The AALC was formed in 1987 in opposition to the merger of three national Lutheran church associations into the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in America (ELCA), a group with 5.2 million members. Currently, the AALC has 80 member congregations, most of them in the Midwest, according to the Rev. Charles Eidum, an AALC spokesman based in Minneapolis.
"Some Lutherans do feel we are renegades," Pastor Eidum said.
For example, this fall the ELCA is expected to release a draft report on sexual issues, including homosexuality and ordination, that some say will ''reinterpret" biblical passages dealing with sex.
The AALC "wouldn't even consider" ordaining homosexuals, Pastor Eidum said.
"We feel Scripture says that's a sin," he said.
Pastor Knappenberger, a large, cheerful man, is a lifelong Lutheran who came to the ministry in 1984 at the age of 51, after a career in accounting. He and his wife, Mary, also an accountant, have three grown sons.
"I had thought about it for many years," Pastor Knappenberger said of his career change. "But raising a family, you have these cop-outs. There's always an excuse."
Pastor Knappenberger described his congregation of 44 as a "youth- oriented" church with teenage lay readers and a Sunday school.
While the membership may be small, the people are faithful, said John Heyman of Roslyn, a founding member and secretary-treasurer of Holy Word Lutheran.
"Most of our people are there every week," he said. "It's not just a few people doing everything."
Heyman, 38, became interested in the idea of his new church because he had begun to disagree with the tenets of the ELCA and to favor those of the AALC.
"The American association is more of a support group than an authoritarian group," Heyman said. "Basically, each congregation determines what to do on its own. We see this as an opportunity to forge our own future."
Church members hail from a number of municipalities, including Lansdale, Warminster, North Wales and Blue Bell. They meet at La Petite Academy, a Lansdale child-care center, and are looking forward to the day, probably in January, when they move into their first real home. When St. Philip Orthodox Church moves out of a small country church building in Prospectville to a new home in Souderton, Holy Word will move in.
"This is truly a gift from God," Pastor Knappenberger said.
The church building is owned by the Prospectville Union Hall Association, which allows congregations to use it virtually rent-free, as long as the occupant pays insurance and maintains the building.
"I hope we will be able to get ourselves organized and eventually build a new church," Pastor Knappenberger said. "Then someone else can move in."
For more information about Holy Word Lutheran Church, call 635-6774.