Willing to serve
Kenosha News correspondent
During his half century in religious life, Thomas Kraus spent 30 years as pastor of Epiphany Lutheran Church in Racine. Since then, he has filled vacancies at churches in three states and in two countries, serving mainly in intervals of three months to a year as he provided spiritual guidance.
After retiring from Epiphany in 1996, Kraus and his wife, Lois, moved to Paddock Lake and renovated a little cottage they had there. Then he was contacted by a church official, touching off a decade of church-to-church ministering.
“The district president called and asked me to help out with some church vacancies,” Kraus said, recalling how that segment of his religious life began.
Today, the retired minister has gone from interim pastor back to a more permanent role. For the past two years, the 77 year old has served on the staff at Friedens Evangelical Lutheran Church, 5038 19th Ave., primarily to provide spiritual support to people who are homebound, hospitalized and in nursing homes.
“I also do some preaching, about once every two months, and serve as the chair of the worship committee,” Kraus said.
For the Rev. Thomas Meissner, the addition of Kraus to the Friedens staff has allowed him and the Rev. David Rockhoff to accomplish more work in the growing congregation of more than 1,000 communicants.
“A lot of people say that he feels like their grandpa,” Meissner said, adding that Kraus has a very comfortable way of dealing with people.
“He’s also very wise and always has a spiritual and timely word for them,” Meissner said.
After retiring from Epiphany, Kraus, a graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, served for six months at First Lutheran Church in Elkhorn, then took a three-month post at a church in Ohio before going to New York for a two-month stint. Those assignments were followed by another four months in Ohio before the opportunity to head overseas came his way when he heard from the chairman of the Special Ministries Board for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
“They needed some help with the chaplaincy in Europe. The European Synod has civilian chaplains who work on the military bases,” Kraus said. “In 2001, I spent three months in Germany and did the same thing in 2002.”
The following year, Kraus and his wife spent a year in Germany on the Ramstein Air Base in the rural district of Kaiserslautern where they held services and tended to wounded soldiers brought to the hospital.
“It was very interesting to be there because that is where my ancestors were from,” Kraus said. “I never imagined I would be able to travel like we did, but I had always wanted to see where my family came from. A family member gave me an old certificate written in German that turned out to be my grandpa’s army discharge from Bavaria and it gave his place of birth. We managed to find all of the family records going back to 1620 from a church archive. It was so interesting to be in all those different places and to serve the Lord in a very special way.”
Upon returning from Germany, Kraus accepted a 10-month position at another Ohio church. In 2006, he stepped in to fill the gap at Friedens following another pastor’s resignation.
While he isn’t sure he will be staying put forever, Kraus is content with the work he does and enjoys traveling around the country to visit his children and grandchildren.
Somehow through all of his travels he also found time to serve his Paddock Lake community, having held a trustee position on the village board from 2000 to 2003.
“I like working with people, and for me that is most important over anything else,” he said. “I think way back somewhere I made the decision between people or things, and I’m glad I chose people.”