Pastor Ron Kempe preached his last sermon at Peace Lutheran Church in Puyallup in November 2013.
Kempe had served the congregation of Peace Lutheran for 25 years, and after his retirement an interim pastor took over the duties until a permanent pastor could be chosen. After Kempe retired, the search for a new pastor to lead the congregation began.
The congregation was looking for someone who would expand the outreach mission of the church and attract young families, said Les Gerstmann, president of the Council of Peace Lutheran Church.
“We also wanted to support the fact that the church is a historic church in the center of downtown Puyallup,” he said.
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The process of hiring a new pastor took nearly two years, during which time the transition committee went through the vision of the church as the search for a new pastor began.
The search ended in late June when Peace Lutheran chose Nathan Sutton, who was serving as an assistant pastor at a church in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Sutton, his wife, Bethany, and 1-year-old daughter Alexandra traveled to Puyallup for a trial run that same month.
The weekend proved to be extremely successful, and Sutton was hired.
“He presided over a service for us, we had a potluck for them, and he was able to meet a lot of folks at the church. It was clear he had a really good command of church theology and the church,” Gerstmann said.
Sutton, 33, will officially take over as head pastor of Peace Lutheran Church next month.
“All of the leadership at Peace Lutheran is volunteer, and I think this is a testament to the fortitude of the congregation,” Sutton said.
Sutton’s church in North Dakota had a congregation of 2,000 and a staff of ten; Peace Lutheran serves approximately 200.
“This is a dramatic change for me,” he said. “It can be daunting and also exciting because it means that folks will get to interact with me as their guy.”
Sutton and his wife are looking forward to moving to Puyallup.
“We have a desire to lay down roots and are excited about this new blank slate,” said Sutton, who was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon.
“One of the most exciting things for me is the opportunity to forge relationships,” he said. “Authentic public relationships are the life blood of the congregation and a community as well.”
The congregation is looking forward to Sutton and his family joining their church family, Gerstmann said.
“Pastor Kemp was here for 25 years and he was much beloved,” the president said. “When he left it was quite a transition for us. Our office manager also left about the same time because her husband retired and all of our institutional knowledge had just left. We are looking forward to some continuity and getting on with the mission of outreach.”
Sutton is anxious for the community to get to know him and his family.
“One of my plans is to set up coffee dates with people,” he said.
The historic Peace Lutheran Church is located at 214 E Pioneer and was founded by German settlers in 1898. Ezra Meeker built the building in 1892 and Peace Lutheran purchased the building in 1900. The church has undergone some remodeling and name changes, but some of the original structure still stands.