Transition team and plan is in place

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Dear Grace Congregational Council and Community:


August 1, 2014 will mark the beginning of Leon Philpot’s retirement as our Synodically Authorized Minister after more than seven years of dedicated service to Grace.


In anticipation of this change, our Transition Team was commissioned by Council President, Ken Pauley, to develop a process that prepares the congregation for the next part of Grace’s journey.


This report summarizes the progress of our work to date and outlines a process that we feel is conducive to a healthy, successful transition to a new pastor.



May God bless and guide our choices and our journeys ahead.


Grace Leadership Transition Team: Kären Hazlaris

Bob Lewis

Debbie Pusateri

Jim Wee







In August 2005, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church was devastated by Hurricane Katrina; the buildings were inundated by seven feet of floodwater and the membership was scattered widely across the southeastern US. Pastor Dan Duke returned from evacuation and in October 2005 set up temporary worship services for Grace “returnees” at a local funeral home. In August 2006 Pastor Duke resigned, although by this time we had made significant progress in improving morale in the congregation and renovating our church buildings. This progress largely was due to the strong support of the Synod and the service of Pastor Phil Blom as the Synod’s representative. When Pastor Duke left, Pastor Blom began serving as our congregation’s interim pastor. Under Pastor Blom’s leadership, the church and education buildings were mostly restored by January 2007, many of the congregation had returned to New Orleans and a “normal” Sunday morning schedule had resumed including Sunday School classes. Pastor Blom also facilitated an opportunity for Grace to be served by a Synodically Authorized Minister (SAM). In March 2007, with the Bishop’s authorization and financial support from the Synod, Grace entered into a contract with Leon Philpot as our Synodically Authorized Minister. Since then, Grace has evaluated its leadership needs and available resources annually and concluded that continuation of the SAM was indicated. The most recent contract term is March 1, 2013 through February 28, 2014.


In October of 2013, Bishop Mike Rinehart met with a group of key congregational leaders and indicated that Leon Philpot’s service as a Synodically Authorized Minister for Grace Lutheran Church needed to come to a close. Consequently, the Council president appointed a leadership Transition Team to organize and supervise an intentional, healthy transition for calling an ordained pastor.




This transition plan is more than a list of action items, timelines and a process of transitioning from one physical leader to another. The plan serves as a framework to prepare Grace to transition into the future under the leadership of an ordained pastor. The plan is not, however, intended to be an overall strategic plan for the church. In addition, the plan is intended to be a living document that is continuously reviewed and fine-tuned throughout the process.


Guiding Principles:


The Leadership Transition Plan is based on the following guiding principles.


  1. Sola scriptura

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

  1. Gather knowledge

Proverbs 18:15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

Proverbs 1:1-33 To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…

  1. Discern God’s will/plan for Grace

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Proverbs 16:3-4 Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its purpose…

  1. Acknowledge change

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…

2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.

Revelation 21:5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

  1. Trust God

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.


  1. Pray for Grace


Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.




  1. Engage and re-engage the congregation. Strengthen communication and transparency around the transition. Ensure that all voices are heard and reflected.


  1. Understand our community—inside and out. Consider the patterns and needs of the Greater New Orleans/Lakeview area, as well as within our congregational community. Fearlessly assess, together, what is working and where we struggle.


  1. Bring the future into better focus. Take time to engage the congregation in its vision for what Grace could be, building on our strengths. Renew our vision – who we are, what God calls us to do, and why it matters.


  1. Prepare the way for a pastoral call. While the Transition Team is not the Call Committee, its work helps the congregation to come together so that Grace has the greatest chance for an excellent match and successful relationship with a new pastor.



Transition Plan Outcome Measures:


  1. Gracious, appreciative and celebratory departure for Leon
  2. Effective communication throughout the process
  3. Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for key stakeholders
  4. Maintenance of participation levels in worship and ministries
  5. Maintenance of financial strength
  6. Development of staff strength
  7. Continuity of key ministries and hallmarks of Grace
  8. Successful pastoral recruitment
  9. Comprehensive pastoral orientation/on-boarding
  10. An overall healthy process



First steps:


The Transition Team began its work by conducting research into effective practices and recommendations for successful leadership transitions. Materials included the transition process manual from our Synod, a book entitled “A Change of Pastors” that was recommended in the Synod materials, and a resource called “Healthy Transitions” from the New England Synod. The materials emphasize the importance of the process itself and advise that we proceed intentionally to make the transition a time of growth and development for our congregation. Our Synod manual points out that the transition process will shape the future mission and ministry of the congregation.



The Council president made an announcement to the congregation regarding the pending retirement of our SAM and beginning the process of calling an ordained pastor. The Transition Team followed up with an announcement in church on Sunday, February 16, briefly explaining the transition process and asking the congregation to engage in the process by communicating their thoughts/feelings/concerns and by praying for God’s guidance. Attachment A is the text of that announcement.


In addition, the following message has been added to the weekly bulletin:



Grace Lutheran Church is in the process of transitioning from post-Katrina leadership by Leon Philpot, our Synodically Authorized Minister, to calling an ordained pastor. This is a time for us to celebrate the many blessings that God has provided us through Leon and to embrace the opportunity to discover what God has planned for the future of Grace. Let us keep our hearts and minds open that we may live and serve Him according to His will.


Team Leader Karen Hazlaris – 452-5240

Member Bob Lewis – 234-6225

Member Debbie Pusateri – 460-9980

Member Jim Wee – 495-7995

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please feel free to contact any team member.

On February 23, the Sunday School children discussed the changes that are planned and presented a visual reminder to the congregation to “pray for Grace.”


Leon has written a monthly reflection for the March Grace newsletter that encourages and supports the transition process. (Attachment B)


The Transition Team met with Congregational Council President Ken Pauley on February 26 to discuss the planning process, our understanding of what the Bishop’s office is requesting from Grace, and our preliminary decisions.


On March 10, we provided an overview of the transition process and our progress to the Congregational Council.


Leon has prepared a letter to the congregation announcing his retirement. (Attachment C)


Stakeholders and the congregation are encouraged to create an environment in which members feel comfortable speaking positively about the predecessor and the significant history of the church.


Identifying the irreplaceable qualities of our outgoing leader will help the congregation grieve the loss of those qualities and building a plan to replicate those that are transferable.


Information Gathering

In accordance with the Synod process, the Transition Team collected available data, including our congregational trend report, community information, and the results of a congregational survey conducted in 2012. Additional data and information is in the process of being gathered and analyzed to support decision-making.


In addition to demographics and statistical data, we have encouraged members to share their thoughts and feelings with team members. Comments have already begun in one-on-one conversations with team members. This is intended to engage the congregation in the transition process, to provide an opportunity for the sharing of feelings regarding the transition, and to get a sense of the needs, values and vision that members have for Grace.


A working group has been created to capture the history of Grace. Much of the historical documentation Grace had maintained was lost in the 2005 flood during Hurricane Katrina. This is intended to provide accurate recordation of our history as well as an opportunity to understand and value our past and the role that it has played in who we are today. In this gathering of historical information, we can identify, preserve and celebrate the hallmarks of Grace and the great work God has done and continues to do through the church.


Identification of Groups


In addition to individual interests of Leon and the incoming pastor, we have identified the following “natural” groups whose participation in the process is vital.


  1. The congregation as a whole
  2. The Congregational Council
  3. The staff
  4. Each of the Council teams
  5. Graceful Ladies
  6. The adult Bible study
  7. The Coffee Talk group
  8. The book club
  9. Grace Men in Mission
  10. The Call Committee
  11. The Gulf Coast Synod, Bishop and staff



Preliminary Assessment of Congregation Type


Having considered the written materials describing congregation types, in light of our trend data on the size of our church and our observations of how Grace functions, the Transition Team believes that Grace has been historically a “pastor congregation” and since Katrina has moved more in the direction of a “mission/program congregation.” This preliminary assessment will be subject to change as we gather additional feedback from the stakeholders and conduct further analysis of information.



Next Steps:



A letter from the Transition Team will be sent together with a copy of this plan to everyone on Grace’s membership list as soon as this plan is completed.


A letter from Leon Philpot will also be sent to all Grace members and friends formally announcing his retirement.


The Transition Team will coordinate meetings of several key stakeholder groups to:


  1. Be inclusive and transparent in the transition process;
  2. Root the planning process in scripture and prayer;
  3. Begin the process of caring for stakeholders by acknowledging their own personal emotions tied to the transition and encourage stakeholders to focus on a health-based transition by being aware of, and preventing, dysfunctional behavior in themselves and others;
  4. Set an example for the congregation of the value the plan places on communication;
  5. Ensure that stakeholders understand the process and the important role they and others play in its success, and clarify and respond to questions/concerns about next steps; and
  6. Confirm that the church is in a continuous process of change and promote positive thinking about the value of and opportunities that change of leadership presents.


(as per Martin Luther: “This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.”)



Messages will continue to be included in the weekly bulletin, on the website, and in the monthly newsletters to provide information, inspiration, insight and inertia to continue moving forward.


Periodic announcements will be made during worship services on Sunday.



Initial Outline for Ministry Survey:

Finding and attracting a new pastor for Grace should involve a heavy reliance on existing resources and experience with accommodation for our unique position.

Chapter 4.2 of the Synod’s Transition Process Handbook: “Search: The MSP” is presented as a self-study leading to a pastoral call. This will be our starting point for re-evaluation. In general Grace should ‘do’ some form of the four parts of Chapter 4.2 with a self-study designed for the congregation’s own benefit and introspection.

During the past decade Grace has had some unique experiences: Hurricane Katrina, its aftermath and recovery including the tenure of SAM Leon Philpot; and the recent and growing exposure to a new generation of young adults. These “new” adults have largely come to Grace through New Orleans economic recovery and have a unique set of experiences. Extreme care should be taken to poll as much of the congregation as possible with the general question: Who are we and what do we want for the future of Grace? This information should be shared as widely as sensibly possible to build a sense of ownership and spiritual community among all members.

We anticipate that the congregation’s self-evaluation will change materially in light of the prospect of more personal ownership and sharper spiritual leadership.

We will follow the process outlined in Chapter 4.2, discuss it as we go, cross-pollinate between long-term members and newcomers, and decentralize leadership roles with the aid of Synod’s resources and a potential interim pastor.


Transition Role for SAM

Leon is expected to continue his service to Grace as provided in his contract through July 31, 2014. During this time, he will provide a formal letter of resignation to the congregation and will support the transition process in prayer, in communications, and in his work. Leon will provide the congregational Council with a list of the responsibilities that will need to be transferred to others, including office work that he has been doing. He will bring the congregational records to the Council Secretary for review and certification, and will execute a certification of completion of all financial obligations with the Council Treasurer.


In accordance with the policies of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod for retired pastors, Leon will no longer be available for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, hospital visits or any other pastoral acts after July 31, 2014. In addition, Leon will not retain his Grace membership upon retiring. This is not a reflection on Leon or the good work he has done while at Grace. Rather, it is a research-based policy that supports healthy transitions in congregations.



Recognition of Leon’s service

Grace will continue to recognize and demonstrate sincere appreciation for Leon’s many contributions to Grace and the community. In addition, a special liturgy will be included in Leon’s last worship service at Grace, followed by a reception. An event planning committee will be formed for this purpose.


Plan re. Interim Pastor


The Congregational Council, in consultation with the office of the Bishop, will consider the needs and abilities of Grace with respect to calling an Interim Pastor.


Interim ministry is primarily one of Word and Sacrament, but following the resignation or retirement of a congregation’s pastor, the Interim Pastor can assist the congregation with the transition following an extended pastorate. When a pastor leaves there are mixed feelings among parishioners such as feelings of relief, feelings of grief, feelings of anger, feelings of loss, etc. The interim ministry time helps the congregation to address those issues with an Interim Pastor who typically has specialized training in these issues.


The Interim Pastor also helps the congregation in evaluating how the leadership and general membership dealt with the ability and inability of the former Pastor. The Interim Pastor also helps the congregation learn the process that people use to deal with the situations and events within the life of the congregation.  By determining this process, the congregation will have the knowledge of what is needed to address the situational life in the congregation.  The Interim Pastor can then find the tools needed to help the congregation establish hope and trust and thereby prepare it for a healthy foundation in transition in leadership.  The healthy foundation of any congregation is centered on its ability to work for itself and for others in its community.


Call process


While the Transition Team is completing its assessment of the congregation and community, a Call Committee will be selected. The Call Committee will conduct itself in accordance with Section 4.1 of the Transition Process Handbook. Upon completion of its assessment, the Transition Team will prepare a final report and provide the report to the Council and to the Call Committee for consideration. The work of the Transition Team will be complete when the final report is filed in the church office.


Attachment A

Announcement to Congregation

Good morning! I want to update you on the work of the transition planning team. For those who may not have heard Ken’s [Ken Pauley’s] announcement a few weeks ago, a team was appointed to begin the transition from Leon’s leadership as a Synodically Authorized Minister to calling an ordained pastor to serve our church.

We were truly blessed after Katrina… with the willingness of Leon to come to this devastated place and scattered membership, the willingness of the Bishop to authorize Leon’s ministry here each year from Katrina to the present, and the willingness of the Synod to provide financial support until we were back on our feet.

Grace has come a LONG way while Leon has been here. Leon has put his time, energy and heart into Grace and we cannot thank him enough for these gifts. And because of his gifts and the faith of this congregation, we are truly a “resurrection church.” We have been reborn as a stable, healthy, vibrant congregation with strong leaders and active ministries, here at Grace, in our community and beyond.

Both the city and Grace have established that we are “here to stay,” so it is time for us to move forward with the process of calling an ordained pastor. For that to be effective, we will need to work together… all of us… as Paul said “for we are God’s servants, working together.” The Transition Team has been doing the necessary homework, and now the team is asking you to do 2 things: share your ideas/feelings and pray.

  1. We will be giving you opportunities to share your thoughts in more formal ways, but we also encourage you to talk to the Transition Team members personally. Team members are Debbie Pusateri, Bob Lewis, Jim Wee, and me. (stand) We really need to hear from you to guide our planning!


  1. We will include in our Prayers of the Church each week, and we ask you to pray also, that the Spirit of God guide Grace to do His will and give us wisdom and strength for this journey.

The Team will giving you more frequent updates from this point on, and we look forward to working together with you all.