A Matter Personal and Professional
Preface:This may surprise some readers of Ask the Pastor: I’ve been asked to resign my pastorate here in Emma, Missouri. I’ll provide a bit of background in this preface and then let you read the following letter, one that I delivered verbally and in print to the congregation following the service on 7 June 2009.
It follows a month of serious soul-searching, including many prayers and hours of conversation with some of the members of Holy Cross Lutheran. I’ll not get into personalities nor attempt to ascribe motives, since these are sinful activities involving judging others. Likewise, I won’t catalogue the list of reasons that were appended to the request for my resignation.
I do, however, wish to highlight one issue. Among other complaints, one item read, “Has frequently embarrassed HC with newspaper articles.” As you know, I’ve talked about confessional, liturgical Lutheranism. I have occasionally highlighted differences among the various parts of Christendom and those between orthodox Christianity and various sects and cults. I’ve addressed sexuality, abusive behavior, family dynamics, evolution and creation, sacramental theology, suffering and death, and seemingly almost “everything that is done under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:14)”
In all of these, I tried to be as gentle as possible with my responses but never less than absolutely forthright and firm in my beliefs. I drew upon Scripture, the Creeds, the Lutheran Confessions, and experts in the fields about which I was asked. I hope that none of my readers has thought less of Holy Cross because of these collected writings of its pastor. If you have, please tell me, so that I may apologize to you and to the flock here.
I will not be attending the voters’ meeting this coming Sunday. Rather, our circuit counselor will be present. I have no certainty as to the outcome, although I imagine that even many of my supporters would rather let me “quietly” resign rather than undergo protracted struggle within the congregation. However, if people continue asking questions, expecting a thoughtful, Christ-centered response, I will continue to reply as I am able.
Beyond the next few weeks, I’ve not done much planning. I imagine that will soon change. I ask for your prayers and trust that the Lord will provide. Please pray also for my family here and elsewhere. Pray that Holy Cross finds true peace, not because I am gone but rather because they are living under the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
My own hope centers upon my desire — even need — to continue preaching and teaching the Word of God, particularly salvation by grace through faith in Christ. I imagine that I’d be delighted to enter another parish, one that wants Law and Gospel preaching, liturgical worship, and thought-provoking Bible study.
Of late, I’ve also been thinking more seriously about attempting to enter the Lutheran classroom on either the high school or collegiate level. While I could certainly teach religion, I’d almost rather teach the humanities (my college major) or history (my minor), in a setting where I could freely integrate the Faith with the curriculum. If God calls me into this arena, I hope that He allows me to also shepherd a small congregation or else work with the pastors in a larger church.
Finally, if you wish to contact me or the congregation, you may send email or write a letter. I include the addresses below the letter. And please keep an eye out for what happens next. If I am to leave, I’d love to have as many people as possible celebrate Christ’s forgiveness proclaimed through the pastoral office during one final service at the end of this month. Should there be opportunity for a farewell service, I hope that we’ll find a way to bend wrists and elbows to plate and cup after bending our hearts and knees to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Addendum to the preface: Please do not think that this column was the primary complaint given by the church officers, nor only one of a handful. They were listed, although not in any order of seriousness, from one through thirteen(!). As I say below, I am a sinner and know better than anyone but God how rotten I can be. I’ve not been all that I could be as man, husband, father, son, or brother, so it’s no surprise that I’ve also fallen short of the mark as a pastor.
Out of the list of complaints, the items with which I most closely agree involve time and space management. I over-schedule, under-plan, and thus am often racing the clock. I’m somewhat of a stranger to arriving early and while I’m not racing the bells to church, I don’t always get there as soon as some desire. There’s always one more “squeaking wheel” that I think I must immediately “grease” before moving on to what’s already on the schedule.
Evening meetings are often worse, since I’ll try to squeeze in one more visit or try to get one more thing done before beginning my visits. Either of these can easily make me late for meetings. Also in this realm, some thought that I missed meetings I should have attended. I tried to be present for all meetings with elders and council and never intentionally avoided either. As far as I know, I skipped these “essential” assemblies only when out of town for visitation or vacation or sick at home.
One item objected to the way I dressed at times, although no one ever came to me with a first- (or even second-) hand example of unprofessional attire in “public arenas.” Perhaps it involves my 52 year old body at the public pool, picking up trash in ditches, wearing a t-shirt and shorts on a hot summer day while dining uptown, or just being in one of the towns not on official business and thus not dressed to the nines (or even the 6.5s). Some of the complaints are more personal or would need first-hand observation in order to comment or draw conclusions, so I’ll not include them.
Anyhow, it wasn’t only — or even primarily — my answers to people’s questions that led to this situation. However, perception often trumps reality, so even minor points likely fanned the flames already burning in some folks’ bellies over more major items of contention.
Therefore, if anyone is moved to squawk, please don’t put all the eggs into the rickety basket of Ask the Pastor.
1 June AD 2009
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dear members of Holy Cross,
On 5 May 2009 the chairman and elders of Holy Cross presented me with a request that I resign as pastor of this congregation. They asked that I do so in writing by 1 June with an effective date of 30 June.
The request stated that if I were to tender a resignation during the set period, I would be offered a severance package, including continuation of compensation, parsonage housing, and health insurance. Each of these was set for a different duration and details will be made available.
I spent much time in discussion with my family and with brother pastors, synodical officials, and Lutheran lay people whose judgment I trust. They have offered a number of conflicting recommendations and their advice varied so widely that it left me with no one clear course of action. Not able to discern how each different decision might play out in the future, I decided upon a response that I think best suits the immediate situation.
I do not desire a protracted struggle that might hurt my family nor do I want to further divide Holy Cross. Therefore, on 1 June I presented [our congregational chairman] with notice that I accepted the request for my resignation. However, I asked that this not be publicized until I made an official announcement after the service on 7 June. At the same time as I wrote to the church officers, I composed this message for the entire congregation. I shall read it and then make it available in print.
In short, I tender Holy Cross Congregation my resignation as its pastor, effective 30 June 2009. Since the voters’ assembly is the official calling body of a synodical congregation, the voters must accept this resignation at a duly called meeting. Therefore, at the 21 June congregational meeting, you will be asked to do so and to make official the end of my duties here. If my resignation is accepted, you will be asked to approve the severance package and attend to any other details.
It has been my pleasure and privilege to be your pastor for the past ten years. When I came, I promised to preach and teach “nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2)” Through Word and Sacrament, in sermons and classes, in hospitals welcoming new babies or ministering to the sick, the injured, and the dying, at weddings and at funerals, I believe I was able, by God’s grace, to accomplish this goal.
Of course, I am, as are all of Christ’s people, still a poor miserable sinner as well as a saint, that is, a redeemed child of God through faith in Christ Jesus. If I mis-spoke, I pray that I always clarified or corrected my words. If any think that I have wronged them and that we have not yet reconciled, I ask that they come to me so that we might be reunited in “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3)” At those times that my priorities and emphases differed from those of others, rest assured that those differences stemmed from who I am and how I was raised and trained, not from animosity toward any members of this church.
Please pray for wisdom as you prepare for the June voters’ meeting and the decisions you must make. Pray also for Holy Cross, for the Snyder family, and for me.
Yours in Christ,
(signed) Pastor Walter P. Snyder
Pastor Walter Snyder [click to send email]
PO Box 12
Emma, Missouri 65327
Holy Cross Lutheran Church [click to send email]
PO Box 86
Emma, Missouri 65327