The last week has been one of most significant in my life. Wednesday week ago (January 28th) I met with the District President to determine a strategy for the way forward. He advised me that I should give notice of my intent to take leave of absence this Sunday.
So, on Sunday 4th of February, the following letter was read out at Knox and Frankston:
From Pastor David, to my brothers and sisters in Christ at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church: Grace and Peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thank you for all your prayers and support during the time I was considering the call to Hope Valley. Last week I announced that I had turned down this call, because I believed that God was leading me in another direction. I apologise that I could not have made this announcement last week. On the one hand, I was committed to giving an answer regarding the call, but on the other hand, things were not yet in place for me to divulge any further details.
Last Wednesday, I met with Dr Stolz. Now that that meeting has taken place, I am able to give you notice that I will be taking two years ‘leave of absence’ from active ministry in the Lutheran Church of Australia. This ‘leave of absence’ will come into effect in three months time, unless circumstances should require it to be earlier or later.
‘Leave of absence’ means that I will resign from this parish, but remain on the Roll of Pastors as a ‘pastor without call’ for up to two years. At any time during that period I will be able to accept a call and return to the active ministry, but in the mean time, I will need to seek employment outside the church.
I am taking this course of action for several reasons--not the least being the stress that I have experienced in ministering to the three congregations. But primarily I am taking leave because I have had growing doubts about my interior call to the ministry of the Lutheran Church. These doubts have made it increasingly difficult for me to function as a public representative of the LCA.
Although I knew that things would come to this eventually, I did not expect it to happen so soon. The call to Hope Valley, however, brought the crisis to a head, and Dr Stolz advised me before I went on holidays that if I turned down the call, I should consider taking leave of absence.
The three month period before my leave of absence becomes effective may be shortened if I am able to secure full-time employment before it comes to an end. Alternatively, it may be lengthened should I still have found no alternative employment after three months. This, and other terms of the leave, will be negotiated with the Church Council.
I make this announcement with the deepest sadness. I have found my time with you rewarding and enriching, and have built up many strong pastoral relationships. I also deeply regret that this announcement has to be by way of a letter, in which I cannot properly convey the grief this decision brings me. Nor can I properly address your own reactions. Next week I will be with you to answer any questions you may have. In the mean time, please phone me if you want to talk about this further.
May the love and peace of God be with you all.
5th Sunday after Epiphany, AD 2001
Although this letter was read by the elders at the Knox and Frankston parishes, I was present in person to make the announcement at Casey. I was glad of this this, because, of the three, Casey was the one I was worried about. In the words of District President “there is quite certainly a small cult of the person of David Schütz going on down there.” In the end, however, they accepted the news with equanimity and with gladness that I had the courage to make this decision. We were all being very strong about it, until one boy (one of the three young people I had admitted to first communion that morning) began to cry. That set me off, and several others too. I thanked him for being brave enough to be able to show his feelings like that--it was helpful for the rest of us.
I had tried to speak to my brothers on Saturday night to tell them what I was doing, but I was only able to speak to my younger brother and the wife of my youngest brother, as my youngest brother was away fighting bush fires on the Eyre Peninsula, and my oldest brother and his wife were away in Adelaide. So I tried again on Sunday, this time, getting my oldest brother as well. That was when I wrote the letter included in the last entry.
I then sent out a batch email to all pastors and other contacts and friends in and out of the church, sending a copy of the letter I had used to announce my decision to the congregations with this covering note:
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am just writing you this brief note to make you aware of a decision that I have taken and announced to the congregations at Knox, Frankston, and Casey this morning. Attached is a letter that was read to after the lay-reading services at Knox and Frankston, as I was attending Casey all this morning.
I have taken this step of doing a "batch emailing", in an attempt to head off the "grapevine" and any rumours that may be spreading. I don't want to bore you all with the details or the reasons why, but if you want to know more, please phone me on (03) 9758 5194, or send back an email saying "tell me more", and I will be glad to respond.
Please also note that this decision has yet to be processed and approved by the District Church Council and the General Church Council.
Then on Monday, I wrote the following official letter of resignation:
District Church Council,
Lutheran Church of Australia--Victoria District,
Dear President and members of the District Church Council,
Yesterday I gave notice to Our Saviour’s Knox, St Peter’s Frankston, and Ascension Casey that I am applying for two years leave of absence, starting from 6th May 2001.
I am requesting this leave to allow myself time and space to determine the future of my ministry in the Lutheran Church of Australia.
Should I be offered employment outside the church before 6th of May, I will negotiate with the congregations for a reduction in my pastoral duties until that date is reached. If, through some misfortune, I am unable to attain employment before that date, I will seek an extension of up to one month before my leave becomes effective.
It is our intention to negotiate with the Knox congregation to continue living in the manse until such a time as we are able secure alternative accommodation, or the manse is required for other purposes by the congregation.
I understand that I will remain on the Roll of Pastors throughout the time of my leave of absence, and my access to the benefits of clergy of the LCA will not be inhibited. Should I not take a call within the two year period, I understand that I will be removed from the Roll of Pastors.
I commend the three congregations into your care.
Yours in Christ, etc.
I also wrote letters resigning from all my other duties, including LCA Commission on Worship, Victorian Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, Chairmanship of the VCC Revisioning Committee, Australian Consultation on Liturgy,
I have been receiving many emails back from people and some phone calls to engage in discussion. Depending on who I have been speaking to, I have been fairly open about my reasons for making the decision, although I am trying to keep the reasons separate from the fact of my resignation for the sake of the congregation.
In the days since, I have felt very much at peace. It was the right decision after all. Even our cleaning lady said to me yesterday when I told her what I had decided: “Oh, that must be why you are looking so happy for a change!”
The last two nights I have fallen asleep praying the rosary. I don’t seem to be able to get beyond the third joyful mystery!