Glenview church moves on after pastor’s departure
Peter Starr, Pastor at North Branch Bible Church prays with the other volunteers before serving a weekly dinner for the needy on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012 at St. Philip Lutheran Church in Glenview.| Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 14, 2012 12:14PM
GLENVIEW — Known in the community as “the little church with a big heart,” the fellowship room, sanctuary and hallways of St. Philip Lutheran Church in *Glenview* are a nightly meeting place for Bible studies, Alcoholics Anonymous, Weightwatchers, a Korean church service, a drama club and choir.
As a faith community, St. Philip delivers meals to the families of sick parishioners and holiday dinners to the homeless living in Milwaukee Avenue hotels
In January, amid the outreach and activity, Pastor Eric Dawson unexpectedly resigned and left the congregation under a cloud of allegations about the use of foul language with an adult congregant.
Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, one of 65 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, released a statement of concern: “In this case, the allegation of inappropriate language and speech was deemed conduct unbecoming of the ministerial office.”
Although Dawson’s behavior was not criminal in nature, according to interim Pastor Martha Halls, Dawson’s resignation was effective Jan. 20, leaving the flock to move forward with the process of finding a new, permanent leader.
“What he said was not criminal in nature, and if someone wanted to press charges, we don’t know what they would press for,” Halls said. “But it was inappropriate language for anybody and certainly for a pastor.”
For the last eight months, Halls has been filling the void while a call council — a group of parishioners named to choose a new pastor — works through the process that usually takes two years.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America also participates in the recruiting, making profiles of the congregation communities available to candidates, as well as candidate histories for churches to read.
Aside from the long recruiting process, Halls said another weighty job was rebuilding a church after an admired pastor had been ousted.
Speaking from experience, Halls has been an interim pastor for 17 years in Minnesota, Iowa and now Illinois.
Her husband, the Rev. Marcus Kunz, works in the Office of the Presiding Bishop in Chicago for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“When selecting a pastor, you let the congregation settle in awhile after its leader leaves,” Halls said. “If it’s too soon, there’s a backlash of what went on before with the previous pastor. I’d say four to six months is enough time to wait.”
Halls and others at St. Philip said Dawson was a pastor who fueled most of the programs.
He started one of first pet food pantries in Glenview, and opened the chapel on Tuesday nights for free hot meals and free clothes in the mornings. Last Thanksgiving, the parish offered its first free holiday meal program to more than 60 people.
“Parishioners tend to step back because someone else is doing the church’s work, so they don’t do ministry for themselves. Now, this congregation is thinking, ‘Is this our ministry or Eric’s?’” Halls said. “If a pastor does well and leaves, that congregation should continue to go forward and not backward.”
Over the years, Halls has seen many pastors “crash and burn” in taking on all they can.
“It’s difficult for some pastors to allow themselves to have supportive relationships,” she explained.
Church President Ann Lindgren, of Mount Prospect, has been worshipping 27 years at St. Philip, which opened its doors in 1968. After Dawson left, parishioners grew closer as they worked together to fill the sudden void, she said.
“After the initial shock of the resignation, we all pulled together and had a greater sense of community. That’s my impression,” Lindgren said.
Halls agreed the church needed to increase its visibility, yet maintain the ongoing reputation of helping people, and Church Council member Stuart Patterson said members are looking forward to increasing the flock,which is down to 183 members from 205 in 2010.
“There was some confusion at first about what we were supposed to do, but we have the infrastructure and programs to attract more people,” said Patterson, of Glenview. “That’s what we’re called to do. You join to serve the Lord in humble ways.”
Gemma Batty, who joined the Church Council in 2011, recalled that beyond the shock parishioners were saddened to see Dawson and his family leave the fold.
“But I’ve learned a church can rely too much on a pastor,” she said. “Eric was involved in many things, but we quickly worked through it, and we’re seeing what we have left, which is us — God’s people.”
Batty said Hall has urged people to “aim high” by letting the community know of the church’s summer Bible School Week.
“Last year’s attendance was about six, but now we had 25 students,” said Batty, adding that St. Philip held its first backyard carnival in August.
Lindgren said interviews were scheduled to start after Labor Day.