October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I want to express my appreciation for those pastors that have helped shape my own ministry. I start a ways back. I appreciate the solid foundation of faith and family upon which my great-grandfather Henry Gaertner raised his family.
He was ordained at Zion Lutheran Church in New Orleans in August 6, 1899. He went on to serve at Trinity in Port Arthur and Salem in Malone Texas. A memorable story from the beginning years of his ministry occurred in 1902. According to the Port Arthur “Herald” of September 14, 1902, the school children had been greatly annoyed by ‘yellow jackets’ or wasps stinging them near a sidewalk. In an effort to end the menace and control the insects, the Pastor Gaertner set fire to some grass near the sidewalk, which quickly waxed out of control and ignited the building while school was still in session. The flames spread rapidly to the main sanctuary as well, and within an hour, both buildings were reduced to cinders. The financial loss was about $3,000, and was only partially covered by a $600 insurance policy. The church building was quickly replaced in 1903 and the school building followed in 1904.
My grandfather Henry Emil Gaertner became a pastor that served God’s Word in New Mexico and Minnesota. His two brothers, John and Carl, also became pastors.
My father, Mark, became a pastor and served congregations in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. Inside my father’s generation of Gaertners there are several pastors and women married to pastors. Growing up my father helped me understand the importance of seeking opportunities to use our God-given gifts to love God by serving our neighbor. No matter what career I imagined, my dad helped me consider how this path would use my gifts to serve others.
Throughout college and seminary I continued to find God providing me wonderful mentors in the Christian faith. Daniel Brokopp, campus pastor at Valparaiso University, demonstrated the noblest virtues of ministry.
My field education, during the seminary years, was wonderfully guided by my second cousin, Ronald Rall. Ron emphasized seeing the gifts God had given to the lay people in the congregation. No one works by himself in the ministry. During my vicarage, Wayne Puls at Trinity in Hicksville, New York, helped me understand the wide scope of challenges a pastor will experience daily.
In 2001 I was ordained into the Office of Public Ministry at Trinity in Clinton Twp. Pastor Harry Henneman and my father served me the Word of God from their preaching at Trinity. My first call was at Grace in Niagara Falls. I fondly recall Henry Gerike playing the organ at my installation. My beginning in Niagara Falls was shaped by the mentoring of Thees Carl Hoft. Thees is a patient man who gave me perspective on how to be a pastor that does not burn out quickly. John Brunner was the District President. John and Karen kindly let my wife and I stay in their basement apartment for 45 days because the closing on our home was painfully delayed. As much as John served as an administrator in his role as district president, he even more so served as a pastor to me. Pastors in a congregation should always seek out a pastor, I did not have to try hard to find a pastor. John was always ready to receive my phone calls or emails and remind me of the winsome ways to be a pastor to everyone in the congregation.
Since December 2008 I have served as the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Hamburg, Michigan. David Maier serves kindly as my District President. I don’t know a man besides David that can match a strong handshake with an equally genuine smile. His churchmanship is a demonstration to me of how pastors must be authentic in pastoral love and care for each person entrusted to his care.
Besides pastors as mentors and guides, I have also enjoyed the peer support of so many pastors.
Indeed beyond these men, my wife Christi Dunklau Gaertner has been a constant and necessary wonderful support in my life. I am a pastor today largely because of conversations we had together our senior year in high school. No doubt in my mind, God knew what he was doing when he placed her into my life. She is my rib. Each breath I take is easier because she is on my side.