After 20 years in Newberg, pastor will deliver his final sermon Sunday

When Tom Struck was first called to pastor at Joyful Servant Lutheran Church in 1994, the congregation was looking first and foremost for stability, having had three pastors in the first 11 years of the church. by: GARY ALLEN - Fond farewell -  After serving as a pastor in Michigan for six years, Tom Struck and his wife returned to  the Pacific Northwest and was soon hired on at Joyful Servant Lutheran Church. After 20 years as pastor, he will deliver his final sermon at Joyful Servant on Sunday

Having stuck around for the past 20 years, it’s safe to say that mission was accomplished, but Struck has brought so much more to Joyful Servant and the wider community in those two decades.

That’s why he will be so tough to replace after he delivers his last sermon Sunday and officially steps down Aug. 31.

“Most churches don’t get to enjoy that kind of pastoral leadership for so long,” church member Lee Schrepel said. “He’s been a tremendous listener and supporter of people in need and I don’t just mean members of the congregation. I also refer to people in the community that come looking for help. He really is a caregiver.”

Pastoring is actually a third career for Struck, who worked for his grandfather, a mason contractor, as a brick layer before graduating from Portland State University and working as a school teacher for five years.

Struck graduated from the Pa­cific Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1988 as a member of the first class to be a part of the Evan­gel­ical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), which had recently formed from the merging of several denominational organizations.

After serving as a pastor in Michigan for six years, Struck and his wife decided to return to the Pacific Northwest to be closer to family and was placed at Joyful Servant.

One of the first priorities of the congregation when Struck arrived was to develop good stewardship of the physical space the church had, which had been one of the reasons the church formed in the first place.

Joyful Servant was home to the Head Start preschool program for a long time, but has also hosted various groups and organizations, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Lutheran Family Services, as well as Portland Community College classes.

“It was a lot of trying to give space to community groups of all kinds to be able to operate and not having the physical space being the reason they couldn’t do what they needed to do,” Struck said.

A lot of the church’s focus during Struck’s tenure has been on growing its facilities, which included the building of a new church, but members of the congregation also praise his leadership and people skills.

“The Lutheran tradition is one of service,” church member Andy Byerley said. “It’s even in our name, Joyful Servant, and I think he’s typified that. I think in a lot of ways he’s provided leadership in a lot of areas that people don’t even realize. It’s almost a quiet leadership on some levels, where he takes care of so much behind the scenes that people just take for granted in the long run.”

Struck has viewed his time in Newberg in a similar light, saying there has been a joyful nature to it, as he’s been privileged to share in some of the biggest moments of people’s lives, both happy and sad, from births, baptisms and weddings to illness and funerals.

“I’ve been able to be a part of all of those special moments in peoples’ lives, to communicate God’s love and presence in those times,” he said.

But after 20 years, he felt it was time to reorient his life and at the same time give the congregation a chance to work with a pastor who brings a different set of skills to the table.

“It was kind of like I could see this chapter needs to come to a close,” Struck said. “After 20 years, I figure that’s a good time frame to say it’s been great, it’s been a profound honor, but it’s time for a new chapter.”

Struck, who has been a volunteer chaplain at Providence Newberg Medical Center for the past 20 years, including being on call for the past nine years, plans to stay busy in the community, first by pursuing his certification as a full-time chaplain. He has also applied for the new position of community outreach coordinator at the medical center, which was created through Faith in Action.

In the meantime, the congregation will work with an interim pastor and staff from the Oregon Synod of the ELCA to do some self-reflection in the hopes of identifying what direction the church would like to go and what kind of pastor can best lead them there.

That process typically lasts about a year and Struck is confident a good match will be found to help Joyful Servant “take the congregational vision to a deeper level.”

“On the June 2013 Council retreat we developed a vision ‘To become a fellowship of believers, grounded in God’s word, living out our faith through joyful service,’” Struck said. “Developing deeper bonds with each other and especially making a more intentional pathway to participation for new people is one ‘update’ they can focus on.”

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