'God doesn't make us all the same," said the Rev. Rick Jaech. "Everybody has different opinions, strengths, desires. We can let that tension and disagreement drive us apart, or we can sit down and talk about it."
Jaech, 63, was elected June 8 at a conference in Tacoma to a six-year term as bishop of the Southwest Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He begins his new job Aug. 1, and will step down as pastor of Vancouver's Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, which he has led for 26 years.
"That's a long time to be at one church, but I really have appreciated Beautiful Savior and I will miss them all," he said. Jaech is married to Satya, and they have one son who attends the University of Washington.
Talking through differences has been the theme of Jaech's pastoral career. The Seattle native started his ministry in the 1970s in San Francisco, where he learned Spanish as fast as he could in order to serve immigrants and refugees fleeing wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador and other Central American hot spots.
"It was a learning experience about how the church could be most helpful to them and how a Lutheran pastor could relate primarily to people with a Roman Catholic background," Jaech said.
He helped found the San Francisco Organizing Project, a citywide coalition of faith communities and labor unions that still works toward social justice for the poor.
Jaech came to Vancouver in 1987 to lead Beautiful Savior. A few years ago he launched monthly dialogue sessions between his church and some very different faith groups — namely the Jewish Congregation Kol Ami and the Islamic Society of Southwest Washington — that lasted for two years and explored their similarities as well as differences.
"For a variety of reasons," he said, "historical events have created barriers and distrust, but when we actually sit and talk we are delighted to discover real people of faith who have common desires to serve God and the world."
In addition to his master of divinity degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, Jaech also earned a master of conflict facilitation and organizational change from the Process Work Institute in Portland. He just published a book called "Transforming Church Conflict: A Guide for Pastors and Leaders." Visit http://transformingchurchconflict.com to learn more.
Now, as bishop of the Southwest Washington Synod, Jaech will oversee 95 ELCA congregations, from Tacoma to the Oregon border and the Cascade Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. In considering the future of such a large and diverse region, Jaech said he's aware that young people today are less attached to Sunday mornings with particular denominations, and more interested in service work that makes meaningful connections.
"My way of working is to get people together," he said.
— Scott Hewitt
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