ANNA — The Rev. Michael “Mick” Althauser will preach his last sermon from the pulpit of the St. Jacob Lutheran Church in Anna, Jan. 29, during a 10 a.m. service.
A reception in his honor will follow from 2 to 4 p.m. in Anna Elementary School.
He is retiring after more than 40 years in the ministry, the last 24 of them here.
“When I first started ministering, it was a lot more relational,” Althauser said recently. “There was a lot more personal contact, visitation. The time to build relationships in crisis and celebrations has been greatly reduced.” For instance, medical procedures that once had patients confined to hospitals for a week now see the patients leave the next day. A pastor who would visit those patients would see them much more often in the past.
In addition, technology has overtaken communication.
“Now there’s email, Facebook, tweeting, Snapchat. If you want to talk to a teenager, text them, don’t call,” he said. “I think people still crave the face-to-face (contact). They don’t know it until they don’t have it.”
Althauser grew up in Westerville, attended Capital University and earned his Master of Divinity from Trinity Lutheran Seminary. He had become interested in the ministry first when he was in the eighth grade. A study unit had required that he investigate three professions. Because he had a dynamic preacher in his home church, the ministry was one of the three he chose.
That study didn’t, however, cement his decision about a career. That didn’t happen until he was in college, double-majoring in English literature and ancient languages and literature.
“I had a good pastor at that point,” he said. “He said, ‘Don’t close the door to ministry.’ In my own mind, I wanted to make sure I was pursuing ministry for the right reasons.”
Some of his classmates were not. It was the era of the Vietnam War and divinity students got automatic deferments from the military draft.
“Most of them are not still in the ministry,” he laughed. Althauser, however, became very involved, not only in the church where he started his career, but also in what he called the “larger church,” the Lutheran movement.
Before he came to Anna, Althauser served the Christ Lutheran Church in Nashville, Tennessee, for 16 years. He became active on committees of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the governing body of Lutheranism in the U.S. So, he knew people around the world and in Ohio when he and his wife decided to move closer to “home” to be near aging parents in 1992.
Anna needed a pastor and the Althausers needed an Ohio base. But there were some in the Southern Ohio Synod of the ELCA who worried that a minister who had been in a huge, multicultural area like Nashville would have trouble adjusting to a rural area like Anna. Althauser pointed out to them that he had been raised in a rural area in Ohio.
“And I never looked at a congregation as where it was but whether it was a good fit,” he said. “(Moving to Anna) proved to be very good.”
He’s been as good to Anna as Anna has been to him.
“One of his strengths is vision,” said Jim Brandt, of Kettlersville, the president of the Anna church council, “looking ahead, seeing opportunities with projects. The fortunate thing that we have going for our church is that we have a $5.5 million endowment fund. He was instrumental in getting that established. It grew from $2 million to $5.6 million. We’re only allowed to spend the interest. We’ve never spent a dime from any of the original money.”
Brandt also praised Althauser’s participation in the community beyond the church.
“He coaches baseball. He’s a clock operator for basketball. He knows a lot of people in the community,” Brandt said. “He’s been active in the big church. His participation in that has made St. Jacob more than just a church in Anna.”
Althauser is chairman of the Global Mission Task Force and of the Brazil Task Force of the synod. On the national level, he sits on a committee to create a new district and has been very active in ECLA national youth gatherings, which bring 30,000 teens together.
“In November, my bishop and I made a presentation in Lima, Peru, at an international gathering concerning successful companion synods,” he said. He established a sister-parish relationship between St. Jacob in Anna and a church in Brazil that has resulted in visits by Brazilians to Anna and by Anna congregants to Brazil.
“All this came about because of Mick’s seeing places we could do some good with the money we have,” Brandt said.
Althauser, however, thinks his biggest accomplishment here has been something else.
“We got St. Jacob into the 21st century,” he said. “When I got here, there were no computers, no videos. We have upgraded the building, which is more than 100 years old, so it’s handicap accessible.”
But he recognizes that establishing a vision has been an important factor in his — and his church’s — success.
“I would like to think my accomplishment in Anna and Nashville was an expanding of the vision beyond the individual congregation in seeing that God is calling us into the world. Sometimes we fall into the inward-looking survival mentality instead of outwardly,” he said.
There are challenges to be met by the pastors who come after him, not just in Anna but in the wider church.
“Church has become more optional,” he said. “I discover more people who want to be entertained on Sunday morning. If they’re not entertained, they won’t stay or they go somewhere else. They don’t care about the meat of the message. A growing part of the population is ‘nones,’ people who say they believe in God but don’t practice it and aren’t part of a particular faith community. There’s more choices on Sunday mornings.”
He noted that the majority of churches in America are shrinking in attendance.
“Not in membership. Attendance. Attendance is a truer measure of membership than if your name’s on a roll. The purpose of the church is to get out the good news about Jesus Christ. The challenge facing any congregation is: how do we make sure we’re actively pursuing the ministry God is calling us to? More than worship, how are we bearing witness to the world? Church is more than just Sunday morning, but Sunday needs to be an important part of church. The purpose of Sunday is taking the message of God into the week,” Althauser said.
This particular pastor will keep doing that even in retirement. He will continue his work with the synod committees and may have a chance to serve as an interim pastor in Australia.
He and his wife, Sue, enjoy traveling. He led a tour in Italy, Austria and Germany last year and hopes to do more of that. He plays golf and will still coach Anna baseball. The Althausers plan to stay in Anna. They have a son, Kristian, who teaches and coaches in Anna schools, and a daughter, Angela Maher, who teaches in Toledo. They like being close to their four granddaughters and grandson.
The St. Jacob congregation will have an interim pastor beginning in February.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.