also marked his marriage to the love of his life, the pianist at St. John Lutheran Church in Winter Park, Florida, where he served as Student Pastor. On June 21, 1956, he exchanged wedding vows with Dorothy (Dottie) Faye Stevenback and soon thereafter the couple moved to Central Florida. “We may never be rich, but we’ll always have fun!” That was Luther’s promise to Dottie when they made a life together on that first day of summer more than 60 years ago. Luther made it his own personal mission to keep that promise. Luther moved up the ranks at St. John Lutheran Church, becoming Assistant Pastor and finally Senior Pastor in 1963. That was when Luther and Dottie entered the Missionary Orientation Center in Stony Brook, New York for work in Japan. In fact, Luther and Dottie became the first missionaries to be sent out by the Florida Synod. By the time of their mission to Japan, Luther and Dottie had already become the proud parents of two children, Susan Elizabeth and Luther Dean, Jr. In the first few years of their 22-year service at Musashino Lutheran Church and Tokyo Lutheran Church, they would welcome two more daughters, Debra Carol and Lori Ann. In 1986, Luther and Dorothy answered the call to return to America, this time to develop a new congregation in Palm City, Florida, the Immanuel Lutheran Church. It would become the first mission start of the newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Luther rode his bike around town rallying new members. Dottie served as Church Secretary (and eventually church organist) and the couple made hundreds of house calls. They brought in 800 new members in eight years. It was a joyous day when Immanuel Lutheran Church held its first official service on January 3, 1988. Balloons and a colorful carnival tent marked the location of the newly purchased building, a former real estate office. Luther had negotiated the purchase of the premises along with three-and-a-half acres on which the new church would eventually be built. The fellowship Luther shared with his previous church in Japan continued even as he began his new work in the U.S. His old Tokyo friends wanted to be mission partners in his new endeavor. “That church sent us $25,000 to help us out,” Luther would say of his former congregation. “Isn’t that incredible? We Lutherans in America had been helping missions in Japan since 1899. And now they were helping us!” So moved by Luther’s new Central Florida mission, the Japanese church also sent 25 people to attend the dedication of Immanuel’s sanctuary. That bond between people half a world apart is evident to this day in the stained-glass window above the church’s entryway that was dedicated to this amazing partnership. In 1994, Luther and Dottie retired to their new home in the brand new town of Celebration, Florida. Just a stone’s throw from the Walt Disney World Resort, this gave the Kistlers the opportunity to preside over a number of Disney weddings, offering many Japanese couples an in-language service courtesy of the multi-lingual couple. After retirement, Luther loved supplying and making friends at Lutheran churches: Zion in Gotha, Salem and Reformation in Orlando, Faith in Deland and Abiding Savior in Winter Haven for various lengths of time. During his well-deserved retirement in Celebration, Luther still found time to serve his church in missions around the world. That included spending several Sundays talking about, of all things, pigs. Using piggy banks, Luther’s “Pig and the Pastor Program” put a pair of male and female piglets into the hands of poor Haitians. During the 1980s, the native pig population of Haiti had been nearly wiped out by a swine flu epidemic. But over ten years, this program put more than 10,000 pigs into the hands of the needy. For those who took part in this unique charity, it represented an emotional first step toward a new life of economic self-sufficiency. Luther is survived by two brothers, four children, nine grandchildren,