Pam Kramer: This month marks the first full year that Pastor Justin has been with us at Trinity. Council and I thought it would be good to interview him on his experiences. What follows is an edited version of an interview I did with him on October 21.
Let’s start with the most basic question. What was the “aha” moment when you knew that becoming a Lutheran pastor was the path you were to take?
Pastor Justin: It was a gradual expansion of life experiences. I was always inquisitive about the spiritual life; I embraced the “why” questions. I grew up going to church, but consciously stopped in high school because I wasn’t getting anything from Sunday worship. It was working at church camps, where I worked outside of Sunday morning structures, when I began my process of discernment. My college major was psychology and I planned to go to graduate school. But after my senior year, I needed to make some serious decisions about my relationship with Katie and money. I had $200 to my name (church camps don’t pay much), I made a deal with God if somehow, I could make $1500, I’d take that as a sign that yes I was supposed to marry Katie. About the same time, I received a note from friends of my grandparents with a $500 check in it. I wrote back “Thank you Thank you Thank you, you have no idea what this check means to me.” A week later they sent another $500. So now I had $1200 and I could buy a ring. About a week later a seminarian came and talked about discernment and urged us to consider going to seminary. I didn’t think that it applied to me; I certainly didn’t have money for graduate school. The seminarian told me about the Fund for Leaders Scholarship that gave full rides for future leaders in the church. So, I applied and got that scholarship and became a seminarian. While I was still unsure – I mean, I had my doubts, I swear, I was okay being a little bit of a sinner (whatever the hell that means) – I was told that is exactly what was needed.
Pam: In other words, you prayed for things.
Pastor Justin: Yes, but the answers were that God removed the obstacles in my path. I don’t think God was playing puppet master by any means. I was playing an “If-Then” game with God…which I don’t suggest as a healthy option for a life of faith.
Pam: Let’s move on with this process of discernment; why did you make the decision to accept the call from Trinity?
Pastor Justin: My other calls were assignments to take care of churches in trouble. I did what I could and when it was clear that I needed to reevaluate my effectiveness in that particular ministry, I put my name out to search for a new call. I got paperwork from many churches, but Trinity on paper jumped out as its mission seemed to be reaching outside the church building. Every conversation I had was a little more of a draw. At every step, I could say “Yes.” We liked each other, so let’s try it! I was really drawn – I felt like this is a place to grow some skills and have other experiences and do some really meaningful ministry in the world.
Pam: How would you describe your leadership style?
Pastor Justin: (smiling) Laid-back. First, I don’t believe a pastor should make any major changes in the first year of a new call. It’s important to build relationships of trust before doing anything to drastic. Now everyone will be wondering, what is he going to do now that is drastic!?!? LOL.
Pam: What are your successes?
Pastor Justin: It has been a good year. I am surprised how much we have done this year. Relationships have been built; decisions have been made; hard conversations begun; shifting Covid rules have been implemented; and the fact that I haven’t rocked the boat so much that people have completely jumped ship. I feel pretty good about what we are doing and my part in it. It’s the ongoing change that is the challenge.
Pam: What were your challenges?
Pastor Justin: I am not used to not being the one in charge of everything. I don’t have to do it all! There are “doers” here. Other churches are often top-down, with pastors thinking about “who could do this if not me?” I need to learn to delegate; it hasn’t been my M.O. for most of my Ordained Ministry. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to delegate, but I must learn that I don’t have to do it all. I also find it a challenge to accept that “no” is a valid answer.
Pam: What is the best part of being pastor?
Pastor Justin: It is the intimacy that is rewarding: walking with people in their journey in life; wrestling alongside folks in their spiritual journeys. Celebrating joys, honoring grief and the hard moments. I enjoy the heavy scholastic work of biblical interpretation and applying that to the modern world we live in. I really hope I am modeling what a healthy relationship with God can look like. Dislike: I am an introvert (for years I was convinced I was an extrovert and couldn’t understand why I was feeling run down and ragged being with people). Knowing this now, and knowing how to care for myself… well, I don’t like it! I have a fear of missing out, but that has more to do with ego. Also, not a fan of administrative stuff, but here at Trinity I have help with that.
Pam: The next series of questions were for fun. What are your favorite things or what do you like to do when you’re not working at Trinity?
Pastor Justin: I have a large vinyl record collection; I am pretty specific about what I collect (audiophile). I like to play guitar. Legos. I love doing anything outside—especially running. I like to cook; woodworking/woodturning. And, I love my children!
Pam: What was the last book you read for pleasure?
Pastor Justin: I think it was Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. I like Dan Brown and mysteries. While Katie can read anytime, I need to think about what I am going to read, before I can just sit down to read! I need a week at the beach to read for fun.
Pam: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?
Pastor Justin: I love Ted Lasso, a comedy on Apple TV, and Ghosts, a comedy on BBC which was picked up for an American version on CBS. I am a huge horror fan. Walking Dead is a favorite, Rob Zombie, and the classic Scream movie series (don’t judge, for some reason I have special place in my heart for those movies). I never thought, as a pastor, I should stay away from horror. When we experience horror, it elicits an emotional response – there are things in the Bible that are horror – it’s part of being human. I don’t have to be superhuman as a pastor. Being a pastor is storytelling, part of the narrative arts, and really good horror requires good story telling.
Pam: I want to close this with a look at the big picture: where is religion going in America?
Pastor Justin: I think we are heading back to church at its founding. Church in North America is an anomaly; after the two world wars, churches were built on almost every corner. Churches were a noun, a building and place. Jesus did church as verb; be the body of Christ in the world. We may have to speak up and out. We have to be able to be move more toward the original Jesus model. There will always be a place which wraps a community. But our mental model of church has to change – church is a practice, not a place.
Pam: Thank you, Pastor for you time and thoughts. We look forward to another year with you here at Trinity.