The new pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church didn't arrive on the wings of eagles, but God did provide in a somewhat unusual way.
The Rev. Richard A. Hase came to the Glen Burnie church last year to helpfind a new pastor after the church's longtime minister retired.
As director of the Baltimore Urban Ministry Coalition of the Missouri Synod, comprised of congregations in and around the city, Hase was used to helping Lutheran churches find solutions to hard problems.
He didn't expect he would be the solution for St. Paul's.
During the nine months of searching, church members decided they already had found a man who matched the qualifications they sought to lead the church in new directions.
In an unusual move, the church asked the Lutheran Missouri Synod if they could keep Hase -- who was not a candidate -- and the denominational authorities said yes.
The wholeproceeding, while not out and out miraculous, was distinctly unprecedented, says Bill Critzman, president of the congregation.
In the first place, "It's almost unheard of that an interim pastor would allow himself to be called as pastor," Critzman says. "When he became our interim pastor, it was with the understanding he would not allow his name to be put on the call list."
But as the church solicited names from the congregation, Hase's name came up repeatedly, Critzman says.
Explains James Lange, for 10 years an assistant pastor at thechurch, "It became apparent to the people that Pastor Hase had the kind of gifts that matched what we were looking for."
A congregational survey outlined several qualifications a new senior pastor would need: someone who could help them expand their "vision" into the community, who cared about education, who was an able preacher.
Says Critzman, "He fit all these criteria. The congregation just fell in love with him from the very beginning."
The district president approved adding Hase's name to the options, and when the church voted, he got 77 percent on the first vote -- a figure that is "just phenomenal," Critzman says. On the second vote, it was unanimous.
As director of the ministry coalition, Hase has helped many congregations work together in reaching a multicultural, multiethnic community.
Central to the Glen Burnie church's vision was finding someone who could help them "move into the larger community," Lange says. Though a big church, with about 2,300 members, says Lange, "the congregation is fairly parochial, turned inside."
The church dates to 1904, when the first congregation met in a barn loft in the area. In 1950, the church started its day school, which has grown to include 180 students in six grades and another 75 children in child care.
Under the 32-year leadership of the Rev. Paul Dannenfeldt, the church grew from a congregation of 500 to more than 2,000. In recent years, St. Paul's dedicated a new sanctuary, then later a fellowship halland a school.
A church mission statement from three years ago wasput on hold because of extensive building projects, and then when the minister announced his retirement last year, says Lange.
Now, with the buildings completed, the church is ready to move in new directions, he says.
For starters, church leaders will divide the work among the pastoral staff, freeing the new minister to help the church reach out more to one another and the greater community.
"The church wants to move from being naval-gazers, for lack of a better word, to being a part of the rest of Christendom in the area, and so actively demonstrate the inclusiveness of Christ," he says.
The church hopes for greater participation with six other Missouri Synod Lutheranchurches in the county, five of which are in North County.
"This is a rapidly growing area of the county, and we want to reach out to people," Hase says.
Specifically, he's investigating if the churchcan expand child care and pre-kindergarten programs to 3-year-olds for working families who need assistance.
"Also on the front burneris caring for each other as a congregation, spiritually and physically, a big priority," Hase says.
A Spiritual Care Board is kicking off a new program Sunday to ask the congregation: "How can you help us and what help do you need?"
The new pastor acknowledges that change is never easy, especially for large churches. "But if you don't change, the church dies.The last seven words of a church are, 'We never did that before.' "
And with the congregation's enthusiasm abouthaving Hase as their new minister, he's off to a good start.
"Their warm love is energizing," says the 46-year-old minister. "We have good things to do together."