The members of Hope Lutheran Church in Hastings are, for the first time in more than eight years, searching for a new pastor.
Rev. Josh Bernau, the church's current pastor, has been leading the congregation since 2008. It was his first call after completing his seminary training, he said. But now, he's preparing to leave Hastings.
Bernau received a call in mid-November to be the senior pastor at St. John's Lutheran Church and School in Norwood Young America. On Dec. 4, he announced to the congregation at Hope that he had accepted the call.
Bernau will start his new work at St. John's Jan. 22; his last Sunday at Hope will be Jan. 8.
Jim Gillard, congregational president at Hope, said that seeing Bernau leave is like seeing a close friend move away, but the members are still happy for him.
"Everyone, of course, is pretty sad," Gillard said. "We're happy for him because this is a good opportunity for him and his family."
The new position came to Bernau through the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Congregations within the LCMS, when in need of a pastor, seek out a pastor they believe will meet their church's needs and issue a call.
"We were not looking to move somewhere else," Bernau said.
But when the call came, it made sense. St. John's is a congregation of about 1,400 members, Bernau said, and has a K-8 Lutheran school. He and his wife, Leah, have three children (Ellie, 8; Emma, 5; and Josiah, 3), and put a high value on Lutheran education. So to get a call to a church where their children could attend a Lutheran school in the same community where they live was a good opportunity, he said.
He also learned at Hope that he has a passion for partnering church and education, which he will be able to do more of in Norwood Young America.
Bernau said he has enjoyed his time at Hope. He's been able to see the church grow from about 45 people in worship each week in 2008 to now having about 125. The growth has been slow but steady, he said. Another highlight has been being able to connect with all the families and see the members connect with each other.
"He's connected very well with people," Gillard said.
Gillard added that Bernau has been patient, thoughtful, a good teacher and a pastor who doesn't get rattled by the little things.
"He really has a heart for God and for Jesus, and he displays that," Gillard said. "... he has tremendous wisdom for a young man."
Over the years, Bernau said he has strived to help the people at Hope step up into leadership positions, and he's seen that happen.
"I know that there are strong leaders," he said.
Now, those leaders will guide the congregation in the search for Bernau's replacement.
The first step, Gillard explained, is to select a vacancy pastor, who will fulfill the main pastoral duties for the church while the search is conducted. Gillard said they have not yet selected a vacancy pastor, but have a short list of options.
The congregation will form a call committee, made up of the church elders as well as a diverse variety of other members. The committee will conduct a congregational study to assess what the church is about and what its needs are, and then start reviewing names, with support from their LCMS district. Once the call committee narrows down its list of potential names, the congregation will select one. The pastor selected will then have some time to consider the call.
Overall, Gillard said he expects the process to take four to six months.
"I am confident that by this summer Hope will have their next full-time pastor," Bernau said.
Bernau said he is grateful for the experience he has had at Hope.
"I think Hope has taught me to be the pastor who I am," he said.
And, he added, he has confidence going forward, both in his new call and for Hope.
Gillard shared that confidence.
"We're not too worried," he said. "God's got our back."
He said he and the other members of the church are confident that they are going to do well and will have another great pastor.
"We are very excited about the future," he said. "We just don't know what that is yet."