Memories of 32 years surrounded the Rev. Paul Dannenfeldt this week as he sat down to pen his last sermon as minister of St. Paul's Lutheran Church.
He's seen exciting days, as the Glen Burnie church grew from a congregation of 500 to more than 2,000. He can recall the poignancy of dedicating a new church with its frontispiece of Venetian marble, then later a fellowship hall and a school.
He has enough curious anecdotes for years of reminiscing -- like the morning a bride-to-be called to warn that her ex-husband was bringing a shotgun to the ceremony.
Now, he's ready to retire, the pastor says. After 42 years as a Lutheran pastor, he's ready to pull thebooks off his shelves, pack his paintings of Martin Luther, and go.
"I think with the challenges of expansion facing the congregation,they need new leadership. I'm satisfied, thankful to have stayed in a place this long and still feel a very warm relationship between me and the congregation," says Dannenfeldt, a gracious, silver-haired man of 65.
He pauses to chuckle. "And I'm just tired."
Church members seemed less reconciled, as they prepared for a Sunday afternoon farewell service for Dannenfeldt.
"We' can't imagine being withouthim," says William Bussey, 79. The greatest help has been the pastor's interest in people, Bussey says.
"When my wife was in the hospital with a heart attack about three years ago, he visited nearly every day. She came out 100 percent OK.
"And he came to our 50th wedding anniversary, and he always had a nice prayer. The group really loved him when he came to events," Bussey says.
Church member Robert Skeen praises Dannenfeldt's preaching and leadership, but says he'll miss most the pastor's godly character.
"He lives the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's just his life," says Skeen, chairman of the church'sboard of worship and spiritual care.
"More than a pastor, he's been a friend. Whenever I needed anything, I felt very comfortable going and talking to him," Skeen says.
And everyone lauds Dannen feldt's preaching. "His sermons stick in my mind," says Sharon Chenoweth, the secretary at the church's elementary school. "His sermons are so strong. They remind us of our sins, but there's always the assurance of forgiveness there, and that impresses me."
The minister says preaching has been the best part of the job. "It's the theological reason you go into the ministry in the first place -- to communicate thatGod has an effect on people's lives," he says.
But now he's readyfor a bit more ease, at least in his schedule. He and his wife Jean look forward to spending time with their four children and nine grandchildren. The minister hopes to take classes in poetry and French at Anne Arundel Community College, and he likely will continue to lead tours in Europe for a travel organization, he says.
He has a last bit of pastoral advice: Don't get discouraged. Don't get disillusioned.
"A lot of your couples, or young ministers, don't know it's going to be so hard. You need to be prepared for difficulty," says Dannenfeldt, who comes from a long line of Missouri Synod Lutheran ministers, and after 42 years in ministry, knows whereof he speaks.
For the church, missing Dannenfeldt may be the first hardship. "I've been going to this church since 1924, and he's one of the greatest pastorswe've ever had," Bussey says. "We're gonna miss him something terrible."