Friday, December 28, 2018

A Letter about Zion

[This is one of the most difficult letters a parish pastor could find himself writing, and a member of a congregation receiving and reading. spt+]

                                        December 21, 2018
                                        St. Thomas, Apostle

Dear members of Zion, family, and friends of the congregation,

    Peace and all good.

    “When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.…” (Psalm 126)

    Several years ago I realized that Psalm 126 had become my favorite psalm. This is partly because I have served this congregation called “Zion” ever since my ordination. The psalm begins and ends with rapturous joy. But in the middle you realize this joy is sung in the midst of despair. For some 2500 years, not a week has gone by without some of the children of Israel or the followers of Christ praying this psalm. And most of those years were not good ones for the city of Zion (Jerusalem).

    During this last year at Zion we have struggled to arrange our governing documents so that the congregation, with fewer people willing and able to take leadership and make decisions, could continue to legally manage its own affairs. Pending approval of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod Council at its next meeting in January, we have accomplished that.

    Anticipating that approval, the Congregation Meeting last November 11 elected four people — Linda Husby, Marian Meinert, Mike Schwindenhammer, and Becky Zentko — to the Congregation Council and approved a budget for the year 2019 — thus giving the Council authority to spend available funds.

    The meeting was then opened up for general discussion of Zion’s future ministry, following-up on discussions from earlier meetings. The conversation was frank and heartfelt, and included discussion of finances, building needs, and the continued ability of the congregation to support a pastor. At its conclusion, the congregation’s voting members voted to set Sunday, January 27, 2019, as the date for Zion’s last regular worship service. The Council has determined that service will begin at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so that pastors and members of our sister congregations can also participate.

    This decision is but the first step in concluding Zion’s ministry, a mission first planted in 1882 by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church as a parochial and Sunday school at the corner of Easton and Hayes, which organized as the Zion congregation in 1894.

    To accomplish the next significant step, Zion’s Council has called for a Special Congregation Meeting on Sunday, January 20, 2019, immediately following the 10 am service. The purpose of this meeting is to consider a resolution to dissolve the congregation and to appoint trustees to oversee that process. All voting members are urged to attend this meeting. Voting members are defined in Zion’s Constitution as confirmed members who, “during the current or preceding calendar year, shall have communed in this congregation and shall have made a contribution of record to this congregation” — that would be the years 2018 and 2019.

    It would be after this meeting that the trustees — whom the Council recommends be the elected members of the 2019 Council named above — would provide for the sale and disposition of Zion’s assets. Because Zion is a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization, there are strict Internal Revenue Service rules and federal and state laws regarding the disposition of the church’s assets. They may be sold or given to similar tax-exempt organizations (such as other churches, church agencies, or charitable organizations) or government agencies for a public purpose.

    But anything owned by the congregation is “permanently dedicated to an exempt purpose,” so property cannot be given to members of the congregation or others. Certain records and other historical materials will eventually be placed in the ELCA Regional Archives at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. The trustees will seek to honor the purposes for which things have been given to Zion, and your suggestions for suitable recipients or assistance in sales will be appreciated. Under our Constitution, at the final dissolution of the congregation — and that will take some time — any undisposed property passes to the Central/Southern Illinois Synod, ELCA.

    Members of the congregation will want to consider where to transfer membership. We will be providing information about nearby Lutheran congregations to assist you. We will also be arranging for continued pastoral care of those who are homebound or may be unable to arrange the transfer of membership. Details of these will be forthcoming.

    You are probably aware that I have been open to receive a new congregational call. But the process takes time and it is unlikely that I will have received and accepted a new call by Zion’s final services. Nevertheless I have tendered my resignation as Zion’s Parish Pastor effective January 31, 2019. I appreciate your prayers for the discernment of a new call and, if it is necessary, for an appropriate interim pastorate until then.

    “Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
    will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.”
                                                                    (Psalm 126:7)

    Faithful followers of Christ are not exempted from disappointment or sadness, worries or fears. We find these even in the tender Christmass story. But they are never the end, or even the focus, of the story. Over the next few weeks we will continue to celebrate at Zion the Holy Communion and hear the Gospel each Sunday at 10 am, as well as on Christmass Eve (for the 125th time!) at 7 pm. While, sadly for us, Zion congregation will soon no longer proclaim the Good News, the joyous message of redemption in Christ will still be proclaimed by those whose Christian Faith has been instilled here. Thanks be to God!

                                        Your servant in Christ,

                                        The Rev. Steven P. Tibbetts, STS
                                        Pastor and President


Paul Bieber said...

Steven, I grieve this loss with you, my brother, and with the people of Zion. Our God, who raises the dead and creates anew from nothing, will bring good from this although we cannot now see how. You are in our prayers.
Grace and peace,
Paul Bieber, STS

Fr Jay Scott Newman said...

My Dear Brother, may the LORD of mercies be gracious to you and your people in these days of mourning, and remember Psalm 134:

Come, bless the LORD,
all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD.
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the LORD.
May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth.

Jay Scott Newman

Paddy Rooney said...

Dear Pastor and dear friend. Please know that you, and the good people of Zion, have my thoughts and prayers in the coming weeks. Thank you for your faithful proclamation of the Gospel these many years and for the faithful witness borne by the members in that place. May the Lord bless you all with a full measure of peace as you move into His future. And know that your sisters and brothers in the Society offer their full support for you in this transition. Blessings. Paddy Rooney. Senior of the Society of the Holy Trinity.

Unknown said...


The agony of closing a parish is heartbreaking for all concerned, and especially for pastoral leaders. You have exhibited an extraordinary measure of grace in this matter and I congratulate you, and the parish leaders, on that. I wish only for the best for the future of your parishioners and your ministry. God will find another place for you, I'm quite sure.

Fr Gabriel (Jay) Rochelle

Anonymous said...

Blessed are those who mourn -- even at the end of a congregation's active ministry -- for you will be comforted. May the anguish of these decisions be eased by the remembrance of "Mission Accomplished" by our Lord through the pastors, people, and ministries of Zion plus the opportunity to further that legacy. Zion's people will be a treasure to their new congregations, and your decisions on distribution of Zion's treasure will strengthen the ministries that receive you generosity. And, Fr. Zip, you continue to be treasured by your STS colleagues. May another congregation soon benefit from your faithful shepherding in Word and Sacrament.
Best blessings,
Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch STS

George Erdner said...

This is sad news indeed. I pray the God guides you and the members of Zion to new, and fruitful opportunities to serve, and be served.

Pr. B.A. "Tim" Christ, STS said...

My dear and good friend,

The comments already made eloquently declare what I also on my heart and mind. Let me simply add that you and the faithful people of Zion will be in my prayers as the "joy and sorrow which come mingling down" occupy your hearts and minds over these next weeks and in the time to follow. Our Lord is faithful, a lesson which has been painfully, yet gracefully, taught to me in never before imagined ways over this past year. I am certain that you are and will discover this promise in ever new ways as in the coming year.

Your friend and colleague,,
Pr. B.A. "Tim" Christ, STS

rojgv said...

Zip, beautifully and lovingly written--a fine pastoral piece. You are, as always, in my prayers.

Unknown said...


Brother in Christ, I can only imagine the heaviness of heart with which you wrote this letter. Yet you approached this letter pastorally, with much deliberation, and with great affection for the people whom you were called to serve. You also carefully recalled for your flock the "great cloud of witnesses" and their own faithfulness to living out their baptismal calling in Christ to the glory of the Father,as they have been guided though the over 136 years of their ministry.

Please know that you are in my prayers and the prayers of Bethany, Hickory, NC. We trust that God's Holy Spirit will guide Zion's members and you though the time of doubt in this time into the assurance that in some new ways God will "restore the fortunes of Zion. . . ."

Grace and Peace,

The Rev. Dr. C. Pierson Shaw, Jr. PhD, STL, STM, MDiv, STS.

Rev. Rick Mason said...

I don’t know if you remember me; but I was baptized at Zion in 1950 & preached there several years ago. I plan to come to Peoria from SC for the service. I’ve never been part of such a service, but let me know if there is something you would like me to do. Right now it looks like several other members of the Mason family (many of whom were also baptized there) will also attend. Rev. Ricki Mason

Rev Mark W. Knappe, STS said...

Dear Steven,

Thank you for your faithful service to the Lord and His church. May you and your people sing with Simeon, Hannah, the Holy Family a Nunc Dimittis of thanksgiving and praise unto the Lord born in Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

Dear Steven,

I had hoped despite your concern that this day would not come. Your sorrow is shared by the Church wherever it is found. We will pray for your congregation, for your continued ministry, and for your well-being in the days to come. Your faithfulness has been a blessing for many.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Paula Murray

Anonymous said...

My friend and brother in Christ,

My heart grieves for you and your congregation. I cannot imagine just how hard it was to write this letter. My prayer is that you will be able to make peace with this as you now transition to another chapter in your journey.

And now I leave you with a poem I recently stumbled upon:
By Fred Pratt Green
There's snow on the mountain and ice on the pond;​
The Wise Men are home now in the Back of beyond;​
The Shepherds have left us; the heavens are dumb;​
There's no one to tell us why Jesus has come.​

The tree drops its needles, a sign we must go;​
But the long road to Egypt is covered in snow;​
And wherever we travel the food will be dear:​
Who knows what's before us this coming New Year?​

But God's in his heaven, and Jesus has come​
To show every sinner he's welcome back home,​
To be this world's Saviour from hunger and fear,​
And give us new courage to face the New Year.

Anonymous said...

This is such sad news. Our family's spiritual roots were in Zion, for generations. I trust God to sustain and guide you through this transition. "O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come" Jo Ann Burk

Clam said...

I am so very sad to hear this news. Nonetheless, the congregation is blessed to have an Earthly shepherd who can guide them through this process with sensitivity, caring and deep pastoral experience. You all will be in my prayers and I trust that the Holy Spirit will give you all strength for this day and those to come.
In Christ, Clam

Pastor Peters said...

Dear Pr. Tibbetts, My thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time. I have the highest regard for you and for your ministry. May the Lord grant you a place and the people a new church home. In Christ, Pr. Larry A. Peters

Unknown said...

Pastor Tibbetts,

Thank you for all that you have done for not only Zion, but for countless families and parishioners in the Peoria Area. Thank you for always calling to check on my grandparents in their last few years of life. Thank you for marrying my husband, David & I. Thank you for blessing Cooper the day he was born. Thank you for presiding over my grandparents’ (Betty & Norm Werner) funerals just 4 months apart. While I wish we were still in the area so as to attend the final services of Zion, my childhood church, you are kept in my thoughts and prayers as you make this difficult journey to another congregation, who will hopefully feel the love of your faith!

All my best,
Tracy Werner Caldwell