Bethel Lutheran Church to honor ministers in special service Sunday



Pastors who will be honored Sunday by Bethel Lutheran Church agreed that a strong personal faith plays a key role in personal and pastoral success in their calling.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Northeast Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Luthern Church in America will officiate at the service to celebrate the ordinations of five men. To be recognized are:

Pastor Bret Rizzo, current senior pastor who has been at the church a decade, eight as senior pastor and two as associate. He was ordained June 16, 1991, and recently marked his 20th anniversary.

Pastor Paul Burgeson, a former Bethel pastor who served from 1991-2003 and is the current visitation pastor. He was ordained May 23, 1966.

Pastor Chuck Lundquist, ordained June 20, 1954, who served Bethel from 1958-1991.

Pastor Wayne Niemi, a former pastor at other churches who became a member at Bethel in 1991. A sometime substitute at the church, he was ordained June 8, 1953.

Jon Weaver, who was baptized by Pastor Lundquist and grew up in Bethel church. He will be ordained Sept. 10 and will be an associate pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Chagrin Falls.

Pastor Rizzo, who described himself as a “natural people pleaser,” emphasized the importance of personal faith. “I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I realized pleasing my ‘boss,’ Jesus, doing His will and being like Christ was the essence,” he said. The pastor acknowledged that hearing the needs of the congregation was an element of leadership, but understanding that you can’t please everyone was a part, too. “You have to be a good listener,” he said.

Pastor Lundquist said his own faith gave him strength and empathy to “understand that people have different responses to God and points of view about God.” And from that, he said, a pastor realizes he or she must “respect it, learn from it and teach the faith.”

Pastor Niemi added that his personal faith provided the foundation to be able to “listen to the concerns of the congregation and not judge.”

Different decades call for different approaches. Pastor Rizzo said he uses a “multimedia approach” in worship and education because it’s “more my way.” He noted the “visuals” are helpful in Bible study and reflect the technology of a “different generation.”

Pastor Rizzo said his original career aspiration was to be an airline pilot, but “God had other plans.” The pastor noted that being a minister isn’t a 9-to-5 job; it’s 24 hours a day and has its highs and lows, he said. He said he felt “moved by the spirit” to “share my faith.”

Pastor Burgeson said each minister has to find his/her way. “I felt I had giant shoes to fill and my own shoes,” he said, on becoming pastor when Pastor Lundquist retired. “My approach was less formal,” he said.

As visitation pastor, he heads the Friendly Visitors, who minister to the homebound, sick and hospitalized. “Listen without judgment is the rule,” Pastor Burgeson said.

Pastors Burgeson and Niemi agreed that “word and sacrament” define the Lutheran faith. The word is that of God, and the sacrament is the physical sign of an unseen promise, as defined by the ELCA.

The pastors also witnessed what Pastor Rizzo described as a “seemless" merger in 2000 between Bethel and the former Honterus Lutheran Church on Glenwood Avenue. While Bethel had a Swedish ethnic background, Honterus was German-Saxon. “They shared their stories,” Pastor Burgeson said. He added that church members also shared their ethnic foods and their faith, which helped the congregations bond.

Pastor Niemi easily could relate to the ethnic heritage. He pastored various Finnish-speaking congregations in decades past. “I served bilingual congregations for about 30 years,” he said.

Pastor Lundquist said he felt the “ecumenical outreach of the Christianity” was vital. “Developing that feeling of inclusiveness is a strength,” he said, adding that quality makes a church a vibrant part of the community.

Though the other pastors have years of experience under their belts, Pastor Weaver is just beginning. But it seems it was “pre-ordained” that the recent graduate of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus would take the career path he did. “My grandpa said I should be a pastor,” Pastor Weaver said.

He recalled an experience years ago in which his grandfather witnessed how he talked to another student about Sunday school. Later, his grandfather made the prophetic remark.

Pastor Weaver said he received encouragement from the Bethel pastors, and Pastor Rizzo gave him the chance to preach. About personal faith, Pastor Weaver said, “Everything I have has come from God. ... It’s a blessing,” he said, adding because of that he is in ministry.

Bethel Lutheran was founded in 1889 and established in Youngstown on Wilson near Haseltine, then moved to Ridge Avenue. In 1958, the church relocated to Crestview Drive.

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