Sunday, August 05, 2012


I wrote the 100th anniversary congregational history for my Lutheran church in the 1980's. My grandmother had written the 75th and my great-great uncle John August Lindquist had written the 50th, so it seemed a natural.

In documenting the years of service of all the pastors, I noted that from 1951-78 the church had gone through 9 straight pastors at just about exactly 3 years each.  All had subsequently left parish ministry, as far as I could tell.  There was no pattern to that - one to retirement, one to teaching and farming, one fired for ripping off the congregation, one to a radio ministry.  But in all cases, Gethsemane was the last stop before leaving parish work.

At the time, I attributed that to the congregation, that it was particularly difficult or obstreperous, chewing 'em up and spitting 'em out.  I thought it was a very black mark against us, and may have been part of our decision to leave four years down the road.

I no longer think that.  I now think the congregation was very typical, an aging Swedish church trying to adjust but not knowing how, with the usual mix of gentle souls, irritable old codgers, and earnest young mothers willing to put in hours of work.  I don't know if the three-and-out track record is more an indictment of the denomination (LCA became ELCA), of secular New England or Scandinavian culture, or of the type of person who went into ministry in postwar Lutheranism.  But I assigned responsibility wrongly the first time around.


Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Interesting. What made you change your mind?

Der Hahn said...

To give you another data point I looked up my birth church's history. In that time period we had roughly four pastors (1952-1962, 1962-1966, 1967-1977, 1977-1988). They continued in parish ministry or retired after leaving. Demographically we were a small town rural Midwest congregation, mostly German in back ground, started around 1900 shortly after the town was founded. Theological background is Ohio Synod to ALC to ELCA.

Texan99 said...

My Episcopal congregation is somewhat elderly; when our members die off, they are replaced mostly by retired newcomers to town, 60 or older. This is largely a vacation town with few jobs for young people. Our pastors tend to make this their last stop before retirement. I suppose it wouldn't be an attractive choice for a very young priest.

Because we're a very small congregation with only one priest, we frequently have visiting priests to accommodate our pastor's illness or travel, or to fill in between priests while we're searching for a new one. They're a really mixed bunch from all over the political, age, and orthodoxy spectrum. It's interesting how they react to us. Apparently we're different somehow, but it's hard to say how. Maybe a little more cohesive than usual? This Sunday's visitor was startled by the volume of the responses to the liturgy; I guess he's used to a more tentative murmur. He asked us to ask him back, and we liked his sermons, too: thoughtful and deeply felt.

Unlike many Episcopal congregations these days, we're not being torn by the schism over gay rights, which I should think would be very hard on a pastor. There's a variety of opinion about it, but surprisingly little quarreling. I can't make out why that is.

james said...

What is the distribution of tenures at similar-sized churches in the same denomination? It might be that there's some bureaucratic gotcha that makes long terms less comfortable.