A bittersweet farewell
Rev. Sherri L. Sandoz, Bethel Lutheran Church, Lester Prairie
As I prepare to accept a new call as senior pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Monticello, I am brimming with appreciation for the folks of Bethel Lutheran Church of Lester Prairie and delighting in a thousand great memories over the past 10 years.
I officiated over contemporary worship for the last time April 15. It was a bittersweet day, full of laughter, tears, and gracious good-byes. As I sat in the pew with my husband and our sons now grown, I came to realize the impact this church and community have had on me and my family.
Our college-age sons, Eric and Patrick, are just now realizing that Bethel has been a huge part of their Lester Prairie experience. The people of Bethel opened their arms to them when they were 12 and 10 years of age, accepting them as fellow members of the body of Christ through stages of orange hair, dreadlocks, and pierced eyebrows.
Other church bodies might have scorned them for just being teenagers. Instead, Bethel has had a hand in raising two fine young Christian men. Our sons were assured right from the start, and quite apart from me, that the folks at Bethel will provide a soft place to land during life’s growing pains. Bethel folks get that it takes a village to raise a child.
I came directly from Luther Seminary in St. Paul to Bethel Lutheran Church as my “first call” to parish ministry. Bethel has long been known as a first call congregation and has trained many a pastor for work in the greater church. Bethel has done this with patience and good humor, recognizing the many firsts for me as a new pastor.
In return, I gained skills in pastoral care, preaching, writing, social ministry, stewardship, Christian education, and worship leadership. Over the course of time, I was privileged to become a leader in community, conference, and synod. Bethel has provided a tremendous training ground.
As with any institution where human beings are involved, there are challenges. It seems there are always a handful of people who need to be in control, a good thing when it comes to church leadership, but a harmful, sinful thing when it comes to power struggles. Bethel folks have a healthy way of dealing gently. I am grateful for the Christ-like wisdom imparted by this.
In an era when our faith is being formulated as much from televangelism as from the Small Catechism, it is important to remember that the Bible is the source of truth, a truth expressed through the doctrinal interpretations of the various Christian denominations. The challenge facing all church leaders today is teaching the tenants of the church in the face of misinterpretation, misinformation, and outright heresy.
A new call process has begun at Bethel Lutheran Church. In time, a new pastor will become part of the life and fabric of Lester Prairie.
It is good to remember that clergy are called by Jesus Christ, just as were the first disciples. The call to ministry, tested over time in the candidacy program of church and seminary, is a Spirit-led process that should never be taken lightly.
In Luke 10:16, Jesus says to his disciples, “Whoever listens to you, listens to me, and whoever rejects you, rejects me, and whoever rejects me, rejects the one who sent me.” Where there is a big tendency to compare new clergy with former clergy and to insist on personal preferences, I trust that Bethel folks will appreciate their new pastor for his or her unique gifts and strengths. I have no doubt someone very special is being prepared to serve God’s purposes at this particular time in history.
Ten years have come and gone all too quickly. As I bid you a bittersweet and fond farewell, I extend my appreciation to Bethel members and all of the Lester Prairie community for providing me and my family a fine place of purpose and belonging. I pray that God blesses you now and through the generations.