Dear St. John, Port Hope; my brothers and sisters in Christ~
As March 4 marked twenty years since I was installed as your pastor, I am reminded of April 29, 2001. It was as important a day in my life as any.
I’d been your pastor only eight weeks. This Sunday afternoon was the quarterly voters meeting. When I was called on to open the meeting with prayer, I did not. Instead, I informed you that my wife was divorcing me.
I explained all that I could, and that since I learned of it on April 2 I had spoken with our Circuit Visitor, Pastor Lueke, and then with a few of our church leaders. I told Pastor Lueke that if I needed to resign, I would. After he looked into things, he came back to tell me that my resignation would not be necessary.
Even so, when I spoke with the leaders of the congregation, I said, “If I am a disgrace to the congregation, I will resign.” They echoed Pastor Lueke. Now, to bring it before the congregation.
I concluded my part saying that I had offered my resignation to Pastor Lueke, and then to the leaders, and they all had told me it wasn’t necessary. Still, I said, if you all decide that my divorce is too big an offense I would resign immediately.
I then left the meeting. After a bit, Pastor Lueke walked over to the parsonage. His words are etched in my memory: “I don’t know what you’ve done in the two months you’ve been here, but these people love you. They voted unanimously that they want you to stay.”
You took care of me. And—keeping in context what I will now say—you saved me.
If I had to resign, I had no idea what I was going to do, where I was going to go. And I had three of my four children living with me, the new single parent. Emotionally ripped apart by the divorce, I was depressed. And I was scared.
You took care of me. With your vote of confidence, the repairing of my heart was able to begin.
And then, for thirteen years, you kept on taking care of me.
My divorce still fresh, in September I introduced Julie to you. You received her with the same affection you gave me. And, adding suddenness to suddenness, we married before the year was out. And how did you react? You rejoiced with us. You filled the church for our wedding and threw us a lovely reception.
And then you kept taking care of us. You were generous to me in the salary you provided, in the regular raises, and the outstanding health care benefits.
And the parsonage! Do you know that I told anyone and everyone that we lived in the best parsonage in the Missouri Synod? If only I had a pizza for every time I said that!
You took care of the parsonage, which meant you took care of us. You installed new windows, new carpeting and linoleum, a new water heater, a patio (using Julie’s design) off the basement door, and an entirely new kitchen (allowing Julie and me to select everything), and remodeled the bathroom in the master bedroom.
And you took care of us by treating us as regular folks. You never pressured Julie to do this or that. (How often, in the past, the pastor’s wife was expected to lead the choir or teach Sunday School.) Julie was free to be her own person. When she became secretary for the church school, it was her choice. She loved the work and interacting with staff and families.
And you took care of our kids. You didn’t treat them like PKs—pastor’s kids. They got to be regular kids. Regular kids. Never pressured to act better—as if they could!
And when the boys made a studio out of a corner in the basement, and their electric guitar and drums could be heard on the street, no one every told me, “Pastor, we can’t have that.” Nope, not once.
You know, I had been warned that Port Hope was a challenging place to be a pastor. That the members of St. John could be hard on their ministers. I never understood that. I never experienced that. I never had to tell anyone, “They sure are!” Rather, I always said, “If they used to be, they sure aren’t now. They treat me wonderfully.”
You proved it at the beginning, and you proved it at the end. When I needed to take a leave of absence, you rallied behind me. When I returned from a month away, you received me with joy. When I said I was going to try to hang in there and not retire, you encouraged me. And when I wasn’t able, you threw us a splendid going away party.
You took care of me. From the folks who came to Iowa to move me to Port Hope, to the folks who came to the parsonage to pack the truck for our departure, and every day in between, you took care of me. You took care of us.
Remember how I often concluded the Sunday announcements, “It’s just another day in paradise”? It was you, who made living in Port Hope a paradise for me.
Though I am sad not to be with you in Port Hope, I rejoice that we will enjoy the ultimate Paradise together, when we are gathered to our Lord Jesus. He is the reason I was sent to you. He is the reason you took care of me. Soon, we will rejoice together with Him, and never again have to say goodbye.