My Pastoral Journey

Dear Friends through Christ Jesus:


Sometimes it seems all I do is write—sermons, classes, reports, newsletters. The most difficult part of writing is having something to say, and hopefully what is said is somewhat useful. Remember back to my annual report, where I mentioned that one of the assets of Peace Church is our Lutheran Heritage and your Lutheran pastor trained in one of the ten seminaries throughout the United States. Today’s letter shares the process of becoming a Lutheran pastor. Hopefully this information might be somewhat useful in the future.


I was a steel broker for almost 20 years, quite successful I might add. Drove corvettes and Lamborghini's, bass boat, big home, but in 1997, on the shores of Ocean Isle North Carolina, I experienced a “call” to ministry. What now? Do I simply go find a church and say, “Here I am! I’m ready to preach and teach, and do whatever, because that’s what I feel called to do? In many churches this is not far from what happens. Not in the Lutheran tradition! That “what now,” was a long, tedious, hard, sometimes frustrating, very expensive endeavor, with lots of sacrifice for myself and family?


The very first step was having my “home congregation” endorse my call. They had to agree that David Trexler would make a fine pastor, based on what they knew about my lifestyle and personality. Next, I had to fill out paperwork that would make one’s head spin, detailing everything about me, my faith journey, education, struggles—you name it—it was there. The paperwork is then sent to the synod office. A standard eight hour psychological test is given. A meeting with the bishop is scheduled, and from there, my life over the next four years was in the hands of the “candidacy committee,” made up of twelve members who review the information, question, challenge and support this journey.


In my first experience with this committee, they postponed my entrance to seminary because of a “checkered past.” I was pretty wild for the first 40 years of living. So off I went for more psychological testing. The results came back, “Applicant presents high aptitude and strong assets for pastoral ministry. Has trouble with authority.” Back to the candidacy committee, where they finally issued their approval, allowing me to attend seminary. Folks that was just the first step. Now I had to find a seminary, get in, and figure out how to pay for this education, which would cost over $50,000 per year. I chose The Lutheran School of Theology At Chicago or they chose me.


I have included my Official Academic Record to give a better idea of our education and training. Please take my word, there was not once single class that was easy, and each and every class has a story. The professors were the great minds of religious studies and challenged us constantly. The actual motto for LSTC was, “A place where all your answers are questioned.”


Following the first year of seminary, when one feels like their brain is going to explode, each student is shipped off, away from family, to serve in a large teaching hospital as a chaplain for the next four months. We actually pay the school to work 60-70 hours per week and be on call 24-7.

Following the second year of seminary, when finally one feels like they are getting the hang of it, each student is shipped off again for one full year, serving a congregation as an intern or vicar, working again 60-70 hours per week, under the supervision of the pastor. At least now we were paid $9000 per year. My experience was delightful and eye-opening. I would love to implement this ministry at Peace.

Then it is back to seminary for the fourth and final year of classes, always reflecting, always discerning in community. Upon graduation, I once again had to receive “approval” from the bishop and committee, through a grueling final interview. Then the entire “call process” begins—another task filled journey. I accepted a call to Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jasper, Indiana. And on June 1, 2002, David Lee Trexler was ordained as minister of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serving Christ Jesus and His Holy Church.

So now you know what it takes to become a Lutheran pastor in the ELCA. But how might this information be somewhat useful in the future?

Allow me to continue the story. My first call in Jasper, Indiana was wonderful, a perfect fit, a match made in heaven. The synod looks at the pastor’s strengths and weakness and tries their hardest, with guidance from the Spirit to find a church that would thrive with his/her leadership. Redeemer was a small congregation in a farming community, worshiping between 50 and 60 saints and sinners. Within five years, through the work of the Holy Spirit, our attendance grew to 175-225 in a brand new sanctuary. Looking back I sometimes wonder why I just didn’t stay put, but it seems to be built into my nature that I get this like five-year-itch. Was like this even before the ministry.

There was a church in upstate Indiana, right outside Chicago, Gloria Dei Lutheran. My father had served Gloria Dei some 25 years earlier. It was also a church my wife Sandy was baptized and confirmed in. A church we were married in. Gloria Dei had worshiped 350-400 when my father served in the early 80’s, and now just a handful were attending. They were on the verge of closing their doors. After spending close to a year through the established call process, the synod determined I could help. I tearfully left Redeemer, packed our bags and headed north. Again, a good fit and good ministry was done. Within five years, through the work of the Spirit, Gloria Dei was strong. Did I say, five years?

Time to move. But where? I was born and raised in North Carolina and I absolutely love the coast. Maybe, I could get there somehow? The process through the ELCA to change synods takes time and patience. Two things I lacked. Plus remember, I have problems with authority. Actually, I became selfish, thinking about my wants and needs ahead of the Church.

There just so happened to be a beautiful church in Salisbury, NC, my father and grandfather’s home town. However, this 1000 member congregation was part of LCMC. They wanted me and I wanted them. So we both bypassed the entire process, and I became a pastor at Saint Paul’s Lutheran in Salisbury, NC. Did not work out the way I or Saint Paul’s envisioned. Sure I learned a great deal in that eight month period about human nature and the nature of the church, but trust me, it was a painful learning experience.

So what now? Remember I am no longer an ordained pastor in the ELCA, but I learned there were quite a few LCMC churches throughout the country looking for qualified pastors, steeped in Scripture and educated in the Lutheran tradition. Yet, I also learned those pastors were hard to come by, seeing that the LCMC has no established Lutheran seminaries. At least this should make the task of finding a church to serve relatively simple. It was. Now, I can simply choose where I want to live—somewhere warm—and focus my efforts there. Yet, how will I know if it’s a good fit? See the selfishness again?

My first stop was Guam. You read right, Guam. Sandy and I spent ten days on that beautiful island stuck out in the middle of the Pacific, but I could not convince her to move 32 hours by plane away from her children. Granted they are mine also, but I was ready to go in a heartbeat. Over the next eight years, The Lutheran Church of Guam struggled to find a pastor and currently has one that is Methodist.


So, how about Florida? It’s warm and in the continental United States. We accepted a call to a small congregation in Titusville. The church had been without a full time pastor for almost three years. Every candidate seemed to peel away a few more members. However, once we got the conflict and pent-up frustration under control and focused upon Word and Sacrament, along with the assets at hand, Trinity became a beacon of hope, mostly to the older population in the area. Take one guess how long I served Trinity. That’s right five years. Upon leaving they went through a strange Catholic priest for a few months, and now they also have a Methodist pastor leading the flock. (What’s up with the Methodist?)


Which brings me full circle to Peace Lutheran Church in Palm Bay. From my understanding the “call process” could have gone much smoother. A portion of the congregation felt “Lutheranism” was optional and another portion felt it was important. Some were willing to consider Lutherans who felt they were ready to preach and teach without the sacrifice of seminary. Over time, layers of good people felt betrayed and left Peace Lutheran, and here I am. As the 70’s song goes, “Stuck in the middle with you.”

I still believe deep down that Peace Lutheran Church has a strong future ahead. If we focus upon Word and Sacrament and what we do well, using our assets to the Glory of God, we can make a difference in the community. I do not know how long I will serve as your pastor. Shoot, I don’t know how long I will live, but as long as I serve and as long as I live, I will always try my best, with the help of Holy Spirit to make certain the church is ready to move forward.


Then it is back to seminary for the fourth and final year of classes, always reflecting, always discerning in community. Upon graduation, I once again had to receive “approval” from the bishop and committee, through a grueling final interview. Then the entire “call process” begins—another task filled journey. I accepted a call to Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jasper, Indiana. And on June 1, 2002, David Lee Trexler was ordained as minister of Word and Sacrament in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serving Christ Jesus and His Holy Church.


I hope this information might be somewhat useful in the future.


In Christian Love,

Pastor David Trexler



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