Eleven years ago, in 2009, the Rev. Justin Smoot followed his wife, the Rev. Phyllis Smoot from big city life in Chicago to Noble County.
Phyllis Smoot was called to be the pastor of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Albion and Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church in rural Kendallville.
“This was my first call after graduating seminary, The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Chicago,” Phyllis Smoot said.
Both she and her husband are Evangelical Lutheran Church of America pastors. While she was serving as pastor, Justin Smoot wore many hats: stay-at-home dad, substitute teacher, supply preacher, and vicar for a year at Messiah Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne.
In 2015, Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, in LaGrange, called him to be their pastor.
Now Phyllis Smoot, and their daughters, Lillian and Genevieve, are preparing to follow Justin Smoot to Wisconsin where he has accepted a call.
Last year, after about a year of discernment and conversation, Justin Smoot was called by Saint Andrew Lutheran Church in Rib Mountain, Wisconsin. The 40-year-old congregation in north-central Wisconsin, just outside of Wausau, was looking for an associate pastor to focus on improving hospitality, community outreach and nurturing ecumenical relationships.
In Wisconsin, they will be closer to Justin Smoot’s parents.
Phyllis Smoot is exploring a possible call to continue working with congregations and with health care systems for potential chaplaincy work.
They have numerous fond memories of northeast Indiana, such as festivals and fairs, community theater, the Fort4Fitness run, hosting international exchange students, Scouting, Tae Kwan Do and writing columns for this page, to name a few.
One of Phyllis Smoot’s favorite memories is from the Noble County Fair (before kids and 4-H). Scott Uhl, who was on the fair board met one of her bucket list items: driving a combine.
“He connected me with someone who had a combine that was going to be in the demolition derby,” she said, adding that she loves demolition derbies.
The Smoots said the congregations they serve here in Indiana will be “well supported” by the bishop of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod, Bishop Bill Gafkjen. The bishop and his staff will help the congregations form a vision for the next stage of their ministry and assist them with locating interim pastors and calling another pastor.
For Justin Smoot a highlight of their 11 years here was Albion Community Theater. “I joked about being type-cast as a big, angry, shouting guy,” he said. “But it was fun to be a part of ‘Awesome 80’s Prom,’ ‘The Nerd’ and ‘The Music Man.’”
He will long be remembered for carrying a giant plastic Martin Luther statue around LaGrange Corn School.
Above all, the Smoots will miss the people of northeast Indiana and their pastoral colleagues.
“So many people (here) go above and beyond for not just their families but also their community,” said Phyllis Smoot. “I am proud of the work and growth of St. Mark’s and Mt. Pleasant. Sure, there has been change but God is with them. I am looking forward to hearing where God is calling them to be in the next 172 years!”
This year in April the parish will be 172 years old.
“Change is a scary thing, but it is not bad,” Justin Smoot said, repeating a theme of several of his columns. “The past always looks smoother and better than the future because every little detail has already been worked out. If you get stuck in wanting things to be the way they were, you’ll miss out on the future that is wondrous, strange, uncertain and yet not less Spirit led than the past. This is true for everyone, especially churches and communities. God’s newness is always before us.”
Justin Smoot’s service at Saint Andrew Lutheran Church will begin Monday, Jan. 27.
They will continue to submit columns for this page as time permits.