Ten years ago, Jeremy Lucke’s life journey took him from a big city in Florida to a small town in Oregon. Lucke had been a well-traveled pastor over the years in various locations around the country but with a wife, child and another little one on the way, the idea of settling down hit the right notes.

Peace Lutheran Church in Philomath. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

At the time, Peace Lutheran Church had been looking for a new pastor. Jack Flachsbart, who served with the church from 1999 to 2012, had moved on from the position and Norm Metzler had been serving as the interim pastor before Lucke’s arrival.

Over the past decade, Lucke has been involved with his church, of course, but also with the community at large. Lucke’s words have been heard at a variety of public events from Habitat for Humanity groundbreaking ceremonies to Memorial Day activities at Mount Union Cemetery. In 2021 on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he led a prayer during a ceremony at the rodeo grounds.

Lucke’s impact on Philomath was immediate with efforts such as helping to re-establish an annual National Night Out event in the community. In fact, in 2015, the Philomath Police Department nominated Lucke for a Samaritan Award.

Lucke accepted an invitation to participate in this week’s Inside Philomath feature and answered five questions.

Q: You began serving as Peace Lutheran Church’s pastor in 2013, which means you should be marking your 10th year in this position. How did your journey take you to Philomath?

A: Yes, that is correct! Ten years ago I was serving Grace Lutheran Church in Jacksonville, Florida. It was at that point that my wife, Alicia, and I decided to be open for a new adventure with God in ministry. We received a phone call from Peace members expressing their desire to have us come to Philomath. They communicated that they were ready for a new journey too. After stops on the way in Atlanta, Georgia; St. Louis, Missouri; Kearney, Nebraska; and Boise, Idaho; we made it to Philomath. It was a good thing, too, as Alicia was seven months pregnant at the time with our second daughter, Claire!

Q: Church attendance has been trending downward over the past 20 years and the pandemic certainly didn’t help. What do you believe churches need to do to stop and reverse that trend?

A: It is true that attendance is down in churches. A recent Gallup poll states that only 47% of adults in the United States claim membership in a church — this is a 23-point decline since 2000. I would caution, however, in concluding that people are absolutely disinterested in the church. Polling suggests a younger generation is indeed interested in genuine conversations about all things spiritual. The Christian church will be at its best when it avoids merely “busy” and/or “doing the same old thing.” Christians need to create margin in their lives to listen and engage with people who do not have a faith background. Isn’t that what Jesus did?

Q: The ability to preach effectively to your congregation seems like it would be a primary qualification for a pastor. What process do you go through week to week to prepare for a church service?

A: Preaching is indeed one of the most important ways a pastor can communicate God’s love and inspire. I hope people view my messages as conversation starters. It is a good sign for me when people ask hard questions, request clarification and seek for deeper meaning. My message is only one part of what our church is about. We have amazing volunteers that do a variety of tasks to reach people. Preparing for each service means building up the team of volunteers that serve and give of their time. God could accomplish what He desires without me or my team. But isn’t it a privilege and honor that God has chosen us and our ministry to accomplish His plans? I think so!

Q: Pastors are often someone to consult or lean on during times of great hardship or grief for families. How do you approach this important responsibility to be able to provide comfort in what can be strenuous circumstances?

A: There has been a tremendous amount of grief and loss for people. I encourage people with the truth that all feelings are acceptable — it is OK to be not OK. We must remember that feelings and emotions are not sinful. A good counselor encourages people to emote, express and describe — even vent. Beyond that, I do encourage people to practice the acronym CALM (from Max Lucado). CALM is based on Philippians 4:4-6. C—Celebrate (Find something to be grateful for). A—Ask (We need help — God can help). L—Leave (We can’t fix most problems; we leave the problems and their solutions to God). M—Mediate (Focus your mind on what is right and beautiful).

Q: What do you do for fun when you have time away from your daily routine?

A: I am all about my family. When I break from my routine and am away, it is likely that you’ll find me on a challenging hike, watching my favorite NBA team — the Milwaukee Bucks live, tasting wine and believe it or not, going to church.

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Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.