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Life in God’s Vineyard

June 25, 2022 - 10 minute read

Cindy Steinbeck ‘02 and Steve Schedler ‘84

Cindy Steinbeck, MA ’02, and Steve Schedler ’84 both spent years serving as Directors of Christian Education (DCE), supporting Concordia in various ways, and walking through seasons of great personal hardship. Now, as spouses and partners in the Voice in the Vineyard Ministry, they are creating ways to support ministers with teaching, renewal retreats, and the healing power of relationship.

“Our passion is to care for and support church workers and church leaders,” Steve says. “Our ministry provides a place of rest, encouragement, and growth for DCEs and other church leaders and educators.”

This mostly takes place on a storied, 450-acre vineyard in north San Luis Obispo County, where Cindy famously takes visitors on teaching tours in her rusty 1958 Willis Jee—a ride that has even attracted Christian author and speaker Beth Moore, who featured Cindy in a video series accompanying one of her books.

The Steinbeck vineyard has been in Cindy’s family for seven generations and, under her leadership, launched its own winery and tasting room. It is the place she came home to after 15 years serving as a DCE, and it has provided fertile soil for the growth of her ministry as a speaker, author, and host.

For most of their lives, Cindy and Steve walked parallel and occasionally-intersecting paths. Cindy came to Concordia (then called Christ College Irvine) in 1980 and then transferred to Concordia University Portland to play sports (Concordia Irvine had no women’s sports programs at the time). Steve, a San Diego native, enrolled at CCI six months later.

“It was a much different place—150 students and four buildings,” he says. “I joke that I went to a college that was smaller than my Lutheran elementary school. It was a great experience at Irvine with friends and professors.”

The land was calling me home.

Both became DCEs. Steve served at Peace Lutheran in Camarillo, then Redeemer Lutheran in Ontario for 10 years, before coming home to St. Paul’s in San Diego, where he has served ever since.

“Being a DCE means lots of great ministry,” he says. “You get to hang out with kids, share life with them, lead and guide, talk about Jesus, and be a servant in the kingdom.”

Cindy served as DCE in churches near Portland, Oregon, and Lancaster, California. But her heart was drawn to the family’s Paso Robles vineyard, which has sustained them since 1884.

“The land was calling me home through my son,” she says. “He was his grandpa’s sidekick from birth and always wanted to farm. The business was growing, and my son was in seventh grade and really wanted to farm the vineyards.”

In 1997, she moved back to Paso Robles and began working the vineyard, driving a tractor, and doing “all the work that the men carry out on the ranch now,” she says with a laugh. “I fell right into it because I’d had lots of experience growing up doing that.” 

Steinbeck Vineyards supplies grapes—mainly cabernets—to large wineries. But while riding a tractor ten hours a day, “my ministry kicked in,” Cindy says. “I got up early and studied the Scriptures, especially the gospel of John chapter 15. I had time to meditate as I watched my dad work as a vine dresser.”

The words of Jesus came alive to her: “I am the vine, you are the branches.” In Revelation 22 he called himself “the root of Jesse.” The images corresponded to what she saw daily in the vineyard.

Cindy Steinbeck

“I watched grafting, where they take a deep slice into the flesh of the vine,” she says. “The vine is what we call a rootstock—a non-fruit-bearing grape vine propagated by the nurseries. We use it because it’s not susceptible to disease. We take a bud-wood from Cabernet Sauvignon and graft it in.”

In the same way, Christians are branches connected to the one True Vine by grafting, which in the Lutheran understanding is baptism, she says.

“The old is gone, the new is come, and the rootstock is not susceptible to disease,” she says. “Christ is not susceptible to sin, death, Satan, or temptation. We abide in his holy life. Romans 11:16 says, ’if the root is holy, the branches are holy.’”

These and other lessons came vividly to life while she did the daily work of tending, watering, and harvesting.

“While I love the outdoors and tractors and farming, I was still a DCE at heart,” she says. “The call home turned into ministry, even on this land.”

Cindy often captured her thoughts on a blog, which came to the notice of Concordia Publishing House. They asked her to write three books. Eventually, Cindy started Jeep tours to educate people about sustainable farming, and to teach the gospel through the visual example of the vineyard.

“’Sustainable’ is a very en vogue word,” she says. “Sustainable farming means every decision we make—water use, growing grapes, and so on—all looks to the future and sustainability. We have to have profitability, use chemicals safely for our workers and families, and never over-use the environment.”

The other tour—called Sustainable Life or, more informally, “my John 15 Jesus Jeep ride”—gained traction as well.

“We get in the Jeep and see Jesus in his words of ’I am the vine and you are the branches,’ in the vineyard,” she says.

On the business side, visitors kept asking where they could taste the Steinbecks’ wines, and Cindy tired of sending them to wineries that purchased their grapes.

“That’s when I pretty well had it in my mind that it was time to start the Steinbeck wine label,” she says. “It was very scary to step out and make a product that would have our own name on it, but I knew in my heart that it was right.”

I pray every moment and ask God to work through this place.

The Steinbeck family launched their wine brand in 2006 and opened a wine tasting room in 2009. They completed a processing facility in 2017, allowing them to cask and bottle their own vintages on site.

Yet even as the wine business and ministry were ramping up, Cindy’s marriage ended.

“I had to wake up to [the fact that it was] domestic violence. I could not see the mistreatment,” she says. “I was so convinced that God wanted me married that I gave God no other option. I prayed for peace in my house for 20 years and did not ever anticipate that divorce would be how God worked to bring peace in my house.”

Meanwhile, Steve had walked a similarly painful road. His first marriage ended in divorce, and his second wife, Joyce, succumbed to leukemia in 2016. “It’s been anything but a smooth and easy ride, but God has been incredibly faithful in how he has provided for me and for our family,” Steve says.

Widowed, Steve continued a tradition of traveling north every spring for a wine festival in Paso Robles, as he and Joyce had done for years. There, he visited Cindy at her vineyard. The couples had known each other well in ministry. “When Joyce died, it was traumatic for Cindy as well because we were all friends,” Steve says.

Steve and Cindy took walks in the vineyard to talk about life’s hardships and victories, and how they saw the hand of God working through it all.

“She helped me through in so many ways,” Steve says. “It’s been a huge part of my healing process. Jesus says, ‘Abide in me.’ When you wander around the vineyard, you see those grafts and the times of the season, the different growth, the sap flow. It’s a very spiritual place.” Cindy reflects the same sentiment.

Initially, neither had in mind a new relationship, but over time a new perspective developed. They were married in 2021 and just celebrated their first anniversary. “It’s totally a God thing,” Steve says.

Part of their bond is sharing a great excitement for Concordia University Irvine, where Cindy has served twice on the board of regents, Steve served as president of the alumni board, and both have guest lectured. Cindy earned her master’s degree in history and theology from Concordia in 2002, and Steve earned his bachelor's degree in Religious Studies in 1984.

“I have developed a tremendous fondness for the people of Concordia,” she says. “My passion grew as I became very good friends with not only the admin team but my regent compadres. Professors invited me to come speak on marketing or in a business class or theology class. I was able to integrate myself as a regent into the school setting.”

She recently spoke to Townsend Institute students and led a devotion at a recent kick-off event for a new student cohort. John Townsend, who made her a Fellow of the Institute in Leadership/Executive Coaching, says Cindy’s contributions are “highly valuable for our Organizational Leadership and Executive Coaching and Consulting students.”

Steinbeck wine

Cindy says her love for her alma mater has grown over the years. “Being able to donate wine for the Gala of Stars and have so many faithful people visit me on the ranch and experience the Jesus Jeep Ride has been great,” she says. “Dr. Michael Thomas is an astounding leader—not only personable but visionary. He gets it done. He sees a vision and is going to carry that out. The cabinet he has placed around him is a dynamic force, and he has given them the tools to carry out his vision. He sets the course and then turns the work to them without micromanaging them. He’s a great leader. There is a tremendous synergy taking place.”

She calls it a “domino effect of success” when components such as building projects, fundraising, and the establishing of new programs happen together.

“God has been so good,” she says. “We’re enhancing our campus. We have faithful donors who are tremendously active and very generous. The long-term strategic plan is phenomenal.”

Steve is excited to be part of “so many cool things about the mission and ministry of Concordia,” he says. “It’s a bright future.”

It’s been anything but a smooth and easy ride, but God has been incredibly faithful.

Today, Steve also provides leadership and mentorship to the Pacific Southwest District’s DCEs.

“Both Steve and Cindy have had a powerful impact through their various ministries,” says Tim Jaeger, Concordia’s Vice President for University Advancement, Marketing, and Communications. “It’s wonderful to see God bringing these two special people together.”

Steve is preparing to move north to join Cindy at the vineyard and put his efforts fully into their shared ministry, Voice in the Vineyard. In addition to Cindy’s Jesus Jeep Tours and speaking engagements, the couple is transforming an oak-filled park on their property and putting in trailers where people can stay in the vineyard itself, enjoying group dinners and wine, conversation, and encouragement.

“We are coming together to support and care for people we love,” Steve says.“We will be supportive and caring through hospitality, Scripture study, and talking to people. We help those who are strong, but tired, to rest and get renewed.”

Cindy’s son now runs Steinbeck’s agriculture operations, and her son-in-law is their assistant winemaker. Cindy recently self-published a fourth book about her experience with divorce, and she still works the land.

“In a few minutes, I’m going to jump on a tractor and mow some weeds that are bugging me badly,” she said toward the close of an interview with CUI magazine.

The Steinbeck tasting room welcomes guests seven days a week, and its winery produces 1,500 cases annually, selling the other 99 percent of harvested grapes to larger wineries. Her mother and father, who also have a history of supporting Concordia, are healthy and strong in their early eighties. Her father, “a true farmer at heart,” loves hosting the sustainable farming tours and is a visitor favorite.

What continues to sustain Cindy and Steve together is prayer. “I pray every moment,” she says. “I sit at the top of my driveway regularly and ask God to work through this place. It’s his land; I’m a steward.”

Their journeys, separately and now together, have been “absolutely God all the way,” she says.

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