SUNSET PARK — Mt. Olive Lutheran Church is welcoming Rev. Eric C. Shafer as its new Senior Pastor with an official installation ceremony on July 13.
Shafer, who began work in Santa Monica on April 1, has had a long and fruitful career in the church. He said coming to Santa Monica fulfilled a long-time goal of living in California and that he is excited to utilize his decades of experience to benefit the local congregation.
He began his career with a small congregation, moved into the communications department of a national church, was pastor at a 6,000-person congregation in Pennsylvania and most recently was a Senior Vice President at Odyssey Networks, an interfaith television network based in New York.
In the Lutheran church, Bishops select a group of candidates for open positions and the congregation makes the final choice.
Bishop Guy Erwin administers the local area and has known Shafer since Shafer’s time on the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America staff in Chicago. In the church’s official hiring announcement, Erwin said he was committed to placing pastors with national church experience who can provide excellent worship and community leadership. He said Shafer brings that needed combination to Mt. Olive and the Santa Monica community.
Members of the congregation said they specifically wanted a leader with a diverse skill set.
“We called Pastor Shafer to Mt. Olive because we wanted a proven leader and fund-raiser, a pastor with a heart for this congregation and community,” said Mitch Nahass, President of the Mt. Olive Congregation Council in a statement.
Shafer said the Mt. Olive church has about 100 active members but the church has an outsized presence in the community with more than 5,000 people using the campus each week. The church functions as a community center for the neighborhood hosting multiple events per day including AA meetings, community movie nights and arts presentations.
“I wanted a congregation what was anchored in the community,” he said. “They get it’s more than Sunday morning worship. They are active, involved and rooted in the community.”
He said the constant flow of residents into the church creates valuable opportunities for community connections and he said one of his favorite moments since taking over in Santa Monica happened when a reception for a formal music presentation overflowed into a community event that had attracted a group of transients. The sight of the groups mingling reminded him of the concept of heaven where the rich, poor, young and old are all attending a banquet.
“We had people in tuxes sitting next to the homeless and if there’s a glimpse of heaven, that might be it,” he said.
Mt. Olive has a long-term plan to rebuild its campus to become a more useable, welcoming and efficient community center. Shafer said the church probably receives twice as many requests for space as it can accommodate. While civic groups or groups working with the poor are always given priority, he said there are many more service opportunities that could be met with more space.
Shafer said the congregation hopes to develop an $8 million budget for the project and his background with fundraising was one of the skills he knows the congregation will value.
“It’s a very forward looking project and we’re going to need the community’s help but with all the community activities here, we’re going to get it,” he said.
While he is excited and committed to the church’s role in the community he said he also hopes to grow the congregation a little as the community work is founded in the congregation’s faith.
“It comes out of worship, to serve god and the community and I think I have some gifts to help that,” he said.
Shafer said his travels have taken him to many places and brought him into contact with many faiths. He said he hoped his time in Santa Monica would include opportunities for interfaith activity and dialogue. While Bishop Erwin will oversee his installation, Rabbi Josh Stanton will preach at the event.
“We’re in a new world with interfaith relationships,” he said. “It’s an interfaith world, we’re not trying to convert people of other faiths, there’s plenty of people with no religion out there.”
Shafer said he had enjoyed the diversity of his career, including the opportunity to develop roots here in Santa Monica.
“This is as good as an experience, working with people day to day in all kinds of walks of life and with all kinds of needs,” he said.
The installation will take place on July 13, at 10 a.m. at the church, 1343 Ocean Park Blvd. Visit www.mtolivelutheranchurch.org for more information or call (310) 452-1116.