BY DR. CHERYL INGRAM-SMITH
Synod Communicator from University Lutheran in Clemson.A Spirit Led Time of Renewal. That is the name given to the call process by the South Carolina Synod. The name sounds nice, but what does it really mean? Is it just trying to put a good face on a time that can cause uncertainty and worry for a congregation? University Lutheran Church in Clemson (UniLu) has gone through the call process twice in recent years. These are my reflections.
Head pastor Larry Hartsell retired in 2015 after 17 years at UniLu. Pastor Bob Schmeelke became the interim pastor to prepare our congregation for calling a new head pastor. As the congregation met with representatives from the bishop’s office to begin our Spirit Led Time of Renewal, we found out that this really is much more than calling a new pastor. As part of the process, our congregation was asked to give prayerful thought as to who we are as a church. Why do we exist? What is our purpose and mission? What ministries are important to us and to our community? We came together as a congregation and were moving forward with a purpose and a sense of who we wanted to be. We went from worry over what would happen to a trust and faith that the Holy Spirit was with us, guiding us, the call committee, and the Bishop’s office. It was with great excitement that we welcomed Pastor Jon Heiliger as our new head pastor in 2016! Pastor Jon has brought new and refreshing ideas to our church and it has been a time of keeping some old traditions, starting some new ones, and feeling a renewed sense of excitement to be part of this community of faith.
In 2018, we began another Spirit Led Time of Renewal. Pastor Chris Heavner, our campus pastor for 26 years, was preparing to retire. Although this had been planned for several years, it was still hard to believe that the time had really come to begin the call process for Pastor Chris’ replacement. Again, the congregation went through a discernment period, leading to a renewed sense of how important our college students are to us. Lutheran Campus Ministry and University Lutheran are not separate entities, we are truly linked as one church. Hard as it was to accept Pastor Chris’ leaving, again we knew the Holy Spirit was with us, leading us and working through the Bishop’s office and our call committee to find a new campus minister. We celebrated Pastor Chris’ ministry at University Lutheran through fellowship at a pig roast at the end of July of this year. At the beginning of August, we were excited to welcome Pastor Josh Kestner as our new campus pastor. Pastor Josh has a special link to UniLu as he was an LCM student during his college years at Clemson University!
Clearly, the Holy Spirit has been with us as we have gone through these changes over the past few years. We have come out of this with a renewed sense of who we are and who we want to be as church in this community, and we are thankful to have Pastor Jon and Pastor Josh as our spiritual leaders. We have discovered that a Spirit Led Time of Renewal is not just a nice name for the call process. It is so much more. For UniLu, it was a time of mixed emotions, a mourning of sorts for the pastors that were leaving us, a time of prayerful contemplation of who we as a church wanted to be, and finally a great excitement at welcoming our two new pastors.
As a final note, Pastor Chris is now serving as the intentional interim pastor at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Greenville with the retirement of Pastor Robert Miles after 31 years. We at UniLu are thankful that Pastor Chris is there to continue his ministry and we pray for St. Michael’s as they experience their own Spirit Led Time of Renewal.