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Shalom UCC and Steve Eriksen enter covenant

Steve Eriksen, who retired in 2020 after 22 years as pastor of Shalom UCC in Richland, was staying in Richland wished to continue to participate in the church. With a previous successful model of Wilbur Rees as pastor emeritus during Steve’s tenure, the church conferred the title of “Pastor Emeritus” for Steve on Sunday, Dec. 4.

Steve Eriksen honored as pastor emeritus. Photo courtesy of Shalom UCC Richland

After Steve retired the end of December 2020, the pandemic began, and he only recently returned to the church, attending online.

The pastor emeritus status is established in a covenantal agreement defining that role. The honorary title is recognition of the congregation’s “deep appreciation for Steve’s exceptional preaching, sage teaching, ecumenical and interfaith advocacy, affirmation of persons of sexual and gender identity minorities and his person-centered approach to pastoral care.”

Before coming to Shalom in 1999, Steve earned degrees from Earlham School of Religion in Indiana and United Theological Seminary in Ohio. He also served UCC churches in Ohio and Kentucky.

With that recognition and acclamation, Shalom and Steve agree he retired with honor and has no responsibilities as pastor of the church. He does not perform Shalom-related acts of ministry and refers requests for services to the present pastor, but “as a layperson and member of the congregation, he is free to participate in the life of Shalom.

Shalom followed the process set forth by the UCC guidelines for this designation” and applied for and received the blessing of the Eastside Committee on Ministry (COM) of the PNC-UCC. With consent of the COM, church council and Steve, all parties agreed to the covenant and signed it as part of the Dec. 4 service.

Morag Stewart of Westminster Congregational UCC in Spokane represented the Eastside COM.

Tim Ledbetter, chair of the pastoral relations committee who supports both Steve Eriksen and the 22-month interim minister, Steve Gentle, said the church includes in its pastoral search profile a statement that the church has healthy relationships with four other former pastors.

Those include Tim, Jim Dyson and Ray Smith, both of whom are former pastors of Northwest United Protestant Church in Richland, and Jim Pierce, former pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church.

A former American Baptist pastor, Tim had served the Church of the Brethren in Wenatchee in the 1980s before studying chaplaincy at Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane. He returned to Richland, where he was born, to serve as a hospital and hospice chaplain for 27 years. For 15 years, he has been a member at Shalom UCC.

He told of Shalom UCC’s positive experience with Wilbur as pastor emeritus.

Tim offered some background.

Wilbur, who died in 2018 at the age of 93, held a bachelor’s in psychology from UCLA, a master of divinity at Berkeley Baptist Divinity School and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Idaho State University. He served nine churches in California, Colorado, Idaho and Washington, before serving 20 years at Shalom UCC in Richland, retiring from the ministry in 1987 and serving as pastor emeritus.

“Many in the congregation were familiar with the idea of ‘emeritus’ through their connections in academia and because of Wilbur,” said Tim, adding that the church knew Wilbur’s role was ceremonial. He was invited to church anniversaries, taught a Sunday adult class, wrote the pastoral column in the church newsletter and preached on occasion.

Other clergy in the congregation also have fill in doing pulpit supply.

More than 21 months ago, Shalom asked Steve Gentle, a Disciples of Christ pastor who has degrees in social services, community organization and theology from Texas Christian University and Vanderbilt University, to serve as interim pastor for 12 to 18 months.

He is now continuing as interim, renewing for six months at a time. He previously served churches in Washington, D.C., and Florida, but had been living three years in Richland since his wife, Miriam, became the pastor at Northwest United Protestant Church.

Richland UCC chose to have a long-term interim to give them time to discern their future and develop a church profile.

Steve Gentle’s first sermons were preached from his living room because the worship services were held only on Zoom. In February, they returned to hybrid worship in person in the sanctuary masked. Masks are optional for those who sit in the foyer where they could see and listen to the service through glass.

“We have been following CDC guidelines on masking and other protocols,” Tim said. “Worship is also on Zoom.

“We feel it is right for congregation to recognize Steve Eriksen as pastor emeritus,” he said.

Shalom UCC members have embraced outreach to the Tri-Cities and are a charter member of the Interfaith Alliance engaging with members of other faiths in serving the community and advocating for social justice.

The Committee on Ministry (COM) explained that the terms, “pastor emeritus/a,” are used by a local UCC church to honor a person whose lengthy ministry in that local church has been one of distinguished service. The designation recognizes an individual’s retirement from that particular local church and from active ordained ministry. Conferring this status is an act of a local church and is an honor that the church may wish to consider.

The title is not automatic but based on “recognition of exceptional service.”

The pastor honored and church recognize the retired pastor is no longer the pastor of that church to avoid confusion and difficulties.

The COM helps a church establish guidelines regarding the pastor emeritus/a.

Responsibilities involved in this honorary title:

1) Treat the present pastor as the pastor of that church.

2) Include the name of the pastor emeritus/a on church stationary or website.

3) Invite the retired pastor to play a specific role in church celebrations/anniversaries.

4) Provide support for the ongoing pastor emeritus/a’s health and happiness.

For information, call 509-943-3927 or email


 Winter Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News © December 2022


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