Living Lord Lutheran Church has been going through some changes lately with long time pastor Roy Christell leaving after 40 years serving the congregation.
Transitions such as these, involving big changes after decades of consistency, can come with rocky patches, but Lanny Westphal and Louis Moehlman are fitting in like naturals, allowing the transition to be seamless – and even a whole lot of fun.
Westphal has made a career out of steering congregations facing big changes.
“The long and short of it is that I really love helping congregations that are in transitions between longer serving pastors. So, I have been doing this in one way or another for many years,” Westphal said.
He is somewhat of a consultant that is brought in to keep the church, whichever church that may be in whatever part of the country it may be in, headed in the direction it wants to be headed.
He has done this type of full time transitional consulting work at congregations in North Carolina, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Texas. He was most recently, prior to coming to Living Lord, in Texas, at a congregation near Dallas.
Westphal used to work with the Bishop in La Crosse, Wis., helping congregations through transitions, or “call processes.”
“I did well over a hundred different call processes over more than a decade. I started to see what a tremendous time of potential it was during a transition because a congregation takes stock of where they are, their strength and their weaknesses and they work very hard to get ready for the next pastor,” Westphal said.
He stated that he started noticing that in those months, after a pastor stepped down and before the new pastor was decided on, congregations tended to do things that often surprised themselves in positive ways, often completed turn-arounds or transformations towards brighter futures.
“It’s taking a time of losing and missing the previous pastors and turning it into a time of eager excitement for the next pastor,” Westphal said.
He added that he is very lucky to follow Christell, who created a strong congregation, a strong legacy that will lead towards a good future.
Westphal is perfect for this type of work because not only does he have a wealth of past ministerial experience, but also administration experience. He is required to utilize the skills he has picked up from that admin experience when coming into these transition phases.
“This is like the best of both worlds because I get to be full a part of a Parrish for about a year at a time and enjoy all of the wonderful things that are part of being a faith community and a worshipping community, while at the same time being able to use some of my administrative skills and some of my consulting skills,” Westphal said.
He said that for the entirety of his 32-year ministry, he has done both ministry and administrative kind of roles.
Another reason Westphal likes this type of work is that he likes going new places and meeting new people.
“Frankly, I like to get to know new people and new areas. So, whenever I am serving somewhere, I take the time to get to know the congregation fully but also, I explore the community a lot. I get to know different parts of this wonderful country that we live in,” Westphal said.
He says that constant state of discovery keeps him fresh.
Working with Westphal, as an Associate Pastor, is Louis Moehlman. His official title with Living Lord is Transitional Ministry Associate.
Before he can become officially ordained, he has to complete an internship. This is the way that the Evangelical Lutheran Church works.
Louis’ wife, Ella, who is also working towards a life in ministry, is doing her internship in the New Town area in St. Charles.
Moehlman is originally from southern California. He attended Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Cal. Louis kind of followed Ella, a native Midwesterner from Peoria, Ill., to Missouri and had necessarily anticipated pursuing serious work opportunities here.
“This just kind of fell together. It’s been great,” Moehlman said. “A lot of what we’ve been doing is strategic planning.”
They’ve been looking at how the congregation might do broader outreach into the community, which is growing all the time.
Something that the congregation has noted, and both Moehlman and Westphal recognize, is an energized, refreshing and organic chemistry they seem to have with each other.
“We get along together pretty well. Which is good because the work that we do, we see a lot of each other,” Moehlman said. “What makes the parishioner/pastor relationship more interesting than other relationships that happen throughout the week is that it is very intense. The same holds true for pastoral staff, too.”
Moehlman said they are pretty similar, cut from the same cloth even. They have similar work ethics and goals for the church.
“This has been just a wonderful surprise for both of us because we didn’t know each other before we arrived here together. We just found from the very first weekend that we laughed together, we joked together and even though we are of different generations, we have a surprising number of things in common about our background,” Westphal said.
Westphal said that even though Moehlman hasn’t been ordained yet, he predicts that Moehlman will make a fantastic pastor.
Paula Barney, who is an administrative assistant with Living Lord, said that the way that the two seem so familiar with each other and work so productively without having ever met before being hired around September has been nothing short of amazing.
“They just have complimentary skills and talents. They very quickly divided up who would be responsible for what and how it would work,” Barney said. “It’s interesting to me because I have been here for a little over 20 years and for the past 10 or so I have been working with someone in the office. Over time we have developed that kind of rapport but these guys walked in the door with it.”
She said that where other temporary pastors at churches have needed some guidance and assistance getting started and acquainted, Moehlman and Westphal didn’t: they hit the ground running.
“They listen well. We talked about how things work around here. They kept what they felt was essential to the life of the congregation. They questioned some things to see if we really needed to do them that way. When everyone felt that we didn’t, they kind of got rid of those. It has gone really well and I was kind of surprised to tell you the truth. When someone who has been here for 40 years leaves, you just don’t know what kind of impact it’s going to have,” Barney said.
For Living Lord’s Christmas Eve and Christmas day services this year, the schedule will remain the same, but the services themselves will be a little different.
There will be services at 4 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. In years prior, only the 11 p.m. service was a service of light with the candle lighting ceremony, but this year all three services will be services of light.
For more information about Living Lord Lutheran Church, you can find them online at www.livinglord.org.