This is my last newsletter article here at St. Paul’s. This congregation will go from two pastors down to one. I am saddened and heartbroken to leave here. I still have a lot of vision for this congregation. I still think there is great ministry to be done here.
My last Sunday here is October 15. Then I am using my remaining vacation time. While I love and care about all of you we must cut ties. The ELCA has rules about a pastor leaving a congregation. These rules apply to associate pastors and senior pastors. While the rules seem harsh they are in place to allow a congregation to grieve and transition. It saddens me, but I will no longer be your pastor and will no longer perform pastoral duties for this congregation. I am not permitted to do baptisms, funerals, pastoral counseling, visits, hospital visits. I am not permitted to return for confirmations, funerals, etc. My membership will be transferred to another congregation, and I will no longer worship here. While it breaks my heart, I cannot remain in contact with the congregation.
Even though we must cut ties, you will remain always in my thoughts and prayers. You may see me out and about in the area. It is ok to say hello, but I cannot serve you as your pastor. It is critical that you don’t just come to church, but be the church now more than ever. This fearful world needs a fearless church.
We have been fearful so far this year due to financial concerns. We eliminated the sexton position and there has been discussion, council votes and letters to the senior pastor and council for months to eliminate the associate pastor position. At the special council meeting in September the council vote to eliminate the associate pastor position via special congregational meeting was 4 – 6 with four being in favor of having a meeting to eliminate the position. After that meeting some were upset that council didn’t call the congregational meeting and wanted to petition to call one.
In my report to church council for September, I challenged both council and the congregation as to whether St. Paul’s is serious about doing mission and ministry or is simply going to continue to slash and burn through the spending plan. Some have taken offense to it. I care too much about the mission and ministry of this congregation. If we react in fear and continue to try to balance the budget this way, without truly thinking about its missional impact, we have a problem. Are we serving and putting our trust in hope in God or in mammon? These are tough words to read and tough words for me to say. I am passionate about the gospel, that’s why we’re here.
I strived to make recommendations and guide council and the congregation. With my report to council in August, I submitted three pages about ways we are saving money, things we can do to reduce costs, and ways to generate money. There are about 841 people on our rolls (as of close of 2016) with about 600 active as of the close of 2016.
I, as an individual, came to you out of seminary with about $100k in debt; the majority of it was educational debt for my seminary education. It has been a source of anxiety as it is for many young pastors. I have been paying down my personal debt while giving and increasing giving to this congregation. If I can climb out of significant debt as an individual, several hundred of you can support the mission plan of this congregation and pay down debt. This congregation can do the same. It won’t happen overnight, but it is doable. How do we want to serve God, share the gospel, and carry out mission? That is our starting point. Look back over the years. We’ve been in debt and deficit of some magnitude before. God has seen us through those times.
St. Paul’s can be church, but it means trusting God, it means being missional, boldly proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Christianity isn’t a spectator sport. Go, be, do church proclaim Jesus in Word and deed. The world needs us now more than ever. This fearful world needs a fearless church. Put your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.