A guest post by Rev. Harry Heintz, special assistant to the dean at Northeastern Seminary
A year ago I completed a 38-year pastorate. That’s not the longest one on record, but it is far longer than the average one. People often congratulate me for staying such a long course. Then they ask me: “How did you do it?”
My first response is that I didn’t do it by some grand design. Entering as solo pastor of Brunswick Church (Presbyterian Church, U. S. A.) right out of seminary, I knew that I wanted to stay long enough to learn a lot and to give a lot. I had resolved to stay beyond the five-year mark even though the first pastorate commonly lasted three to five years.
At about the seven-year mark I experienced some restlessness. This led me to write and circulate a new resume. Some interviews came, and went well, but they effectively served to confirm my calling to Brunswick. And as time passed I began to realize that I was moving through multiple, roughly-defined pastorates within a single pastorate.
The first pastorate culminated in the addition of a second Sunday morning worship gathering and a modest building project, both in the five to seven year period. These energized me and used some of my gifts that were otherwise underutilized.
As that pastorate ended the second one was marked by the development of staff colleagues, both as associate pastors and niche ministry leaders (music, children’s nurture, youth, office, business, etc.). We added these one by one, often without funding in hand. A second building project added needed Christian education and community space, and toward the end of this pastorate we added a third worship gathering.
My third pastorate was marked by studying for a Doctor of Ministry degree. The class work, spread over half a decade, along with writing a dissertation on an aspect of preaching, sharpened my pastoring skills and affirmed my sense of the kind of pastor I had been and intended to continue being.
The final decade featured growing global outreach, our largest—and by far most challenging—building addition, and the planning for my retirement and a healthy transition for the church and for me. The administrative load had grown considerably and, frankly, tired me at times. I had to work to keep my visionary posture clear and prominent; I didn’t always succeed. In this fourth pastorate I found myself returning to some aspects of pastoral care that had dropped off in my second and third pastorate, and returning with greater joy than I had previously known in them.
A casual observer likely wouldn’t have noticed these pastorates, but those closest to me, chiefly my wife and my associate pastors, could see changes in me and in my work—four pastorates emerged, each lasting seven to 10 years, all while staying with one congregation that was also changing and experiencing different seasons.
In each pastorate, continuing education events, major conferences, and opportunities to serve beyond the parish enriched me and kept me fresh. With thanks to the Lord of the Church, my long pastorate was filled with great joy and satisfaction and, for the most part, I think stayed fresh and vital.
How long have you been in ministry and have you seen pastorates like this emerge?
Rev. Harry Heintz, retired pastor of the Brunswick Church in Troy, N.Y., serves as special assistant to the dean at Northeastern Seminary.