When Sheryl and I drove away from LSTC with our Chevy Corsica (aka the Crapsica) full of stuff we had tears in our eyes.
But over the next hour or so we began to look forward to our destination: Mountain Home, Idaho. Grace Lutheran was a struggling mission congregation. The bishop told me: If you can’t help them grow then we will just shut them down.”
The very first day on the job, the two patriarchs of the congregation said to me, “Now that you are here we can put the flag back in the sanctuary.” They had figured that I was young, and as such they could “mold me.”
They were wrong. No flag, as we are baptized into a transnational faith.
Over time I began to understand that they had reasons to want to mold me. Their first pastor had sexually abused many members and broke the congregation into splinters. These two men and their families had tried to protect the pastor, as they could not believe what was being said about him. That is, until he approached their own wives.
I didn’t find this out until I was two years in. So, I sent a letter about the abuse to the congregation on the Easter Vigil, preached at Easter, and came to church on Monday morning waiting for phone calls to start.
Some were glad to know. Others were sad. These two fine men, and others who had carried the secret, were angry that knowledge of this would ruin the congregation’s reputation in the community and wreck the congregation. We had scheduled to tear out walls in the church building to make more room for worship the next Saturday. “What’s the use in this?” they said. “Nobody will want to come now anyway.”
Sunday morning we had 85 people, 20 more than usual, and Good Friday and Easter were back after only one week. And the next week we had 75 people and the numbers just stayed there, and grew. Sheryl gave birth to our two daughters there.
After 4 tough years, we went to Spokane and there I was to redevelop Salem Lutheran Church. Salem had formerly been 1200 members, but was now down to 220. Two years later, an associate pastor working with me called and told me she found out that two pastors had concurrently sexually violated their position of trust with over 40 women, causing untold pain, 2 suicides, and many divorces. I called the bishop and said, “Well, I am two for two.”
After only two years there I went to Anacortes to serve as a mission developer. After fast growth, there came the bust of the internet and later the Iraq war. We went from 150 to 70 in about 1 year. Tough. But then we began a relationship with the Episcopalians.
My daughters have known Anacortes as their home. During this time I wrote Being Human: the Image of the Serving God and had a great time doing it. I am currently working on another book and hope to have it out by June.
I currently serve 4 congregations in the Skagit Valley of Washington State. Three of them are Episcopalian.
I have found that each of my congregations have had similar stories of pastoral malfunction and overfunction. It is a miracle that churches survive many of these incidents.
But then the church is a miracle that only Wind makes possible, as Ed Krentz taught us many years ago.