Forty-seven years ago, a 20-something University of Iowa undergrad studying modern European history was taking the steps to become an attorney. Then, he says, God called him in another direction. He was offered a scholarship to attend seminary and give ministry a try. Today the Rev. David Hoffman has enjoyed a 41-year career as a pastor; 30 of those have been spent at St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church (SPD) here in Plymouth. Now he’s facing another calling—retirement.
Hoffman was already married to his wife Linda when his career took that unexpected twist. The young couple picked up and moved to Chicago when Hoffman enrolled at Lutheran School of Theology for seminary, then again when he pursued a doctorate at Andover-Newton Theological School in Newton Centre, Mass. He was serving a congregation in Rochester, New York when SPD conducted a nationwide search and offered Hoffman the position of senior pastor in 1985.
When the Hoffmans moved back to the Midwest—this time with daughters Megan, then 7 and Jennifer, 6, in tow—Plymouth was just expanding into the suburb it is today. The church, however, was already well-known for its mission work.
“When I came here, the church already had a long-term relationship with the Phillips neighborhood in south Minneapolis, a hospital clinic in Tanzania, a church in Madagascar and a dormitory in India,” Hoffman says. “That’s what I loved most about the congregation: its mission-mindedness.”
Hoffman has continued to cultivate that sense of giving throughout his tenure. Bob Paulson, congregation president and longtime SPD member, says the pastor’s commitment to service encourages that dedication in members.
“Pastor Hoffman has built a broad organization that has served our members through faith formation and adult ministry programs,” Paulson says. “The congregation then has this commitment to help others beyond these four walls”—a congregation that, in a time when organized religion is seeing a decline, just continues to grow. What started as a humble 51 members in 1958 has grown to more than 5,000, making it one of the largest congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
With this kind of growth, pastor Hoffman jokes that his main challenge throughout has been parking, but adds “the tremendous growth of the congregation, while a very positive thing that’s enabled us to increase our mission around the world, has also meant selecting and maintaining staff becomes a high priority.”
Even with this astounding growth, though, Paulson says one of Hoffman’s greatest gifts to the congregation might be his transition plan, giving executive pastor Tim Westermeyer the next opportunity to shine.
“He hasn’t walked away leaving our congregation rudder-less and leaderless,” says Paulson. “Often when a senior pastor leaves, the congregation suffers and membership shrinks. It can take a couple of years to fill this role.”
Westermeyer is a second-career pastor, having spent 10 years working in public relations at a major PR agency in the Twin Cities and a high-tech firm in Los Angeles, before attending Luther Seminary in St. Paul and doing graduate work in theology at the University of Notre Dame. He is excited to continue moving SPD forward, which will involve even more communication tools, including an increased social media presence.
“Churches have always used available methods to communicate the message of the Gospel,” Westermeyer says. “Using social media or a website or smart phones is no different. Churches should be using these tools to help us communicate with the larger culture.”
Pastor Hoffman officially steps down May 31, at which point Westermeyer takes over, a decision voted on by the congregation the weekend of November 23–25 (the vote was overwhelmingly in favor, to the tune of 98.5 percent).
“I’m incredibly excited and profoundly grateful to David,” Westermeyer says. “He has created a culture here that is healthy, vibrant and mission-oriented. And he’s been an incredible mentor for me.”
Hoffman is excited to spend more time with his wife, two daughters and two grandchildren. He laughs, saying he’ll probably end up annoying his wife and will have to find something new to keep him busy.
Farewell Celebration DinnerPlymouth Creek Center
6:45 p.m. May 16
Special Celebration Services
8:30, 9:45 and 11 a.m. May 18
St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church
17205 County Road 6
More information on both events at spdlc.org