Beth Agner ’05, the lead DCE at Hope Lutheran Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina, came to CUI with a love of numbers and accounting, and has used that gift to start two financially profitable ministries within the church. But when her younger sister was murdered by the sister’s husband in 2017, it rocked Beth’s family—and deeply challenged their ability to forgive.
“I struggled with how I could continue to be a DCE,” Beth says. “I had so much hate in my heart for this person I had loved just a few days before.”
It was Beth’s ninth year in Wake Forest, a place where she flourished personally and in ministry.
“I’ve been told I have a ministerial entrepreneurial heart,” Agner says. “I find a problem and figure out how to fill that need, while furthering other ministries with the finances.”
Agner had already built an innovative, year-round day camp for local families—something that did not exist there before. In Wake Forest, public schools run all year long, with kids attending school for nine weeks, then off for three weeks on a rotating basis. Agner heard parents say things like, “I wish we had VBS all year,” and an idea was sparked.
She made a budget and a proposal to start a full-day camp for kids who were out of school, and the church took the plunge. What started with a handful of kids has grown to 600.
“It’s been a huge opportunity to reach into our community,” Agner says.
Hope, a 25-year-old congregation, draws hundreds on a weekend, including many young families. Agner oversees children’s ministry, women’s ministry, and the morning and evening day camps she operates. She also supervises two DCEs, both of whom are CUI graduates.
Her own journey was deeply impacted by CUI. While growing up at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky, she came under the mentorship of DCE Rebecca Duport ’98, who encouraged Agner to consider becoming a DCE, although she didn’t want to.
“I love math and accounting,” Agner says. “They were my strong point in school.”
But when she realized accounting is often “being in a room by yourself,” which she did not enjoy, she prayed earnestly for God’s direction. For the first time, she felt a strong sense of God’s guiding peace about a major situation. She decided to move halfway across the country to attend CUI and become a DCE.
“It was amazing how in times of trouble or feeling homesick or sad, I clung to the people at Concordia,” she says. “It creates bonds that last a lifetime.”
She participated in student government and loved attending basketball games and SHOUT!, a weekly evening worship service. After graduating and working in local churches, a call came from the church in Wake Forest.
I couldn’t bring myself to say , ‘God, please help me forgive him,’ because I was so angry, so I prayed, ‘God, heal my heart.’
“What I couldn’t imagine was how God would use the gifts and talents he gave me in this congregation,” Agner says. “It was another time where I felt God’s peace. My head had questions, but this peace from God said, ‘It’s okay. This is where I’m calling you to be. I have good things for you here.’ Now I know why he called me here. It’s an amazing place to serve.”
But in 2017, her family was devastated by the news that Beth’s younger sister, Lauren, who was newly married, had been stabbed to death by her husband.
“It came out of nowhere,” Beth says. “It felt like living in a movie. How could this be real? It was hard enough to process that Lauren was gone and we wouldn’t see her this side of heaven. Then there was the fact that her husband killed her. Every news outlet was hunting us down through social media. We were getting phone calls. All of a sudden our names and pictures were across the world. It was unreal.” News crews filmed outside their houses. “We were finding out [information] as the world was finding out. That felt very vulnerable,” she says. “How is it that other people are finding out about my life before I do?”
Fueling the interest was the killer’s claim that he took too much cold medicine, dreamed he killed his wife and woke up to find her dead on the floor. This prompted speculation— and news reports in People magazine and on Good Morning America, among other outlets—about whether taking cold medicine could cause someone to commit a terrible crime.
Lauren had been a Sunday school teacher at Hope Lutheran, and her death “had a big impact on our church,” Beth says. “She was very active and always volunteered for VBS.”
Lauren's husband was arrested and charged, and faced a death sentence. Agner’s tight-knit family, all of whom lived near one another, tried to pick up the pieces—but Beth felt her ministry platform had been undercut.
“I was worried people in my congregation would question my ability to keep their children safe,” she says. “If I couldn’t see that right under my nose, why would they trust me with their children? I struggled with trusting anyone.”
She also didn’t know what to do with the hatred in her heart. “I remember sitting there [in church] and thinking how much hate I had for him,” she says. “I didn’t feel like myself because of it. I couldn’t bring myself to say, ‘God, please help me forgive him,’ because I was so angry, so I prayed, ‘God, heal my heart. I know I will always miss my sister, but please heal my heart.’”
That familiar peace arrived again, even though “everything in my head was screaming, ‘This is not right and will never be right,’” she says.
Since then, she feels God has given her much grace and wisdom about what happened to her sister.
“I have never blamed God for her death,” Beth says. “I will be in heaven with her one day, and it’ll be wonderful.”
Still, advancing in spiritual health requires “a lifetime of forgiveness.”
“There is always something that will take you back to day one,” she says. “It’s how you respond to that and continue to move forward.”
Her sister’s killer received life in prison without the possibility of parole. Beth stood in court that day and read a statement. She closed with these words:
“Today, many of us are wearing #laurenslight shirts, and I want the court to know why. We want Lauren to always be remembered for the amazing person she was. She had a light that shined through her in the most incredible way. She wasn’t perfect, and if you truly loved Lauren I am confident you saw her imperfections a time or two, but at the end of the day the light she had was undeniable. The light that shined through her was not her own but the Light of Christ, the free grace that she received from Jesus. She wanted to share that love with everyone. So I hope that all who see this #laurenslight will know that Christ shines very bright in this very dark world, and Lauren is a beloved child of His and you are, too!”
Today, Agner continues to minister as the congregation at Hope Lutheran Church meets its community in places of need. They hold a health fair where medical professionals and dentists serve hundreds for no cost. The church also spearheads disaster relief training, teaching people how to use chainsaws and other equipment to clean up after hurricanes.
The day camps Agner started are now self-sustaining and help to fund other ministries. She also co-founded a second entrepreneurial ministry called Mothers’ Morning Out with a passionate church member. It offered the first half-day program for infants to two-year-olds in their area, and has been popular enough to have a waiting list.
“Hope has been a great place that allows me to grow the gifts God has given me,” Agner says. “I’m overwhelmed with how much love God has for his people and how prevalent
it is at Hope, whether it’s taking care of children or the community in general.”
Concordia’s influence has been foundational all along the way, she believes. These days she gives back by serving as a DCE supervisor, mentoring CUI students during their internship year.
“I feel so blessed that I had people pour into me and show me God’s love from a young age,” she says. “That’s my goal in life: for people to know there’s a God that loves them so powerfully, and he wants to be in a relationship with them.”
That remains true, even when walking through the fire as her family has.
“Lauren has this horrific story. Either we can use it for God’s glory or try to hide from it all,” Beth says. “We as a family have chosen to use it for God’s glory, to witness and share his love. It’s only by his grace and love for me that I can do it. He provides everything you need.”