Minister plans his final trip to the pulpit

Lord of Life pastor retires after 34 years at church

February 23, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Henry Schaefer planned to enter Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Edgewood as pastor for the last time this morning, pushing a wheelbarrow full of sermon manuscripts.

"We are going to have a review," he said he would tell his congregation of more than 200 at the service. "It's a joyful time because we are celebrating the good things we had together."

Schaefer is retiring after 34 years as the pastor of Lord of Life Church. He had been putting off retirement because he was waiting for renovations to the church to be completed. "Retirement isn't the end or the rocking chair. It's a beginning of a new phase in my life," he said. Over the years, he said, he had a privileged position. "You walk into someone else's life when no one else can," he said.

His job isn't an easy one. It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He deals with life situations, ranging from a new baby to drug problems in a family.

"It gives me great joy in serving people and a lot of fulfillment," Schaefer said. He baptized children, and performed marriages and funerals. He visited people's homes, prisons, hospitals and nursing homes. "It's very meaningful to have that impact on their lives," Schaefer said.

At 65, Schaefer feels his congregation needs to take the next step. "I can't fulfill those needs anymore," he said. "It's time for someone else to come in."

For the next several weeks, an interim pastor will fill in until the congregation finds a permanent replacement.

During the next six months, Schaefer said, he plans to do nothing.

"I am not making any commitments," Schaefer said. In order to keep balance in his life, Schaefer expects to volunteer in the community. "I am looking forward to this new phase in my life," he said.

Schaefer didn't always want to be a pastor. "I didn't visualize myself being a pastor," he said, calling it a faith struggle.

Schaefer grew up in South Baltimore and graduated from Polytechnic Institute. Then he attended Newbury College near Boston and went on to Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. He met Ruth Richardson on a blind date and married her. They had two children, Karen and Steven.

His first assignment was Manor Parish in Frederick County. He was a pastor there for three small churches and stayed for five years. The parish had been in existence for almost 200 years, and Schaefer said it wasn't for him.

He started fresh as a mission developer. In the next 34 years in Edgewood, he brought together a congregation. With no church, he began his mission by knocking on every door in Edgewood, he said.

"My goal was to meet people and introduce myself to them," he said.

In the beginning, more than 60 people in the community met at American Legion Post 17 on Edgewood Road for Sunday morning services for five years.

At each service, people in the congregation rearranged the room to have a worship area. The smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the air from the night before. The poker room was used for the kindergartners, and the children made the ping of the pinball machine ring out during the services.

Despite the many inconveniences, Schaefer said, the congregation was happy to have a place to meet Sundays. "There was a real spirit of the people there, a caring spirit," he said.

After the American Legion building was torn down, the congregation moved to the Lions' building, where it stayed for the next three years. There were two aisles and a bathroom in the middle. "During services, I told people not to flush," Schaefer said. But once again, he said, the congregation was grateful to have a place to worship.

Funded by pledges and donations, the current Lord of Life Church was built in 1981.

The building is undergoing a $500,000 renovation. The refurbished building will have a fellowship room and a kitchen. "This will allow us to do more community ministries that we weren't able to do before," Schaefer said.

Previously, Schaefer said, the programs offered in the church were limited because of a lack of space. Now, with the facility almost completed, the church will be adding a ministry to children that will include preschool or before- and after-school programs, he said.

Schaefer said it is difficult to say goodbye. "When I retire, I won't be the pastor anymore," he said. "There is the joy of retirement and the pain of separation."

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