Monday, May 21, 2018
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2 churches join for ‘yoke' ministry

The stately sanctuary of First English Lutheran Church is getting a new coat of paint, and that's not the only change at the historic Old South End church.

This week, First English and nearby St. John's Lutheran Church began sharing a pastor in the denomination's first inner-city Toledo “yoke ministry.”

The Rev. Daniel W. Mohr last month accepted the call to serve the two congregations and was installed as pastor in a ceremony Sunday afternoon at St. John's, 708 South Erie St.

Presiding at the installation service was Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of the Northwest Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The two Toledo churches, less than a mile apart in the Old South End neighborhood, had seen their membership decline over the years until neither could support a full-time pastor.

Rather than close or merge, they opted to band together and hire a minister who will work full-time but divide his schedule equally between the two churches.

After nearly a year of meetings and interviews, the two churches agreed to hire Mr. Mohr, who grew up in the Reynolds Corners neighborhood of Toledo.

The pastor graduated from Macomber High School and earned his divinity degree from the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in Columbus (now known as Trinity Lutheran Seminary).

He served as a pastor in Iowa from 1966 to 1979, in Arizona from 1979 to 1995, and in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst from 1995 until this year.

Why did he move back to Toledo?

“Family, basically,” Mr. Mohr said in a recent interview, adding that he spent time seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

“My mother still lives in Reynolds Corners and I have a sister in Swanton.”

He is scheduled to be in his office at First English on Mondays and Tuesdays and at St. John's on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and will preach at both churches on Sunday mornings.

“They've got their own worship life and I will tune into that,” Mr. Mohr said. “I'll make suggestions later.”

One big adjustment for the congregations will be new service schedules: First English is moving its Sunday service from 10 a.m. to 9:15, and St. John's is going from 10:15 to 10:45.

“Some churches have had the same worship time for 20 or 40 or 60 years,” said the Rev. Marc Miller, assistant to the bishop. “Changing the worship time is a big, big deal. When I went to a meeting to discuss changing it with them, I was braced for battle. But they both said it's no problem, and that ‘if God is doing this then let's try to work together.'

The “yoke ministry” will allow the two churches a chance to maintain their own identities, something that means a great deal to members such as Judy Pfaffenberger.

A lifelong member of St. John's and the church's vice president, Ms. Pfaffenberger, 57, has been the organist for 20 years, choir director for 30 years, and has played piano in Sunday School for 50 years.

Her parents and grandparents belonged to the Old South End church. But she has also seen attendance drop from more than 300 in the 1960s to about 80 today.

“We are very determined people,” Ms. Pfaffenberger said. “In the 1960s, they told us we were done for. And we're still here.”

Donna Stockmaster, administrative assistant at First English, said the congregation believes the church is serving an important function by ministering to the Old South End residents, many of whom are poor or transient.

“We are still a presence in the neighborhood,” she said. “We have AA groups that meet here, and we hold GED classes. We open the building to the people. If God didn't want us here, we wouldn't still be here.”

Mr. Miller, who preached at the installation service, said he has told both churches and Mr. Mohr that they are planting seeds and only God knows what will grow from it.

“It's like the parable of the sower and the seed. The seeds may die, or they might yield a hundredfold. Pastor Mohr might end up closing one of those congregations, or they both might flourish. We just plant seeds and see what the Holy Spirit has in mind for them.”

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