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Pastor says 'God was weaving a masterpiece'

Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson

The Rev. Paul Anderson’s half-time ministry at each of two churches in Fairfield, Wash., makes him the community’s full-time, resident pastor.

Even non-church people in Fairfield like having a community pastor.  The Seventh-Day Adventist pastor serves the churches in Fairfield and Farmington.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses are lay led.

Paul provides worship leadership, pastoral care, community presence and mission opportunities for First Presbyterian and Zion Lutheran churches.

 By visiting people, learning their needs, responding to the needs and caring about people, he has helped both churches grow numerically and spiritually since he came in July 2004. 

Paul meets people where they are on their spiritual journey—whether they are long-time church members, transient residents, poor people or commuters.

First Presbyterian had seven baptisms and added nine members last year.  Zion added eight members and had 12 baptisms.

If someone comes to the Lutheran church and does not like the liturgy, Paul may encourage the person to try the Presbyterian church, or vice versa.

About 40 attend each church.

“We need to see what God is doing and trust where God is taking us,” Paul said.  “I was fresh out of seminary but had been around the block with rural, farming and life experience. Still I’m humbled, learning and growing.”

To foster a spirit of shared ministry, Paul answers the phone at the Presbyterian Church, saying:  “First Presbyterian and Zion Lutheran” and the reverse when he’s in Zion’s office. 

“I’m pastor to everyone in both churches all the time.  When someone from the Lutheran church apologized for calling me at the Presbyterian church, she asked if she should wait to call the next day at ‘our church.’  I said I’m your pastor all the time.”

Similarly, his business card is double sided, with the logos of each denomination.

 “We can live out that we have one Lord, one faith and one baptism as Ephesians says. God was at work in the people before I came,” he said.

Because both churches are freed from having 80 percent of their budgets tied up in pastors’ salaries, plus church maintenance, they now can think about using funds for mission—to help local families and for wider mission.

The churches started a food bank within the last two years.  It has expanded to several communities.  Carol Widman, who lives in Waverly, saw a need and started it.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church in Fairfield, the Grange, Latah Country Bible Church and Waverly Community Church are also involved.  People help in the food bank. Food comes from Second Harvest and local donations.

Youth will have a hayride in October to collect food. 

“We put youth on a wagon with some bales of hay and pull it with a tractor.  The third annual Hayride Food Drive will be on Oct. 15,” said Paul.

He said it’s a way for youth to learn about helping others and understand that not everyone has as much food as they do. 

“It also instills that we all worship one God. We are different churches but can share experiences, rather than arguing about petty differences.  In the Hayride Food Drive, youth give of themselves, their food and their time.  It makes them feel good to help someone,” he said.

Paul Anderson

Paul has helped both the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches grow.

Paul preaches basically the same sermon, keeping the theology true to each church.

“I’m aware that for Presbyterians Christ is present at the meal in the Eucharist, but for the Lutherans Christ is in the meal, the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ.  I honor each faith, not watering either down,” he said.

The liturgies are in line with each church’s tradition.

Another difference is that the Presbyterian congregation says the Lord’s prayer with “debts” and the Lutherans say it with “trespasses.”  In joint services, they use “sins,” Paul said.

The churches rotate worship three times a year.  The early service is 8:30 a.m. at the Presbyterian church and 11 at the Lutheran church from September to December 2006.  Sunday school is between services at 9:45. 

From January to May 2007, Lutherans will have the early service and Presbyterians, the later one.  In summer 2007, Presbyterians will worship early and Lutherans later. 

Besides the normal services in the summer, the churches have a joint service one Sunday a month—in June at the community center and in July and August in the park, followed by potlucks.  About 70 came in June, 90 in July and 70 in August.  People stay around to visit.

“We are getting to know the Lutherans as people,” said Karl Felgenhauer.  “The more we talk, the more we know about each other.  It’s another avenue to meet and has impact on community life.

Paul believes God is blessing these churches, growing them together as a community.

He grew up in a Lutheran church and lived on a dairy farm five miles outside Newark, Ill.

After high school, he went to Lutheran Bible Institute (LBI) in Seattle from 1975 to 1977, worked on a dairy farm and traveled for two years with an LBI music ministry team.

A pastor friend once told him he would know if nothing worked out, it might mean he was being called to be a pastor. 

When Paul at 40 was laid off in 1997 from a job he had since 1987 at an Atlantic salmon farm near Olympia, his wife said, “Maybe it’s time to stop running from your call.”  While fish farming, he began working part time as youth director at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Rochester, Wash.

His unemployment insurance counselor agreed to pay half his tuition to go to LBI.  In 2000, after earning a bachelor’s degree in youth and family with an emphasis on Bible, he went to Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, which shared a bookstore, classes and professors with a sister seminary for Presbyterians and Methodists. 

Impressed with ecumenical encounters there, he wrote in his profile his desire to “do ecumenical work to bring denominations together in a community.”

When he saw the Fairfield church profiles and after going with his wife, Gwen, to interview in April 2004, both felt at home there.

On May 16, he graduated and learned the churches had voted to call him.  Ordained in the Lutheran church in Rochester, he came to Fairfield in July 2004.

“With God’s guidance, I will use my skills to see where the community has been, where it is and where it is going,” he said.

Paul helps the Presbyterian session, the Lutheran church council and the joint parish council realize they have a role beyond church administration.  As church leaders, he invites them to be spiritual leaders in their congregations.

 Paul meets with Lutheran and Presbyterian ministers’ groups.  He represents the churches at Presbytery and Synod meetings. 

First Presbyterian pays Zion half of his salary package.  Then Zion writes his full paycheck.

 Paul believes “God was weaving a masterpiece” when Zion was without a permanent pastor and served by a Presbyterian interim, and when First Presbyterian’s pastor left—all while he had an ecumenical seminary experience.

“We need to be disciples, following where the Holy Spirit guides us.  It’s a slow process, but baby steps add up to big ones.  It’s about loving and caring for people and letting them love you back,” he said.

For information, call 283-2209 or 283-2416.


By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © October 2006