Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One,
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son
And now let the weak say, “I am strong,”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us.” Give thanks…
While there is an abundance of things for which I am thankful, I would like to give thanks for a long line of clergy who have helped me in my faith journey as a Christian and as a pastor.
The first pastor I remember from my childhood was the Rev. Charlie Lowder of First Congregational Church in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. This was the church where I learned the stories of the Bible—Jesus commanding us to turn the other cheek, his feeding the 5000 and the like. Even to this day, I recall one sermon illustration about a man driving in the middle of the desert with no one around when he comes upon a stop sign and decides to ignore the law. He emphasized how even though our sins (and our good works) may not always be seen by others, God sees everything.
Later, I was confirmed at Calvary Lutheran Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin by the Rev. Dick Bidwell. I recall a small group of us attending weekly classes. This was where I learned the fundamentals of my Christian faith.
When I began my graduate work, my Christian faith life deepened tremendously under the pastoral care of the Rev. Tom Chittick of the University Lutheran Church in Cambridge, MA. Tom was the first pastor I knew to be a real person as well. Often wearing a jean jacket, Tom was accessible and preached amazing sermons. He took an active interest in my life and growth as a Christian. Without Tom, I don’t know if I would have ever heard a call to ordained ministry. As my calling eventually led me to leave the confines of Cambridge over to Roxbury in Boston, Tom sent me on my way rejoicing.
At Resurrection Lutheran Church, I met the Rev. John Heinemeier. I remember first walking through his office door, asking if I could work at his church. He looked at me with skepticism…who is this Harvard guy coming to the other side of the tracks? Barrel-chested and tall, John grew up working the fields of his Texas Lutheran town. He was short on praise, and high on expectations. I learned to love congregational life at Resurrection. His preaching and eventual words of encouragement mean the world to me.
Later, I moved to the South Bronx to learn from the Rev. Heidi Neumark, who was the pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church. Heidi has taught me more than any other pastor about the role of a pastor in the life of a congregation. Watching her cobble together ministry with limited resources, I discovered that the role of a pastor is really that of an artist. God has given us a canvas of materials—the Bible, church members, a building, a community—and from that we can create innovative ways to the tell the story of Jesus in a way that is contextually relevant.
Fifteen years into ministry, I honestly didn’t expect to find new pastoral mentors when I arrived at New Song, but God knew that one is never done learning, so He sent me the Rev. David Miller. Congregational ministry can be challenging from time to time, and whatever I experience, I can guarantee David has been through something similar! Long ago, he and his wife Ann arrived in this valley and together they imagined a new Lutheran Church, Good Samaritan, which is still thriving today. David has been such a blessing to me, both privately and publicly. His friendship during good times and bad, and constant encouragement are things for which I give thanks today. May God bless Pastor David and Ann Miller!
Today I give thanks for the pastors who have guided me in my journey. Thank you, God!