Sitting in the Emmanuel Lutheran Church office on West Walnut Street last week, the Rev. Kurt Strause reflected on how he will bid farewell to the congregation he has led for the past 32 years.
“I think that one of the most important things we do in life is how we say hello, and how we say goodbye,” he said. “Saying goodbye doesn’t mean that the relationship ends, but it changes.”
Sunday marks Strause’s final sermon as pastor at the Lancaster city church. He is just the sixth pastor in the church’s 123-year history.
A native of Corvallis, Oregon, Strause grew up in Lititz, where he was a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church. He attended Penn State University, beginning as an anthropology major. The Rev. James Shannon, who was then the pastor at St. Paul, had planted the seed of ministry and following his sophomore year, Strause decided to become a pastor. Following graduation, he entered the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.
He was an assistant pastor in Beechwood, New Jersey, before being hired at Emmanuel.
“I never thought I’d stay 32 years, but it just kind of happened,” he said. “The ordinary daily tasks of ministry, for me, have always been the most satisfying. I enjoy being a parish pastor.”
Finding ways to serve God
Church council President Deb Barrett said Strause has led the church in God’s mission.
“We are sad, but at the same time thankful for 32 years of shared ministry with Pastor Strause,” she wrote in an email. “He came to us as a young pastor at a time when we were ready to reenvision our mission on the corner of Walnut and Pine. With his leadership, we discovered new ways to serve God through service to those in our community and our world.”
Over the past three decades, Strause declined opportunities to head other congregations or to work in church administration.
“I never felt that it was time for me to step away from my call here at Emmanuel,” he said. “I’ve always felt that a call to something is accompanied with a call away from something.”
His decision to retire was based on several factors.
One is the congregation’s renewed sense of community. Although many members do not live in the neighborhood, he said, “they see their stewardship of this church building as an asset for the neighborhood and have made it available for organizations at little or no cost to meet.”
The church serves as a home for Streams of Life Worship Center, an East African community, and Bhutanese cultural educational programs. And it partners with Bethany Christian Services, among others. Emmanuel also housed the Refugee Center and Community School when Reynolds Middle School was undergoing renovations.
Another factor is the core leadership at the church “who I feel very positive about.”
And there is his age. At 62, he didn’t want to go to another church as an open-ended call. Therefore, he plans to make himself available to churches on an interim basis beginning in January.
“I wanted to provide some of the wisdom and experience I have for congregations that are in a time of transition,” he explained.
Privileged to serve
Calling it an “immense privilege ... to walk with people as they go through life changes,” he said, “I’m now at the point where I’m performing marriages for kids that I confirmed.
“And this has really kind of felt like a book end, but I (recently) had a funeral for a young woman who was one of the first teenagers that I confirmed.”
Barrett said Strause has described himself as “chapter in the life of our congregation.”
At a gathering last Sunday, more than 100 people turned out to honor him.
“For me,” she wrote, “the only words that adequately sum up our shared ministry are ‘thanks be to God.’ ”
Strause and his wife, Lois, a retired School District of Lancaster teacher, are the parents of two grown children: Renata, of Washington, D.C., and Dietrich, of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
They plan to travel this fall before he makes himself available as an interim pastor.