25 YEARS... LOOKING BACK AND AHEAD8/5/2018
Twenty five years ago, on August 1, 1993, I was blessed to be ordained a pastor in the ELCA. The ordination certificate reads, "Clifford Alan Bahlinger, who has been called to serve in the ordained ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and who acknowledges adherence to this church's confession of faith and accepts its constitutional order, was ordained a Minister of the Church of Christ in the Office of Word and Sacrament, by the laying on of hands, under the authority of the Southeastern Synod."
In our church, one is only ordained to be pastor when one has a call from a congregation. Lutherans believe ordination is to an office of pastor for a specific congregation or ministry. You first must earn a Masters of Divinity degree and be approved by your Synod's Candidacy Committee. Once you are approved for ministry you await a call to a congregation and then ordination.
I was fortunate to receive a call to St. Stephen Church in Decatur, Georgia shortly after finishing my course work and receiving my degree. Our daughter Sophia was not yet two years old when we accepted the call and began planning the ordination service at St. Stephen. Bishop Harold Skillrud was the bishop of the Southeastern Synod at that time.
I was blessed to serve nine years at St Stephen. Our family grew along with the congregation. We were blessed to do ministry together. Our first big project was to join with a local organization that was looking for a place for a nursery for children that were HIV positive. We worked hard to educate the congregation and to build a working partnership. We held a congregational meeting to vote on hosting the AIDS children's ministry and remodeling the nursery. I was relieved when the vote passed with only a few dissenting votes. When it can time to remodel, a pipe burst and flooded the church. I remember thinking, "oh no, I am going to get fired." I went to inform several office holders on the church council. I was not at all sure what response I would get. To my surprise the church members banded together to help get fans and dry out the building for Sunday Service. We went on to host the children's HIV nursery for several years. It was so important for the parents of these children to know they had nursery for them, where their children were accepted and loved.
I have learned that ministry takes many forms. Here at St Luke we continue to look for partnerships to expand our ministry. We have been busy this summer hosting the YMCA Camp, overnight church groups, Jazzercise, and the neighborhood association. This fall Shady Oaks School returns along with the Sorority groups and quilting groups.
We are now in the home stretch to paying off our mortgage on our property. We will have more freedom in our ministry priorities when the mortgage payments are done. We would be wise to look into hosting an early education center or nursery in the south end of our building. Lutherans are well known for quality childcare, and all working parents want and desire quality childcare. Today's economy forces most couples to both work full time. How can we help families seeking affordable quality Christian childcare?
I have been so blessed to serve as your pastor these past 16 years. When you are having fun, working with wonderful people and watching and leading people growing in faith, the time does indeed go by fast! I am hopeful you will have me around for a few more years. I do believe God has more plans for us to grow and reach out to our neighbors. It is wonderful to see our children's "Pray Ground" filled with little ones each Sunday. We are blessed with great lay leadership, wonderful church staff and a vibrant congregation. Let's keep a good thing going.
Join me in starting and ending each day in prayer. Pray for your individual ministry, your family and your church. God is calling each of us to a deeper walk. Let us be mindful of God's presence with us each day.
One final thought, please pray for those entering seminary and seeking a call to ministry. The ELCA is experiencing a shortage of clergy. Pray for all who may be led to follow Christ on the path to ordained ministry in the ELCA.
Grace and Peace,