John is not your typical Lutheran pastor. His dark Grizzly Adams beard disguises his youth. The namesake of his faith, Martin Luther, once grew a beard to disguise his identity. After Luther took a stand for Reformation in front of a church tribunal, he is said to have spoken a simple line, “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” The tribunal declared him a heretic and forced him out. Under the threat of violence and death, Luther grew a full beard and took on a new identity for years as Junker Jörg, or Knight Jörg.
Like Luther, John has come to Elkhart to spread his truth, his conscience captive only to the word of God. Unlike Luther, Pastor John isn’t hiding from anyone. His beard is a signature. It tells you something about his way of life. He’s a man of the people, understanding the culture of his time and his town. His beard puts him in the same category of the greaser barber, the craft brewer, the young mechanic. Like them all, he’s here to practice a craft that’s increasingly rare. Unlike them, his craft has the power be a catalyst for a broken community. John is here to shepherd his whole community, not just Faith Lutheran, walking with them as they walk with the Lord.
He makes his way to the front of the building from the humble lobby replete with handmade art and symbols of faith. He sports his daily uniform: dark slacks and shoes and a dark buttoned-down top. A Roman collar marks his status but only barely peeks out from behind his beard. He’s tall and slender, with a vibrant smile that makes him feel approachable even to a complete stranger.
In some ways, Faith is just another building, a place for his congregation to call home. In other ways, Faith stands out in the architecture of Goshen. It’s beautiful and historic. John strolls outside, circumnavigating his church, his stark garb providing a harsh contrast against a warm summer day.
He’s from New York. After growing up on Long Island, when the Lord called on him to move to Goshen, Indiana, he certainly experienced a culture shock. But John lived by that same simple mantra of Luther, and Goshen was the perfect town to see it into action. He was welcomed warmly and he quickly knew that he had found someplace special. John had a truly unique perspective on Elkhart County. Free of regional bias, he and his wife, Andrea, were both called to the region from afar, both to lead churches.
John sits on a bench just in front of the outdoor baptismal. Over his left shoulder, a simple cross is mounted to the building. Opposite it, an air conditioning unit that looks more like Sputnik than any modern HVAC system. John has been consumed by the culture of Elkhart County. The people’s generous hearts and entrepreneurial spirits are the product of an interesting mix of rust-belt revitalization and an intersection of different faiths. Things are different here in Goshen than anywhere else he has been. Folks are ready to help at a moment’s notice; there was a strong sense of community that closely knits together the folks here and a roll-your-shirt-sleeves-up attitude that pervades everything. John’s eyes crinkle with his ever- present smile. He can’t help but beam as he speaks of the community of which he has become a crucial part. He was built for Goshen, and he has a church built to support Goshen in the most trying times.
He shares his favorite Bible verse, which speaks volumes of the man. During the years preceding the fall of Israel to Assyria, the Prophet Micah provided some dire warnings. He spoke to the people of Judah, prophesying the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. During this time, Israel was imploding under the weight of evil and unfaithful leaders. Israelites in Judah were prepared to do anything to wash their sins and get right by the Lord. Micah gave them solace. Their God didn’t need sacrifice.
“What does the Lord require of you,” asked Micah, “but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).