The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


In transition

Baltimore congregation weathers four staff retirements

What happens at a large, complex congregation when a long-serving senior pastor and three other key — and also long-serving — staff retire? That's exactly what Christ Lutheran Church in Baltimore's Inner Harbor area is finding out.

Christ Lutheran, which averaged more than 560 in worship last year, is responsible for several significant social and educational ministries in the inner city, including a 288-unit apartment complex for seniors, a homeless shelter, a parking garage and a nursery school. That's in addition to its strong music, Christian education and youth programs.

The inner-city church has a history of long senior pastorates, having had only six in its 130 years. Thus, senior pastor John R. Sabatelli's announcement of his proposed retirement after 29 years of service would have been a source of considerable concern for the congregation in and of itself.

photodiscWhen Sabatelli announced in early 2010, however, he knew three additional retirements were planned before his own in June 2012. Harold T. "Duke" Fries, associate pastor since 2000, was to retire June 30, 2011. The music director, Paul Davis, began as organist at the church in 1965 and would retire near the end of May 2011. Nancy Charitonuk, parish administrator for 34 years, will retire in December 2011. For all these reasons, Sabatelli proposed that the congregational council immediately establish a group to oversee the various aspects of the transition to new leadership.

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