“Changing the world begins with the heart,” reads the sign outside of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lake Placid.
And being a caring, positive influence on the lives of people in the community has always been important to the church’s pastor, Richard Norris.
This past Saturday, Norris was awarded a Proclamation of Recognition from the Highlands County Board of Commissioners for “his 25 years of service to the church and the community” during a dinner held in his honor.
The tribute was requested by Chairman Jack L. Richie at the county commission’s April 16 meeting. Approval of the resolution was unanimous.
“He is a great person. He has meant a lot to this community,” said Richie, who has known Norris for almost 25 years and been a friend for over 15. “He helps a lot of folks…is a great Christian, and has done a tremendous amount for the sheriff’s department (Chaplain Unit).”
“I’ve been in ministry for 30 years,” said Norris, a New Jersey native who holds degrees from Concordia College in New York and Concordia Seminar in Indiana. He served five years at All Saints Lutheran in Billings, N. Y. ,before accepting the position at Trinity Lutheran.
“Lake Placid was a tremendous place for our children to grow up,” said Norris, the proud father of Timothy, Debbie, Brian and Sarah.
A man of large stature with a compassionate heart, Norris’ dedication to the community is evident not only in his work as the shepherd of his congregation, but also in the time he volunteers.
Several plaques are displayed on the shelves in his office, one from the Lake Placid Band Boosters in appreciation for his efforts in procuring new uniforms.
Norris served on the Highlands County School Board from 2002 to 2010 and said he feels strongly about the value of education.
“People should always keep learning,” he said.
On Nov. 10, 2011, he received his certification of completion for the Highlands County Sheriff’s Citizens Academy.
As head of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain’s Unit, Norris works with three other area pastors to minister to the needs of the law enforcement employees and help with death notifications.
A volunteer with the Lake Placid Fire Department, Norris got his training working with a rescue squad and as a certified EMT instructor in upstate New York.
“You have to lead by example and be involved in what’s going on in the community,” said the outgoing 56-year-old.
Norris also serves as circuit counselor for the Heartland Circuit of the Florida-Georgia District of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. He describes himself as a “resource person” for the eight churches in the district.
“Richard is a true leader and has given his heart and soul in service to the church and to the community,” said his wife, Susan. “I am proud of what he has accomplished…I am truly blessed to have walked beside him in his ministry for the past 33 years that we have been married.”
“I paint with big brushes and my wife comes along and fills in the details,” remarked Norris of Susan’s organizational and administrative abilities.
Twenty years ago, Susan started Trinity Tots Preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children as a mother’s outreach mission. Now, 38 children attend classes in brightly decorated classrooms at the church complex.
Trinity Lutheran’s 8,000-square-foot building, located at 25 Lakeview St., includes a sanctuary that can seat up to 280 people and the daycare.
Youth and Bible study groups meet in a separate building on the property, aptly named “Trinity Youth Haus.”
“I love these people. God has worked mightily in this congregation,” said Norris, quick to praise members’ efforts to support charities like Manna Ministry and Samaritan Touch.
“I am who I am. I’m open, honest, and wear my heart on my sleeve,” noted Norris of his commitment to present clearly articulated messages to his congregation.
While he enjoys reading, cruising, and salt water fishing, Norris said with the countless hours he spends on ministry, hobbies aren’t his current focus.
“My life is this church,” said Norris. “This is where I’m supposed to be.”