History and Vision
Grace Place Wellness was founded in 1999 by John D. Eckrich, M.D., an Internist and Gastroenterologist, who has provided integrated health care to many pastors, teachers, seminarians and their families for more than 35 years. In his medical practice in St. Louis, Dr. Eckrich was astounded at the number of stress related illnesses among Lutheran church workers. In response to the burnout he was treating in church professionals, he envisioned a program of teaching preventative wellness disciplines to keep workers healthy. He understood that if workers were not joyful, vigorous and balanced in their own body, mind and spirit, they could not effectively and abundantly serve the people placed in their care. Dr. Eckrich and his pastoral care colleagues have now served thousands of Lutheran church workers, leaders and their families in hundreds of retreats throughout America and in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Assisted by pastor, author and psychologist Dr. David Ludwig, Dr. Eckrich has taken Grace Place Wellness programming to every region of the country and worldwide through overseas missionary family retreats. Offered initially for pastors and their wives, Grace Place Wellness Retreats are now open to all workers in the church. Specialized retreats have been offered for singles, DCE’s, musicians, parish nurses and deaconesses. The LCMS Council of Presidents and Concordia University faculties have also participated in Grace Place Wellness retreats and programs.
In 2012, Rev. Dr. Darrell Zimmerman was called to serve as the first full time Program Director. A participant at the first retreat in 1999 with his wife, Carol, Darrell brings over 30 years of parish pastoral experience to the Grace Place Wellness team. Mr. Randy Fauser became President and CEO in 2014 as Dr. Eckrich transitioned to part-time leadership.
Christ’s ministry of healing the hurt and brokenness in our lives continues through the proclamation of the gospel of forgiveness and grace, the one hope for the world. We believe that the local congregation, the community of believers gathered around Word and Sacrament, is the Lord’s design for bringing the gospel to all people. At Grace Place Wellness Ministries, we believe that healthy leaders lead healthy congregations and that healthy congregations encourage and support healthy leaders. When Pastor and people are together experiencing life in the body of Christ the way the Lord has intended it (see Ephesians 4) God is glorified and congregations fulfill their calling to share the saving love of Jesus.
Just as church workers are care-givers, congregations are also called to include their pastors and other servants of the Word in their ongoing work of mutual love and care. As St. Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:11-12, NIV). Our vision is that is that congregations would be places of mutual encouragement and care between the called workers and the members of the church so that together they might reach out in love and service to their communities.
Grace Place Wellness is a preventive wellness ministry that seeks to positively impact the ministry of Christian congregations by encouraging workers in the church to lead the rich and full lives that Jesus intends for all of His children. We are proud to be a Recognized Service Organization of and partially funded by The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
Grace Place Wellness impacts local congregation and school ministry through our Classic Retreats, and through our newest offerings, the Congregational Wellness Weekend and the Ministry Team Wellness Workshop. Our staff have become popular presenters at Professional Church Worker Conferences on a wide range of topics related to church worker wellness.
“Grace Place Wellness nurtures vitality and joy in ministry
by inspiring and equipping church workers to lead healthy lives.”
Life as a church work professional can be richly rewarding and filled with joy. It can also be very stressful and discouraging. God wants His children to experience the joy of knowing His goodness and grace even in discouraging times. At Grace Place Wellness, we meet with pastors and other church workers and their spouses and with the congregations they serve to explore together our Lord’s design for wellness in spirit, body and mind. We encourage all of God’s children to be continually refreshed and renewed in our loving Father’s gift of baptismal grace, so that every adventure of faith and service would be sacred. Our desire is that every pastor and church worker would, by faith, welcome with gladness God’s gift of wholeness given freely in baptism and offered in the daily refreshment of Word and Sacrament. We strive to enable God’s kingdom workers to apply these gracious gifts as they learn basic skills in spiritual, physical, emotional, relational, vocational, financial and intellectual wellbeing.