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Published: Saturday, 12/25/2004

Pastor's plans must go on hold

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The Rev. Bob Hutchinson is the pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in South Toledo. The Rev. Bob Hutchinson is the pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in South Toledo.
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The Rev. Bob Hutchinson says his "life script" is not going according to plan.

The pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in South Toledo, Reverend Hutchinson planned to serve in active ministry until the year 2022, then retire with his wife, Cindy, to a warmer climate.

The couple would do some traveling, volunteer to help various ministries, and spend time with their children and grandchildren.

But Pastor Bob, as his congregation calls him, has had to put his long-term plans on hold.

For now, the plan is to lead Sunday morning worship service at Bethel tomorrow, then pack up everything in his office and head home to wait for a heart transplant.

An ordained minister for nearly 24 years, Pastor Hutchinson can only wait and hope about whether he'll return to the pulpit.

"If I get a heart transplant, I'll be back to work in a few months. If I don't, I'll have a different venue," Pastor Hutchinson said in an interview this week.

The native of Clyde, Ohio, discovered about four years ago, shortly after moving here from a pastoral assignment in Buffalo, N.Y., that he suffers from severe heart disease.

The 50-year-old pastor had been a long-distance runner, a cross-country skier, and a mountain climber, and when he started having trouble just getting his breath, he knew something was wrong.

"My doctor said, 'What do you expect? You're in your mid-40s,'●" he recalled.

But it was clear to him that this was not a normal case of advancing age. Soon he couldn't walk more than a quarter mile without needing to rest. He had to stop two or three times to climb a flight of stairs.

Doctors eventually discovered that Pastor Hutchinson has an enlarged heart, most likely a hereditary illness.

A pacemaker seemed to keep everything under control for the first year and a half after the diagnosis. But then, about 2 1/2 years ago, Pastor Bob suffered a severe bout of cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Since then, he has had about 20 such harrowing episodes.

While he has tried to perform his duties as pastor as normally as possible at Bethal Lutheran, which does not have an assistant pastor, he said he has had to miss some services, often at the last minute, because of unpredictable and severe bouts of illness.

Some members of the congregation, which averages about 120 for Sunday services, have taken on some of the pastoral duties when necessary. Pastor Hutchinson said there is a list of local ministers who can fill in for him, if given advance notice.

"The church members have been really wonderful in supporting me and taking care of me," Pastor Hutchinson said. "It has prompted them to step up to the plate. They have taken on a lot of responsibilities that, if I were not sick, they would not have thought of doing.

"I do whatever I can. Quite often that works pretty well. But sometimes I end up in the hospital on a Saturday. .●.●. It's always a great inconvenience for everybody."

Pastor Hutchinson said he had to miss Easter Sunday this year because he was admitted to the hospital the day before, suffering from pneumonia. "There was no argument from me. I was feeling terrible," he said.

This year, the holidays have been especially tough for him.

"I wish I could celebrate 'passover' - I would like to have everything just pass over," Pastor Hutchinson said wryly. "Christmas is re

But it was clear to him this was not a normal case of advancing age. Soon he couldn't walk more than a quarter mile without needing to rest. He had to stop two or three times to climb a flight of stairs.

Doctors eventually discovered that Pastor Hutchinson has an enlarged heart, most likely a hereditary illness.

A pacemaker seemed to keep everything under control for the first year and a half after the diagnosis. But then, about 2 1/2 years ago, Pastor Bob suffered a severe bout of cardiac arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Since then, he has had about 20 such harrowing episodes.

While he has tried to perform his duties as pastor as normally as possible at Bethal Lutheran, which does not have an assistant pastor, he said he has had to miss some services, often at the last minute, because of unpredictable and severe bouts of illness.

Some members of the congregation, which averages about 120 for Sunday services, have taken on some of the pastoral duties when necessary.

Pastor Hutchinson said there is a list of local ministers who can fill in for him, if given advance notice.

"The church members have been really wonderful in supporting me and taking care of me," Pastor Hutchinson said. "It has prompted them to step up to the plate. They have taken on a lot of responsibilities that, if I were not sick, they would not have thought of doing.

"I do whatever I can. Quite often that works pretty well. But sometimes I end up in the hospital on a Saturday. .●.●. It's always a great inconvenience for everybody."

Pastor Hutchinson said he had to miss Easter Sunday this year because he was admitted to the hospital the day before, suffering from pneumonia.

"There was no argument from me. I was feeling terrible," he said.

This year, the holidays have been especially tough for him.

"I wish I could celebrate 'passover' - I would like to have everything just pass over," Pastor Hutchinson said wryly. "Christmas is really difficult for me this year. I feel miserable, and coupled with the tremendous medical costs, we have no money to do anything."

A 1981 graduate of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Pastor Hutchinson said he knew he wanted to be a minister since he was a child.

He jokes about a boyhood experience that indicated his interest in the ministry.

"When I was 3 years old, I got away from my mother at church and ran down the aisle to the altar and started to play," Pastor Hutchinson said. "I tell people I have been 'playing' in church ever since."

He first served in Pittsburgh, then Buffalo, before coming to Bethel Lutheran in October, 1999.

"I don't think I've ever blamed God" for the illness, he said. "I think it's made me more faithful to step out in places where you don't usually go and to rely on God."

As a former physically fit, athletic outdoorsman, it's been extremely difficult adjusting to a less-active lifestyle, he said.

He remains hopeful that the phone will ring soon and he'll be told to get ready for a transplant operation.

In order for that to happen, there would have to be a donor heart from someone with the same blood type and overall body size as the minister.

"If waiting around for the heart [transplant] doesn't drive you nuts, the thought of being on disability does," Pastor Hutchinson said.

It's going to be really hard not having anything to do, to take away that purpose for living."

The members of Bethel Lutheran Church, 1853 South Ave., will hold a farewell potluck dinner for Pastor Hutchinson following the 10:30 a.m. service on Jan. 9.

- David Yonke



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