NITZ ENDS 19-YEAR PASTORATE IN LA GRANDE
When Pastor Wilfred Nitz arrived at Faith Lutheran Church in December 1983, he didn't think he would be a minister who would serve the congregation for two or three years and then move on to something bigger or better.
"I felt I was called to give a feeling of permanence as pastor," said Nitz, who is retiring May 1 after serving at Faith Lutheran, 12th Street at Gekeler Lane, for nearly two decades.
That sense of permanence had been displayed at his previous pastorate in northern Washington.
For 13 years he ministered to a Lutheran congregation in Republic, Wash., west of Spokane. For many of those years he also served a second congregation 50 miles away in Havillah, Wash.
Faith Lutheran member Barbara West said Nitz's unselfish approach to people has had a great deal to do with his staying power.
"He has a kind and gentle attitude," West said. "He sets the example of how we are to behave.
"If we could be like them (Nitz and his wife Judy), we would be the way Christ wants us to be. Self is not important to them. Pastor is always there for us."
Nitz will deliver his final sermon at the church at 10 a.m. Sunday. West is heading up a retirement farewell celebration for Nitz that will begin with a dinner and a reminiscing time at noon.
A farewell worship service at 2 p.m. will be led by Pastor Arthur Werfelmann, Blue Mountain circuit pastoral counselor from Pasco, Wash.
"Friends from the community are invited to attend any or all of the events," West said.
Ken Bomberger, who has known Nitz for more than 30 years, agrees with West that the pastor has a caring way with people.
Visits in Boise
Bomberger, who had heart bypass surgery in January 2002, recalls Nitz driving to Boise to visit him at St. Luke's Hospital.
"It was pretty special having him there," said Bomberger, 72. "This lifted me up spiritually. I knew the Lord was with me."
Nitz conducted the weddings for Bomberger's sons, Keith and Karl, and baptisms for his grandchildren.
"He will be a hard person to replace," Bomberger said.
Growing up in a minister's family in Portland, Nitz said he "always figured he would end up a pastor."
He said he saw in his dad, the Rev. Carl Nitz, "the joy of serving the Lord and people."
"I can't remember a time when he was depressed or wishing he was doing other things. He got along well with people."
After graduating from Concordia High School and junior college in Portland, Nitz enrolled at Concordia Teachers College in River Forest, Ill.
He graduated from college and married Judy Berreth, whom he met at River Forest.
The two of them taught school in Judy's hometown of Elgin for a year before moving on to Zion Lutheran School in Snohomish., Wash., where they both taught for five years.
In 1969, Nitz resigned from teaching and moved on to Republic to become Trinity Lutheran Church's lay minister.
Nitz said his joy of ministering at Faith Lutheran has centered on working with families and watching children grow up in the congregation.
Nitz admits he would have loved to see the church grow numerically beyond the 40 to 45 who now attend. The church could comfortably seat 60 to 70.
But he has gained satisfaction in watching the congregation grow spiritually.
"There is an excitement and joyfulness among the people," Nitz said. "They love getting together."
The pastor said he's enjoyed watching groups get together for Bible studies and other activities. The church choir, as an example, goes out to dinner on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. before practicing at 7:15.
Nitz said he will not have to go far in order to stay active during retirement. He and Judy own the Twin Firs Retirement Center in La Grande. Nitz will be doing some of the record and bookkeeping chores, and spending time visiting with the residents.
He'll also be going to some other community once a month as pastoral adviser for the Ambassadors for Christ ministry.
Led by Matt Kindred of Lacey, Wash., about 20 to 25 high school and junior high students get together in a Northwest community to help the Lutheran church there. The group provides music and puppet shows at a Friday night program, and then fans out into the community on Saturdays to conduct a door-to-door survey, asking people about their beliefs. The youth also help with Sunday morning worship.
Nitz said the program has affected the young participants dramatically.
The Ambassadors have shared the message of Christ in a way that is personal "they really mean it," he said.
"Of the youth who stay involved, 60 percent will end up going into full-time professional church work," Nitz said.
The Nitzes# are selling their house in La Grande and plan to live in a trailer in a trailer park.
Pastor Nitz said he does not expect the major downsizing to be a problem. The couple once lived in a 26-foot trailer with their four children while he was going to school.
How did the family manage?
"We took out a membership at the local YMCA and were there virtually every night."
The kids would play hard at the Y and drop into bed when the family returned home.
Story by Dave Stave