It’s been 8 years since I regularly attended Calvary By The Sea Lutheran Church – my home congregation. When I worship with them now on Zoom or on Facebook, I look around and notice that I no longer recognize at least three quarters of the congregation. Families that I grew up with have moved away, members who were once active or even on council do not seem to be there anymore, and the pastor, music director, organist, and office administrator who I once knew and loved so well have all moved on to new congregations too. I realized this recently and started to mourn how the church that I knew and loved seemed to be fading before my eyes.
But then I reflected on the changes this congregation has endured in those 8 years. Declining attendance. Staff turnover. Major hurricane and Flood damage. Covid-19. Several member families moving out of state because of Hawaii’s rising cost of living. Most recently, and perhaps the hardest obstacle they have faced was their 3-year long call process to find a new pastor. That’s right, I said 3 years. This congregation is the biggest Lutheran Church in the state of Hawaii, they have a beachfront sanctuary with stunning ocean views, they run the second biggest foodbank in the state out of the old parsonage, they have many, many thriving ministries, and on top of it all they are genuinely lovely people. Loads of pastors were applying to come to this church.
So why did the call process take three years? Well, because call processes and pastoral transitions are difficult for several reasons, even for the most idyllic of churches. The synod would give Calvary 10 applications at a time of pastors wanting to work with them. They would interview all 10, narrow them down, interview a chosen handful, keep narrowing and interviewing until they decided on one person to offer a call to. Finally, after months of time and energy, after building excitement about their wonderful candidate, after offering an official letter of call and even after a congregational vote to say “Yes! This is our new pastor!”… That chosen candidate would decline their offer. Their spouse decided they did not want to move. They were intimidated by the cost of living. For one reason or another, they were turned down at the last minute by 3 candidates in a row.
The congregation was becoming exhausted. This was not the quick and exciting call process they had imagined and having interim after interim was causing their attendance to decline and energy to fade. But this Spring, after 3 long years, they called their ideal new pastor, he said yes, and he was worth waiting for. I have tuned in to online services recently to size up the new guy and see how old Calvary is doing. As I said before, there has been a lot of change. I do not recognize most of the families in the pews, but that does not make me sad anymore. You know why? Because instead of seeing loss, I see growth. New families, many of them, have started coming, and getting involved. The congregation’s mission and vision for who they are and how they are serving their neighborhood are clearer and bolder than ever before. There is new energy and new life that’s clear to see, even from thousands of miles away. I know the last several years have been difficult, but they are a stronger, more missional, more solid congregation because of it.
My hope in sharing this story is not to intimidate or discourage you. Rather, it is to help you to take comfort in knowing Joyful Life is not alone in our longer than expected call process. My
hope is that in this in-between time, you will recognize not just the loss, but the learning, the change, and the growth. My hope is that you will believe me when I insist that whoever God has in store to serve as Joyful Life’s new pastor, will have been worth the wait.