Friday, May 27, 2005

Here's What Started It All...

Pastor W. P. T. was born on February 24, 1953, in Oceanside, Long Island, New York. The son of a Norwegian Lutheran father and an Irish Catholic mother, Pastor Terjesen was baptized and confirmed at Trinity Lutheran Church, West Hempstead, New York. As a teenager, Pastor's interests were rock music, girls, and skiing. He had his own garage band throughout high school, and learned to play a number of musical instruments fairly well. He graduated from West Hempstead High School in June of 1971.

Not coming from a church-going family, Pr. Tabsented himself from Church from age 15-19. Then, when he was a freshman in college, he began to attend church again, and like many young people in the early 1970's became involved in the "Jesus Movement" and Pentecostalism.

Pastor attended Long Island Bible Institute from 1972 through 1975, and graduated with a diploma in theology. LIBI was a small unaccredited pentecostal school loosely affiliated with the Assemblies of God. Its diploma was not good for much, so Pastor transferred to South Eastern Bible College in Lakeland, Florida, one of only two schools which would accept the credits earned at LIBI. After two years in Lakeland, Pastor graduated with a Batchelor of Arts degree.

During his time in Florida Pastor T discovered several books by Dr. Martin Luther in the college library and began reading them. Then, while browsing in the school bookstore, he came across a copy of Bo Giertz's The Hammer of God on the used book table. He paid $.25 for the book most responsible for his final break with Pentecostalism, and his rediscovery of the Lutheran faith.

The Hammer of God sat unread for a few days in Pastor's dorm room, and one afternoon he picked it up and started reading. There he was exposed to a winsome and revealing presentation of the Lutheran faith in a way that answered all the objections of a mind corrupted by pietism and pentecostalism. He began to devour any Lutheran books he could get his hands on, and started reading whatever Luther he could find.

After graduation Pastor enrolled in Lutheran Theological Seminary, Columbus, Ohio (later re-named Trinity Lutheran Seminary). But to prepare for his first year, he read through the Book of Concord (the Lutheran Confessions) over the summer break. Seminary was an eye opener, for several reasons. First, the level of academic work was more rigorous than anything he had yet encountered, but that was good. Second, the theological liberalism of the faculty was a far cry from anything he had counted on, and that was a bad thing. And third, being out of the enviornment of pentecostalism, he was surrounded by life-long Lutherans from all over the country for the first time, and that was a mixed blessing.

Three years of study and one year of vicarage in Bend, Oregon went by fairly quickly. The fact that Pastor married MEH in his second year, and they had a son, P, while on vicarage in Oregon, helped the time to pass. But during the years in Columbus, Pastor was exposed to liberal Lutheran Theology and the historical-critical approach to Scripture study. While he never really accepted these things fully, they did have a negative spiritual and intellectual effect on him, and it took his first three years in the parish to undo the dammage of soft-headed theology and destructive biblical criticism. Pastor Terjesen graduated from seminary in 1981 with a Master of Divinity degree.

After working odd jobs for about 4 months while awaiting his first call, Pastor received a call to serve the Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, an American Lutheran Church congregation in Cedarhurst, NY, and was ordained in September of 1981. Incarnation was a nice small congregation set in a well-to-do community about 8 miles from Pastor's hometown of West Hempstead. It was a congregation with low-maintanence requirements; all they really wanted was services conducted, Sunday School and confirmation taught, and weddings and funerals conducted. There was no great demand for visitation and an aversion to more meetings than were absolutely necessary. Such a situation would have driven other men to distraction with boredom, but it gave Pastor the opportunity to study and undo the theological and spiritual damage done by a liberal seminary career.

By 1984 Pastor had come full circle and had re-established himself as politically, socially, and theologically conservative, and was learning more and more every day about what it meant to be a genuine confessional Lutheran. He read Pieper, Walther, and most of all Luther, and of course, every Lent he would re-read The Hammer of God. As the number of good confessional Lutheran books began to fill his library, many of the unhelpful liberal seminary textbooks found their way to the "circular file", or to the libraries of liberal pastors who thought Pastor Terjesen was crazy for giving away such "treasures".

Pastor's relationship with the people of Incarnation was very good. They appreciated him, and he enjoyed them. His 8 years among them were peaceful and edifying, both for Pastor and his people. But during those years the merger movement that eventually became the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) began to develop. Right from the beginning, Pastor realized that this new church was not something he wanted to be a part of. It was going to be heierarchal, liberal, and semi-confessional from its inception. The people of Incarnation, as nice as they were, were not really interested in the whole matter one way or another, and Pastor began to realize that he was going to have to make a move.

In the spring of 1988 Pastor T went to speak with the president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) about what it would take for him to go through the colloquy program and become a pastor in the Missouri Synod. He was told to contact a number of LCMS clergy in the area and talk with them about life in Missouri. He then went to his ELCA bishop (William Lazareth) and informed him of his decision to leave for the Missouri Synod. Then in the Spring of 1989 Pastor Terjesen flew out to St. Louis to meet with the colloquy board who agreed to receive him into the colloquy program, which would involve a semester of work at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and a year of what they called a "convertible vicarage" in a congregation in the Atlantic District.

This was a very trying and humbling time for Pastor T. He had begun his application process in the Spring of 1988, and now a year had passed and he was accepted into the program, but there was as yet no LCMS congregation willing to take an ELCA refugee on a "convertible vicarage" basis. A convertable vicarage means that one serves one's first year as a vicar under the supervision of a local pastor, and then, when the Synod approves one's certification, the congregation can then call you to be its pastor. And so, time ticked on: May, June, July, August, September, October, and then finally in mid-November of 1989 the Atlantic District president called and said that he had a congregation that might be a good match, and might be willing to take Pastor.

On a cold day in early December 1989, Pastor drove from Long Island up to Peekskill, NY to meet with the people of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer. Back then Peekskill was much more run-down than it is now. It was just beginning to come out from under the blight of urban renewal foisted on it in the 1960s. There was no shortage of boarded up buildings, shabby neighborhoods, and neglected lots. Not exactly paradise for someone coming from an affluent neighborhood on the south shore of Long Island.

The Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer was itself suffering from a certain neglect. Having been through a very public scandal involving pastoral immorality in the early 1980s, followed by a brief and unhappy pastorate of a man who was not a good match for a congregation that had been through the trauma it had, the congregation became vacant and dwindled in size to the point where they were seriously thinking about closing down. If it had not been for the care of a retired pastor in the area by the name of Henry Schroeder, the congregation would never have been built up the point where they felt strong enough to try calling a full-time pastor......

(there's more, but its more chest thumging and theological puffery).

Here's the original email I wrote, but DID not send.

Rev. T,

Hello, my name is K L. My father, Rev. E G. L was your predecessor in Peekskill, New York. I am writing to you because I take exception to something you wrote on your "About Pastor T" page of the Our Redeemer website. The pastor you that you wrote as having "a brief and unhappy pastorate" as "a man who was not a good match for a congregation that had been through the trauma it had" was my father. I feel that this statement is wholly untrue and almost to the point of slander. I also feel that it flies in the face of the eighth commandment.

My father had a difficult ministry in Peekskill, yes, but it was not his doing. As a matter of fact his pastorate in Peekskill almost drove him from the ministry. Simply put: Our Redeemer couldn't afford a pastor. My father's first paycheck bounced. His salary was cut in half and, believe it or not, the congregation stopped paying his Concordia Health Insurance for so long that my father, when we moved, had to be reinstated into the program because of nonpayment.

My father served honorably in Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. He worked hard and ministered to his flock the best way he could through thick and thin. It is tough to read something like this that in my opinion is at best a half-truth and worst an out and out lie. I'm not sure why you found the need to belittle my father's pastoral service unless you found it necessary to bolster your own "savior complex;" and after reading your missives it does appear to me that you think you can walk on water and might just be able to turn that water into wine.

To say that I am upset and angry and not a little hurt is an understatement. It is my sincere hope that you will reword or completely delete that whole passage.

Sincerely,

(I was quite pleased with the bolded sentence. I thought it had a nice flow, but I knew it wouldn't do anything. I didn't want to go where he went. I call it the highroad approach).

2 comments:

rebekah said...

the high road
that sounds about right
you write a beautiful letter
good job
when are you sending it ?

Joe Fremer said...

Hi, I'm a first time visitor, who happens to be the father of the son of a Lutheran minister...

I don't want to minimize your indignation, and I'm certainly not criticizing your reaction, I'm just honestly curious what it was that made you feel your father was being slandered? "man who was not a good match"? or "unhappy pastorate"? or something else?

In the interest of trying to find a "best construction" as the older expl. of the 8th Comm puts it, I feel that "match" includes both parish and pastor, and I would not be offended if somebody said that I was not a good match for my parish. It would mean that my gifts were not being applied in an unsuitable place, or at an unsuitable time.

As to "unhappy pastorate," if you take happy in the older sense of "fortunate" then the same idea holds. E.g., I like orange slices, and I like pickles, but the combination is an unhappy one for a fruit salad. It says nothing about the sense of satisfaction felt by either item.