Letter from the Teaching Presbyter

To all the Saints of Lehigh Presbytery,

Grace to you all, and peace.

It is with a mixture of deep sadness and great joy that I write to you to share the news that I have resigned from the position of Teaching Presbyter in order to accept a pastoral appointment in the area. This decision did not come easily for me, nor was it made lightly. However, it is something that I joyfully and gratefully receive as a gift of God.

Lehigh Presbytery is in the midst of some difficult realities, many of which mirror not only the denomination, but also the western Church as a whole. I never once lost faith that God is at work in the churches that give Lehigh Presbytery its very being, and the Presbytery Lead Team, of which I am a part, has desired to be responsive not only to the challenges, but also receptive of the opportunities. But like many presbyteries and churches, we have found it difficult to get our arms around how to do this. Honest conversations have been held, honest questions asked, and more are needed.

In the midst of this, in a routine moment when it would have been so easy to miss God’s desire, God was relentless. Last fall, as I half-listened to a devotional podcast, I entirely missed the Scripture passage, but I knew I had to hear it. I played it again, then a third time. “That night [Jesus] appeared to Paul: “It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best. You’ve been a good witness for me here in Jerusalem. Now you’re going to be my witness in Rome!” (Acts 23:11, The Message). With that, I knew that while I could still contribute to our life together in Lehigh, it was okay for me to consider other places where I could contribute to God’s kingdom.

With utter amazement and stunned gratitude, I am able to tell you that I have accepted an appointment as pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Allentown, beginning July 1st. No, I have not left the Presbyterian Church (USA)! Rather, since 1997 four denominations have had a partnership, “The Formula of Agreement,” that was forged out of longstanding ecumenical discussion. In this, we allow the “orderly exchange of ministers” in a way that we have most frequently seen in our area with United Church of Christ partners. Under this agreement I will remain a PC(USA) pastor, with dual standing in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Because I will remain in the area, I will still be under the authority of Lehigh Presbytery.

This has been such an unexpected meeting of gifts and desires between the church and me that I have to believe it is God-orchestrated. As the situation unfolded, it was remarkably evident how God was using this call in a multitude of ways — revealing to me the economy of God’s grace in a wonderfully unexpected way. Unanticipated though it may be, God is addressing my call not only as a pastor, but also as a husband and a father. Alicia, Rachel, and Daniel share in the joy of this new beginning for all of us.

I am in conversation with the Synod of the Trinity and Presbytery leadership on how my transition out of the Teaching Presbyter role can happen most helpfully, and how I can remain a part of the Presbytery most healthfully. Like a pastor leaving a congregation, I know that good and healthy boundaries are best for all of us. I am glad to say that I will be attending the June 23rd presbytery meeting in Slatington.

I wish it were possible for me to visit each of the Presbytery’s congregations one more time, to see the many friends I have made over the years and worked alongside in a variety of ways. I would love to share one last smile, handshake, or hug. We did not always see eye to eye on things, but so many of us could still look each other in the eye, with respect and affection if not agreement. That is what it is to be the Body of Christ.

There is so much more I could say. I will leave this ministry with many fond memories, many learnings, and many, many friends. Most of all, I leave with renewed conviction and confidence, that for us and for the world, God is indeed, all in all.

Steve Shussett

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