After 32 years in front of the congregation at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Elmira, Pastor Rick Frey has some changes on the horizon. He’s set to retire in the coming months when a new interim pastor comes aboard.
It’s a change that leaves him with mixed emotions, as Frey says he’s loved being a pastor, ministering to a congregation what has become like family to him.
“It was 32 years in about mid-September and before that I was a pastor in Windsor for five years, so 37 years all told. I don’t consider myself a wise sage or anything like that, I’m just an ordinary guy who decided that this is what I’m going to do,” he said this week of the journey he’s starting to wind down.
“When I came here, never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be here for 32 years. In fact, when I hit the 10-year mark here, I was just like ‘what am I still doing here?’ but it’s been really good – this is home, this is family. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I think that a lot of people feel that way, that they would want me to stay – there have been some that I’ve baptized and confirmed, and married and whose kids are baptized, so I’m the only pastor they’ve ever known. It’s been wonderful.”
His retirement comes as the church is emerging from pandemic restrictions that saw fewer parishioners showing up, though he notes that members are slowly returning.
“We’re just a small family. Some have been here all their lives, there’s some new ones.”
Frey said he has enjoyed being a light in the church, being able to stand up and speak amongst them, but feels his time has come to move on to other things.
“There is no set age in which a pastor has to retire. A few years ago I started feeling tired and I thought ‘maybe it’s time for somebody else to do this – I’d like to be on the receiving end, hearing the pastor.’ I’ll enjoy sitting in the pews. I don’t want to be that person that undermines the ministry of anyone else. I’ve tried to stress to people that when I retire, I will be retired; I want you to be looking to your new pastor as your new pastor, and I’ll be your friend.”
Frey will be around to help the church or the new pastor anyway he can but wants to take a step back for a couple months so that members have a chance to get to know the new pastor. Currently, no one has been chosen.
“Not until the interim pastor is in place will we start deciding who we want as a permanent pastor. Instead of scrambling now, the congregation wants some time to reflect on where we’re going to go. It’s a smaller congregation so there is a possibility that we will share pastoral services with another congregation from our church body.”
Frey noted it was hard to say how long it will be until a new long-term pastor is brought in.
“I hope that no one is sad because a wonderful thing is going to keep on happening here. We’re a denomination that tries very much to remain focused. There are many denominations being led by the culture, they’re no longer a light in my opinion – anyone can follow what’s popular, that’s never been the church’s job. There is something special about being a pastor, it’s absolutely wonderful. As much as I’m looking forward to retirement, I’m already beginning to regret my decision a little bit,” he added.
Once he’s officially stepped away from his long-time job, don’t expect to find Frey at the local fishing hole, as he’s already planning to work part-time in the local real estate business.