With its Grace Place Wellness mission, Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) will continue to expand and cultivate gifts for church workers of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in service of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through:

  • Retreats
  • Traditional wellness programming
  • Newly imagined and fully integrated wellness resources

If you’re like most ministry workers, your heartbeat is to minister the Gospel effectively. You live your life for God and His people, and you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Become a better disciple of Christ, the Savior who can sympathize with our weaknesses.

Don’t become a statistic, fall apart or burn out.

Learn to live—and minister—from this place: This place called Grace.

Grace Place helps church workers find relief from the pressures they face while avoiding the traps that lead to burnout, sin and despair. And the practices we’ve developed over the years keep pastors and church workers joyful, vibrant and whole for as long as they’re in ministry.

Healthy Churches

Healthy churches are God’s design for his mission on earth. The scriptures offer description and prescription for the baptismal, spiritual, relational, intellectual, emotional, vocational, physical and financial wellness of local congregations. Healthy churches face fewer obstacles to ministry and display the work of God in their unity and service.

(Acts 2:42-47; Ephesians 4)

Healthy Church Workers

Healthy professional church workers are essential for healthy churches. The wellness of churches and their called workers are of mutual benefit to each other. The wellness of professional church workers is enhanced by healthy congregations, which are better served when their called workers are at their best, baptismally, spiritually, relationally, intellectually, emotionally, vocationally, physically and financially.

(1 Timothy 3; Titus 1)

Intentional Self-Care

Professional church workers at their best are willing and able to practice daily and weekly self-care for the wellbeing of self and family. Joyful, healthy church workers offer more creative, vibrant ministry to those they serve and lead. Grace Place Wellness supports them by nurturing vitality and joy in ministry, inspiring and equipping church workers to lead healthy lives.

(John 14-17; Ephesians 4)

Daily Renewal

Daily renewal in grace provides substantial healing for the wounds of life in ministry. Professional church workers often encounter obstacles to wellness due to the demands and expectations of their calling. Wise church workers are first receptive to the Holy Spirit’s gifts of grace for their own healing before administering those gifts to others.

(2 Timothy 3-4; 1 Kings 19)

Joyful Ministry

The joy of recognizing the living Christ at work in the lives of people fuels ministry. Healthy church workers recognize the absence of joy, assess the causes and seek healing grace to restore the joy.

(Acts 5:41-42; Acts 16:16-40)

Dr. Darrell Zimmerman, DMin
Retired Executive Director

Darrell oversaw all aspects of Grace Place Wellness Ministries from the fall of 2012 until June 2023. His passion remains helping ministry workers across the entire spectrum of Christianity excel in their callings for their whole careers.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Darrell graduated with his Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 1982. He served thirty years as a parish pastor in St. Louis, MO, and Saginaw, Mich. He is a trained Intentional Interim Minister in the LCMS.

He and his wife, Carol, attended the first Grace Place Wellness retreat in the fall of 2000, then began leading retreats in Grace Place Wellness’ earlier years. He also earned his Doctor of Ministry in 2006. He was instrumental in developing the Ministry Team Wellness Retreat. In December 2019, he became Interim President and CEO and served until the acquisition by LCEF, when he took on the role of Vice President of Ministry Solutions, director of Grace Place Wellness. After almost eleven wonderful years leading Grace Place Wellness, Darrell retired in June 2023.

Darrell and Carol live just a few short miles from their three children and four grandchildren in the St. Louis area. In retirement he looks forward to spending time with them, woodworking, and playing lots of golf. We are grateful for his contribution to Grace Place Wellness.

Dr. John Eckrich, MD
Founder and Executive Vice Chair

Dr. Eckrich founded Grace Place Wellness Ministries in 1999. He’s also the author of several books on wellness, ministry, and Christian living.

Born and raised in St. Louis, MO, John attended Lutheran schools as a child, graduating from Lutheran High School South. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, Mo. He finished his medical training at the University of Chicago as a Fellow in Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Dr. John served the St. Louis community for over 40 years as a practicing Internist and Gastroenterologist. He had the unique opportunity to care for hundreds of Lutheran church workers and their families, including Seminary professors, students, and many leaders at the LCMS International Center.

During his early career, John observed the effects of stress and challenges of ministry on personal and family life. He gathered other professionals to examine and develop health skills and strategies to proactively address the rising tide of church worker burnout and ill-health.

Their findings led John to found Grace Place Wellness Ministries, now having served over 10,000 church workers and families through Grace Place Wellness retreats.

His books include:

Vocation and Wellness: Renew Your Energy for Christian Living
Family Wellness: Raising Resilient, Christ-Purposed Children
Fear, Anxiety and Wellness: Journey to a Heart at Peace
Resilient Aging and Wellness: Mindful Stewardship of Body, Mind and Spirit into the Next Season of Living

John lives in the St. Louis area with his wife, Kathy. They have three grown children and two grandchildren — and Dr. John spends as much time with his grandkids as possible.

Rev. Dr. Gregory S. Walton
VP Ministry Solutions, Director, Grace Place Wellness

Greg joined LCEF’s Grace Place Wellness in Fall of 2022. He now oversees all aspects of Grace Place Wellness Ministries, which is a part of Ministry Solutions in LCEF. Having served for 13 years as the District President of the Florida-Georgia District, he has a commitment to assisting church workers in the LCMS excel in their callings for their whole careers. In his role, he will work to integrate wellness into other areas of LCEF to identify, coordinate and share resources that positively impact the lives of LCMS professional church workers and ministries in the LCMS.

Walton has spent most of his life on the East Coast, having grown up in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York. He attended Concordia College, which was in Bronxville, NY, where he met his wife, Edith. He graduated with his Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 1987 and served twenty-two years as a parish pastor in Toccoa, Georgia, and Marietta, Georgia, before being elected to the office of District President for the Florida-Georgia District. In his parish years Greg was deeply involved in community ventures, served as a Circuit Visitor, and then a District Vice President.

An ardent supporter of church worker wellness and Grace Place Wellness, as District President he sponsored a number of retreats in the FLGA District, assisting and encouraging workers in their personal wellbeing. Supporting and advocating for church workers and their family has long been a passion for Greg.

As his term-limited time as District President came to an end in August 2022, Walton joined LCEF and Grace Place Wellness to replace retiring director, Darrell Zimmerman, who was instrumental in developing Wellness Retreats for couples, ministry staffs, and congregations. Greg will pick up the mantle, try to fit into the large shoes vacated by Darrell, and explore new areas of ministry for Grace Place Wellness as we look to the future.

Greg and Edith live in Woodstock, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, and are in close proximity to their two children and six grandchildren. He is excited to serve the church in this new role.

Where Do Pastors Go for Help?

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 preventive self-care 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.

Following in Dr. Eckrich’s footsteps, our retreat leaders have taken Grace Place Wellness programming to every region of the country and worldwide through overseas missionary family retreats.

A Message for All Workers in Ministry

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 2000 with his wife, Carol, Darrell brings over 30 years of parish pastoral experience to the Grace Place Wellness team.

Healthy Leaders, Healthy Congregations

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)

A Vision for the Church

Our vision 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. Our staff have become popular presenters at Professional Church Worker Conferences on a wide range of topics related to church worker wellness.

Board of Directors

Dale Kreienkamp

CEO, Thriving through Transitions

Dr. John Eckrich, MD

Founder of Grace Place Wellness Ministries
Executive Vice Chair

Tim Petsch

Executive Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Pawz Dog Boots, LLC

Rehema Kavugha

Manager of Synod Relations, Lutheran Church Extension Fund

Jeff Hollingsworth


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