This past week, Faith and I drove up to Campbell Hill, Illinois. There is a healthy amount of discussion as to whether or not a pastor should visit a congregation which has extended a Call to him, but there isn't really a clear-cut answer. I never visited Zanesville before I accepted the Call to serve there, and though I do not blame that lack for the way things turned out there--after all, everyone puts their best foot forward with a planned visit--sometimes I wonder what might have happened if I had visited. (I sometimes allow myself the luxury to think about things I can't change.)
I had my response pretty much set by the time we decided to take our trip, and I didn't really expect anything we saw there to change my mind. The drive itself was lovely, though we were a little early to catch the fields in their vibrant greens. But even lovelier than the drive were the people we encountered. It started with the Buetow family. Pastor Mark Buetow, his wife Susan, their three daughters, and Aslan the cat warmly welcomed us into their home for the first two nights. Pastor Buetow and I have known each other for a long time. In fact, when Faith and I decided to move to Louisiana in 2005, I called Pastor Buetow, and he provided spiritual care for us. He's a good man, though Faith believes he consumes a little too much red food dye. He's also the vacancy pastor for St. Peter Lutheran Church, and he was able to give me extra information about the congregation. As for Faith, she and Susan are both homeschool mothers, and they had developed an online friendship that bloomed during our visit. Their daughters are lovely young ladies--taking after their mother, thankfully, in their temperament.
On Thursday we went to church at St. Peter. We started with the dinner beforehand, meeting and greeting those who had come to eat and to worship. We'd let them know we were coming, and we were greeted with love. The church itself is beautiful--I'll let the picture above speak louder than any words I could add. And the people? I've lived in rural Missouri and rural North Dakota, and there is a certain mentality to the rural being. There's a certain calmness, a generosity of spirit, that seems almost innate. That's not to say that city folk aren't generous, but it seems to be a way of life here. (I'm already speaking as if I'm there.)
On Friday, Faith and I had dinner with a group of leaders from the congregation. After the delicious meal, we did introductions, and then, after a brief discussion, I announced that I was officially accepting the Call to serve as Pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church. This was the first time I'd ever been able to witness the reaction when I announced a decision like this, and the relief and the applause were a welcome and soothing balm. They handled well the news of Michael's autism. They'd started renovations on the house, and they sought our input on what we'd like to see done. It was as if we were already there--and though we had to come back after worship on Sunday, in a way it feels like we're already part of the life of the congregation. And I suppose we are. Thanks be to God for such faithful and loving people to serve with and to serve!
For those who are interested, President Herb Mueller of the Southern Illinois District will be installing me as St. Peter's pastor on May 16 at 7 PM. Pastor Buetow will be preaching. Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod pastors who attend are invited to participate. May 16 is the Seventh Sunday of Easter, so be prepared with your white stoles.
Thank you for your support and prayers over the pastor four years, and thank you for your continued prayers for myself, my family, and the St. Peter congregation.