Author: Day Hefner
5/28/23 Sermon: Breathing Stories into Life
5/21/23 Sermon: The Road Is Long. Like, I-80 through Iowa Long.
5/14/23 Sermon: We Know the Way
Letter from Pastor Day
My very dear saints of St. John’s,
It is with a heavy heart that I am writing this letter to let you know that my last Sunday with you all will be June 18. I was approached by Synod staff late last year about some new ministry opportunities, and after a lengthy period of discernment, I have decided to accept a new call and will soon be moving to Lincoln to begin doing transitional ministry with congregations there.
I imagine this comes as a surprise; and I want you to know that this was not at all a quick or easy decision – but rather one I have been wrestling with for many months. I have so much love for you and for this congregation. We have been through so much in the nearly five years I’ve been here – through floods, through a global pandemic and the massive overnight restructuring of church as we know it – and we came through it together with creativity and compassion for our neighbor and with our hearts focused on Christ. I am extremely proud of the ministry we have done together, and I hope you are too.
St. John’s is a small congregation and, like many smaller and more rural congregations, I’ve sometimes gotten the vibe that you maybe don’t see yourselves as a prime call, especially for a relatively young, ‘go-getter’ kind of pastor like me. I want you to know – emphatically – that nothing could be further from the truth. St. John’s is an amazing congregation. You are genuinely committed to following Christ, even in times of uncertainty and challenge: when the pandemic demanded radical, overnight change, I saw you prioritize making sure that the most isolated and vulnerable among us would still be included, and in the pandemic’s aftermath, I watched you double down on prayer, full of faith in the Holy Spirit’s guiding. You have a big heart of hospitality: the joyful sharing of food and fellowship is central to this congregation, and one of my greatest joys in being here has been watching how little time it takes for newcomers to go from a warm welcome to feeling like they belong. You are faithful stewards and servants of Christ: congregational leadership has already begun to have conversations exploring the possibilities of shared ministry with other congregations, and while these conversations are motivated in part by the financial challenges that St. John’s (like many others) is facing, they are motivated at least as much by the many gifts this congregation has to share. (And I could go on!)
I have been so blessed to get to do my first call in this congregation; and I will forever be grateful to you for taking a chance on me and calling me as your pastor. I will take the many lessons I have learned here with me into my next call.
I ask for your prayers as I transition into this new ministry. I have always sought to be honest and candid with you all, and I want to be transparent now in sharing with you that the main reason I have decided to move forward into this new call is for the sake of my mental health. As wonderful and supportive as St. John’s has been, my life in Schuyler has been very lonely. As a childless, single woman in my mid-late 30s with no family in the area, I kind of fall through the cracks of Schuyler’s major demographics. The pandemic massively exacerbated the feelings of isolation I already had, and I have been struggling a lot with depression and anxiety. I would hate for these things to start derailing my work. Out of a desire to be a good steward of the gifts that God has given me, I need to step back and make more space in my life for the things that will help me to recover. In Lincoln, I already have a network of close friends, and I’m hopeful that being around like-minded folks in similar stages of life will help fill my cup again and allow me to heal.
As for the new call, I think it will be an interesting challenge that will make good use of my gifts. Rather than being directly called by a congregation, I will actually be under call from the synod council. And as a transitional minister, I will get to walk alongside several congregations in turn, helping them to process the experiences and the griefs of the last few years, to name their challenges and claim their gifts, and to turn their hearts toward whatever future God is calling them into with creativity, imagination, and hope. I’m hopeful it will be the kind of work I have most enjoyed getting to do with you all!
Over the next several weeks, I will be doing my best to make sure to leave things in order – I wanted to leave enough time to make this transition as smooth as possible. I have already started conversation with Crystal about taking on some of the more tech-heavy pieces that are on my plate. I have been working myself out of a job at the food pantry for a while now and will leave with a partnership in place with the Food Bank for the Heartland that will enable more long-term sustainability. I will leave grant-reporting instructions with those who will need that information. And I will be able to meet with several of our ministry teams before I leave to work on planning for the next year.
Many of you have connected with me over social media, and I am happy to leave those connections in place. And in the immediate month or two after my departure, I can imagine that questions may arise that I haven’t thought to answer ahead of time, and you can reach out to me with those as well. However, once I leave, I will be unavailable for pastoral services – funerals, weddings, etc. – and will be mostly out of communication for about a year. It’s one of the harsher aspects of a pastoral transition, but it’s an important step for helping both you and me step into our next chapters with our whole hearts.
As Jesus said so many times to his disciples in the scriptures, so I now say to you in this time of transition we are entering: do not be afraid. And likewise: peace be with you. I know this is a time of upheaval and uncertainty and change in the congregation, and that probably the last thing you wanted was to have to say goodbye to your pastor. But be encouraged that you are very much on the synod’s radar. They know from my bragging you up and from their own firsthand experience what a truly great congregation this is. Whatever comes next for you in terms of pastoral leadership, and whatever form that takes, know that the synod has your backs 100%.
I have no doubt that the Spirit is moving in this place – God is far from done with you, people of St. John’s Lutheran. The Spirit is doing new things, and I already know that you have the faithfulness and courage to listen for God’s voice and to step out on the path to which God is calling you.
You are a gift to this community and to the wider Nebraska Synod. And for the last five years, you have been a gift to me. I will continue to hold you close in my prayers and in my heart. And I will forever be grateful for you and for this ministry and for our time together. May God bless you and be with you. Always.
With faith, hope, and love,