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Letter from Pastor Joel -

What a joy it was to hear the call to be the next pastor at Saxe Gotha and then to have it confirmed last Sunday at your congregational meeting! I really appreciate all the social media posts and texts from those of you who know me already. I'm not on social media very much anymore but my wife, Kristin, told me that I had many messages that needed attention. She was correct! I was blown away by your love and support. Thank you.  

I want to thank those leaders at Saxe Gotha who continued to labor in love long after I was called away to serve another church. Some are still laboring in the call to serve Saxe Gotha and others God has mixed and arranged elsewhere. Many hands have faithfully served Saxe Gotha before me and after me. It is truly an honor to come alongside the many who Jesus has used and is using once again.

I can't wait to meet those of you who I've never met before. When I arrive in Lexington on July 13th and get my family settled in, I would enjoy finding time to hang out with you. 

"So, if Saxe Gotha was such a great place for you, why did you leave?" 

Due to being in ECO (our distinct tribe of Presbyterians called, "Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians) from almost the beginning, I was in some of the earliest conversations of ECO's formation while still within PCUSA (our previous denomination). As a youth director at Crestwood Presbyterian Church in Richmond and Midlothian, Virginia, I had a front row seat to ECO's creation. I attended the 2nd National Gathering and really began participating in almost everything ECO pushed out regarding church planting. In the early days, Florida was the location of church planting conferences and conversations. Being in those conversations and conferences allowed me the opportunity to form an early connection with Dana Allin, John Terech, and Nate Dreesman.  

A little later, once I had transitioned to Saxe Gotha, there was conversation within ECO encouraging Associate Pastors to jump in and take over the leadership reins in many of the PCUSA churches that were transitioning into ECO. Around that same time, Saxe Gotha was hosting one of the last, if not the last, presbytery (a geographical collection of ECO churches) meeting of the South. This was just before South Carolina became its own presbytery. Pastor Jim Glatz, Pastor HH, and I would rotate on the preaching schedule and it just so happened that the weekend that we were to host the presbytery meeting at Saxe Gotha, I wasn't scheduled to preach. So, that just meant that I would be hosting the Presbytery meeting to allow Pastor Jim and Pastor HH enough time to rest up for Sunday morning. Essentially, all I was doing was introducing people and transitioning from one portion of the meeting to the next. Nothing really important but I was pretty visible during the meeting. During one of the breaks, a church from Mobile, Alabama approached me and informed me that they were looking for a pastor. I responded and said that I would be happy to put them on the prayer request for that or to get them to the right person to help them in that process. I failed to understand that they were asking me to consider the position. I initially said, "No" to their request. However, after a phone call with Dana Allin who confirmed that ECO, at that time, was really in need of pastors willing to step into these new ECO churches, I agreed to entertain the idea. After several conversations with the church, I agreed to go with the condition that they would agree to go through the Church Revitalization Process led by Dr. Paul Borden. The church was older and needed significant renovations. Over the years, the church had declined to only fifty-five in attendance but they wanted to create a plan to restart and renew their commitment to the mission of Jesus Christ. I remember when the decision became clear that I had to go. I was reading a book at the time entitled, "A Company of Pastors" by Scott Manetsch. In the book, a portion of a letter was retold of John Calvin being asked by his best friend why he returned to the Church in Geneva. The Church in Geneva had asked him to be their pastor. Three years later they ran him out of town only to ask him to return one year later after they realized how much they needed him in Geneva. The question seemed appropriate and timely. His response was simple and life changing for me. He said, "It was my duty." I learned that day that I would have to be willing to leave a great church in order to die to my own ideas and aspirations of what I wanted in life. I left because I was trying to follow Jesus.  

You see, it's not about me. I'm not the Shepherd. 

I am just the hired servant who never wants to become the hired hand spoken of in John 10:11-15. This passage makes it clear that only Jesus is the Shepherd. Because I am a part of the church, then He is my Shepherd, too. I need His leadership in my life. If I am unable to follow the Shepherd, how can I be your pastor? The scriptures clearly teach that Jesus mixes and arranges the church as He sees fit (I Corinthians 12:18, 24). Scriptures also teach that Jesus is the Head of the church and that the church is Jesus' body. Without Jesus the church is simply a body without a head. Happy early Halloween, right!? Jesus as the Head directs and holds accountable people in churches (Revelation 2-3). Because of these and many other passages of scripture, I do not see my calling as a career. I count my calling to be your pastor as an invitation to serve you, to share God's Word with you, to be honest with you about what God asks of us, and to lead in a way that is worthy of His name because one day I will be called to account of how I served Jesus in my service to Saxe Gotha. Simply, I am called to love you in a way that reflects God's love for you.   

I can't wait to see many of you again and to meet new friends at Saxe Gotha! Please know that I am already praying for you and asking for God to give me wisdom to lead well. God bless and see you soon!    


Christ First,

Joel Brantner

Matthew 6:33

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