(First 3 photos by Ben Ackers)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The farewell party’s over. The final sermon has been said.
By week’s end, Rev. David Kratz will leave a job he’s had for 27 years – as pastor of Fauntleroy Church.
“We’ve had a great run,” he reflected during a recent sit-down conversation in his office at the church. While he mentions his age – 67 – without being prompted, he adds, “I’m not being forced out by the congregation, I’m not sick, just … it’s time.”
January 15, 1986, was his first day, and January 31, 2013 – tomorrow – is scheduled to be his last.
He’s been in Fauntleroy for two-thirds of his 40 years as a minister – a time of changes big and small.
(Rev. Kratz and family during last Friday’s farewell celebration)
Even before his 1972 ordination, he and his wife Lyn came to Seattle – arriving from Wisconsin in 1972, right after getting married, for his internship at another church. “It was a wonderful project, being half-time Christian-education leader in the church, halftime youth ministry to the community … We lived in this old house right across from Admiral Congregational Church on Hill (Street). That was kind of our introduction to Seattle; it was supposed to be a one-year thing and we stayed for two years.”
They headed back to the midwest, to St. Louis, where Rev. Kratz finished his seminary work, before heading out here again to be an associate minister in Olympia, followed, after seven years, by a pastoral role in Lewiston, Idaho, on the Washington border.
The churches where he served were not all UCC – the United Church of Christ, to which Fauntleroy belongs – but he has found it an interesting denomination. “It has taken some great progressive social positions – (such as) women in ministry, trying to work the racial divide … (and) it was the first national denomination that welcomed gay and lesbian people to be ministers, after being members.”
UCC member churches set their own policies, though, so while the national leadership “passed that in 1979, it was controversial at the time, and our church didn’t get around to being open or affirming until 1996.”
And that decision, the pastor recalls, followed work by a task force that brought forward a resolution in October of that year: “We had a meeting in the sanctuary, hired a parliamentarian – a lot of people were there, we had a spirited conversation … and then we voted, 80 percent or so in favor. That’s a good number, but it said there was a significant minority in the church who had difficulty (with the change) – (like) a woman who, when she left that day, said, ‘I’m against that decision but it’s my church and I’m not leaving’.”
Rather than a centralized imposition of policies and philosophies, Rev. Kratz notes, “That’s the way UCC works – they set a challenge or a vision and we pick it up when we can. It’s an intellectually curious and stimulating denomination – not dogmatic, welcomes creative thought – I’m proud to be part of it.”
For Fauntleroy Church itself – which celebrated its centennial in 2008 – another important journey during his leadership has been the remodel, completed in 2010. “$2.5 million – for a relatively small church, it was a big investment.” He says the main inspiration was to “get an elevator for people who had difficulty walking, getting up stairs,” many of whom had been part of the church’s “big growth spurt after World War II, all these families moving in.”
Families’ involvement in the church community also has driven the evolution of its long relationship with the West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor). The church happened to have a gym, he explains, because community members decades ago thought the local kids “needed a place to play.” While the church and Y co-existed, they also “lost touch with each other” for many years, until moving “much closer together” in the past decade-plus and agreeing to their first lease in 2007, with the second one a year and a half ago including a seven-year commitment.
The talk of families leads us to ask about the changing face of the Fauntleroy Church congregation – or has it changed, in a time when so many churches are dealing with aging and shrinking flocks?
“It’s amazing that we’ve done as well as we have,” he smiles, adding that he was planning to mention that in what at the time of our conversation was his impending second-to-last sermon: “I’m going to say in (that sermon), when I first came here, we had three little kids, they were the only ones in the ‘children’s time’ on Sunday mornings. Now we have 60 kids in the church school [Little Pilgrim], 20 kids at church.”
(Rev. Kratz trying out a stepping stone, a farewell gift from Fauntleroy Church children)
On this topic, too, he gives praise to congregation members “who hung in there,” such as families with young children who reached out and welcomed new families into the church, and also “older members who were leaders for a long time (who) were ready to let go and allow young people to make decisions … This congregation has allowed new people to come in an didn’t have to browbeat them.”
At this point, Rev. Kratz confesses, “I often wonder if I stayed too long,” but acknowledges that he has represented stability through a “long transition” – a time that has seen many longtime church members pass away: “More than 300 memorial services, by an informal count.”
But it’s more than stability.
We ask if his spiritual philosophy has carried a theme, and he mentions a favorite sermon topic – to “think of God as embodied love … that’s what I think Jesus is all about … and what does that do to how we think about ourselves as children of God, and about (respect for) other people.”
That means respect for the community outside the church, as well. “The other thing I’ve tried to do, is to try to keep us open, keep the walls of the church porous, so instead of circling the wagons – a lot of churches feel like Christianity is somehow threatened or besieged – what we’re working on is trying to embrace the world and embrace our community.”
He offers several examples:
(WSB photo, October 2012)
“One of the things I’m proud of – we started the Fauntleroy Fall Festival. … It started after 9/11, (with the idea of bringing people together) instead of people locking themselves in their homes.” So the church banded together with other Fauntleroy organizations and businesses to launch what’s become an annual tradition. “‘Wouldn’t it be great if the church was an open place instead of a closed club?’ – that’s a big theme for me.”
Other ongoing outreach programs created at Fauntleroy Church include the Green Committee’s popular Recycle Roundups, inviting the community to drop off recyclables outside the scope of weekly pickups at home – an event that consistently fills the trucks of partner 1 Green Planet:
(September 2012 photo by WSB’s Patrick Sand)
Explains Rev. Kratz, “That’s a way for us to say, how can we help people do things. Our job is to be a broker, and wouldn’t that be great if we find common values that people care about … if we find some ways for us and the community to work on those things.”
Right now, a homelessness task force is forming, in hopes of “mobiliz(ing) people … to organize a way to help provide for the needs of people.”
But he won’t be there to see how that takes shape.
He jokes that Fauntleroy Church, after his departure at the end of this week, will enter a time of “detox.” There is no successor waiting to take over immediately – that’s not how the process works, Kratz explains. An “interim search committee” has been interviewing people for a position that could last from half a year to a year and a half, someone who “is not going to be the settled pastor.”
That, he says, will “help people let go of me” and “think of what they want (the church’s) mission to be in the future.” Then a few months down the line, a full-fledged search committee will start looking nationwide for someone to take the permanent position.
Meanwhile, a “permanent sabbatical” is what Rev. Kratz sees ahead – even if it’s not more than “listen to the voice of God to challenge me to get off my duff and stop watching football games,” he laughs. But he envisions at least half a year to “catch up on my sleep and figure out what it’s like to not be a pastor any more.”
Not that he has any shortage of other roles to keep him busy – grandfather, for instance; his daughter, the only one of his three children who still lives in this area, is having a baby in March, the Kratzes’ second grandchild (their first lives on the other side of the country, in the Bronx). And husband to Lyn, who he says will continue her part-time counseling practice and part-time hospital-based social work.
Taking our leave, we ask Rev. Kratz to suggest a meaningful spot at the church where we can photograph him. He chooses a wall with the church’s motto: “Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
And now, he’s off to a new phase of his own life’s journey.