For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[Romans 8:38-39 NRSV]

Some 21 years ago, when I was an intern at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Canton, a man stopped by one Sunday afternoon looking for food and a place to stay. He spoke English with a pronounced accent, so immediately I put him at ease by answering him in Spanish. He told me his name was Fidel Montejano and explained to me that he had just been released from incarceration and the authorities dumped him off in Canton, which made no sense because he had no family here.

Our Sunday afternoon community meal had just ended, so I was able to provide him some leftovers and temporary housing through an arrangement we had with a downtown motel.

I told him about our Spanish worship service and invited him to visit us the following Sunday. We were developing a Hispanic/Latino mission (which eventually became my first call in ordained ministry) and he was welcome to become a part of our community. Like most people in need who come by the church in crisis situations, I never expected to see him again.

Yet, next Sunday, there he was…and the following Sunday…and the Sunday after that. In fact, he never missed a Sunday unless he was sick or out of town for some reason. Thanks to a local attorney who was a supporter of the church, he was able to find a job with a local printing firm and remained there until the company closed a few years ago. Fidel became an integral part of our congregation.

The Tree Wise Men – 2007

One photo which evokes fond memories was taken in 2007, when he dressed as one of our three Wise Men for our annual Epiphany celebration. As our musician played the hymn, “We Three Kings,” Fidel and the other two processed into the sanctuary to the amazement of the children, and after the service, handed out presents to the youngsters. It was one the highlights, if not the highlight of his life.

At the airport preparing to visit family.

Even after I took another call, we remained friends, calling to check in with each other from time to time. Any time he needed to book a flight to Washington state, where some members of his family lived, or to visit other family in Mexico, he would stop by the house so I could play travel agent and help him purchase his ticket online.

At one of the many fellowship gatherings in the church

A couple weeks ago, he had been in a serious car accident, suffering severe bruises. He had spent the next couple weeks in significant pain. We spoke the Monday after the wreck.

Several years ago, he had asked to list me as his emergency contact, to which I agreed, never thinking how that would ever play out.

And early in the morning of Friday, February 18, I found out. I received a call from Aultman hospital that he had been found in his car at the parking lot of his workplace, unresponsive, apparently having suffered a heart attack. I am still stunned.

This week, his brother and one of his sisters came to town to make funeral arrangements. It has been a non-stop couple of days as we have gone from the funeral home to his place of work, we’ve gotten legal advice on how to best settle his financial affairs. His family has gotten to meet some members of the community who have all echoed consistent message of what a wonderful person Fidel was and how helpful and friendly he was to them.

The family returned to Washington state on Thursday to receive Fidel’s body when it arrives, and to plan for a funeral there. I am left alone with my thoughts.

What first comes to mind is that Fidel vowed to never repeat the mistake that landed him in prison, and he never did. Early in his time among us, he shared his story with others, in hopes it would help and counsel those who heard it.

That is not to say he had an easy path going forward. He had some rough edges that were at times disconcerting to some. Yet he was also generous to a fault, often to his disadvantage. However, through the ups and downs of his life while I knew him, Fidel’s faith and his few close friendships kept him grounded and focused on the road ahead.

One never knows how one act of assistance will affect a person. Little did I think that encounter one Sunday would spark a 20-plus years friendship. And more importantly, how life-changing that encounter would be for him.

I will miss Fidel. I will miss the random telephone calls, our occasional visits, and the long conversations. But I thank God for having given him to us to know and love as a companion in our pilgrimage on earth. And I will take comfort in knowing that he now rests peacefully in God’s tender embrace.

Fidel Montejano Obituary


I’ve been absent from blogging for the past couple of weeks for a reason.

For the months of January and February I am serving as Acting Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, while their bishop, the Rev. Kurt Kusserow, takes a two-month sabbatical.

We began planning for this time about six months ago, and when the new year finally came around, I soon realized it was going to be a lot to juggle my writing with my other responsibilities. Even though I write for fun, it does require a great deal more thought than just sitting at a desk and typing in the first thing that comes to my head. I do take this seriously.

So therefore, pardon my absence. I will be back on a more regular basis in March, I promise.

But in the meantime, I must devote my time and effort to the people of God in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Be back in about six weeks…


In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

[Ephesians 1:11-14 New Revised Standard Version]

Let me be clear. My intent here is not to write a year-end retrospective. Nor is it an attempt to declare New Year’s resolutions.

But as I reviewed what I had written last year at this time, I noticed I had begun a reflection I didn’t finish. So, what you’re getting today is a full twelve months late!

I can’t recall what distracted me or prevented me from finishing my thoughts. I’ll chalk that up to a function of old age. But why try to think up new things when there’s already nearly half a blog post ready to go?

So here’s where my mind was at this time a year ago, when I was nearing my first full month of retirement. I was focused on the word, “purpose.”

The dictionary defines the word purpose as “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”

At the Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly of 2021, I was blessed with the honor of the title of Bishop Emeritus.

As I was approaching the year 2021, that word had become the object of my obsession. One month into my retirement, it was important to find a purpose or a reason for which to live. For most of my life, I have been defined by what I do. This year would be different. I would mostly be defined by what I used to do. And it does take a while to regain one’s identity as someone not related to a vocation. You are not sure of who you are for a while.

And as I look back, I admit it was a challenging adjustment, if not a struggle. COVID didn’t make it any easier.

In many ways, retirement is like a death. One dies to an old way of life. And as I often tell relatives of a loved one who has died, for me this was a year of firsts – the first Christmas, or any major holiday or family gathering without that person or, in this case, that lifestyle.

Hence, the importance of discovering a purpose. One of my colleagues reminded me that it is good to begin each year with a theme. Pope Francis, for example, declared 2021 the “Year of the Family” or the “Year of St. Joseph,” depending on whose report you read. Other than the fact that he is planning an ambitious agenda, I haven’t come across his theme for 2022.

Since I never officially declared 2021 my year of purpose, I have chosen to title my theme for the upcoming year, “The Year of Purpose II.” (Strange, I know.)

In 2021, I had every hope of expanding my writing, which I did. I intend to do more this year.

Then there are the vacation and travel plans that my wife and I put on hold because of the dreaded virus. Hopefully, we can resurrect those in the coming months.

Even with those ideas in mind, I am beginning 2022 by going back to the future, in a sense.
I have been invited to serve as Acting Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod for January and February, while their current bishop, the Rev. Kurt Kusserow, takes a well-earned sabbatical. I am eagerly looking forward to that

This call, temporary as it may be, has already been a blessing.

First of all, it is a homecoming, of sorts. I was reared in Western Pennsylvania after my family emigrated there from Puerto Rico, so I know the area well. Yes, I still cheer for their professional sports teams, and, for a while at least, I can do that openly without facing hostile stares.

Secondly, in preparation for this role, I have been collaborating with several dedicated ministers of that synod in planning a Martin Luther King commemoration in January. These new relationships have been enriching and have introduced me to different people and different perspectives. Newness always presents an atmosphere of excitement.

There are also some church-related duties coming up following my two-month sojourn in Southwestern PA. I will be one of the chaplains for the ELCA’s Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE) in St. Paul, Minnesota in July. And in October, I am part of the planning team for our Former/Retired Bishops’ Gathering in Detroit.

So I remain tethered to the church even as I am detached in retirement.

But my greatest hope for this coming year goes beyond the personal or the individual. As I read the opening of the letter to the Ephesians (see verses above) I drilled down on that word: purpose.

We are all created for a purpose – God’s purpose. That is our reason for being on earth.

Together, as a people, we are greater than the sum of our individual parts. There is so much good that can be accomplished in the world if we would only set aside our differences and live together as God’s people in the joyful presence of our Creator, reflecting the goodness that was bestowed on us at birth.

May we look ahead to 2022 with that purpose in mind.

God’s richest blessings to you in the new year!

+ + +

%d bloggers like this: