A time to rest
Rev. John Auer
Northern Nevada is going to miss Rev. John Auer when he steps down from the helm of the Reno First United Methodist Church on June 21. The new pastor will take office July 1. Auer’s been very active on behalf of local issues that could loosely be defined as “liberal,” but more precisely, social—like sheltering the homeless, feeding the poor, working with prisoners. It must be disconcerting for the pastor to release the tiller with such finality, but a retiring pastor in the Methodist community doesn’t have much control over what will happen to his flock when he leaves.
“We don’t search,” he said. “In the Methodist tradition, we are sent a pastor by our bishop and his cabinet of superintendents. There is some consultation with the local church and chance to express priorities of ministry and what they’re looking for in a pastor, but the decision is pretty much out of the local church’s hands.”
When selecting the new pastor, issues like spousal employment, ages of children, buying homes, etc., are considered by the bishop, which is a more congenial method than the church had in the past. In fact, ministers these days are more stable in the United Methodist community than they were in the past. For example, Auer says, pastors were likely to change congregations every two or three years. He’s been in Reno for six years, and there are some pastors who go much longer than that.
Auer, 66, is retiring at this time because his “body has not been very cooperative over the last few years.” He’s got systemic arthritis and has had a number of surgeries—including joint replacements—over the years. He says he expects retirement to be a “big time out” at first. He and his wife, Julie, are going to live, at least in the short term, in a family condominium on the Gulf Coast of Florida. He’d eventually like to end up back in Southern California, where his children and grandchildren live. It will come as little surprise to his congregation and those who’ve worked with him that he says he’d also like to continue doing part-time preaching and pastoring.
“I tell people, ‘We’re going to go to work for Barack,’” he says. “And what I mean by that is there’s a kind of feeling, I think, all over the country, that people are being encouraged and welcomed back into a sense of community. And even though I kind of say that facetiously because I know Barack is not the messiah, either, I do think there’s going to be an openness to community involvement wherever we go, and we want to be a part of that.”
Rev. Auer says the congregation of First United Methodist Church has really come alive in the last few years in the sense of the congregation doing ministries and outreach.
“We do food distribution a couple times a month, and we’re just starting a clothing distribution for teen mothers and very small children. We now do eight or nine Artown concerts every July. We’ve continued to be involved in Family Promise sheltering [a faith-based community-wide program that provides transitional shelter and comprehensive assistance for homeless families in Reno-Sparks]. We’re still working prison reentry. There’s been a lot of growth within the congregation in terms of groups that meet together for study and accountability. We’re not growing largely in numbers necessarily. We always struggle to make the money to do the ministry, and also to keep up the building—which is a beautiful gift but also carries certain [responsibilities]. But I would say the congregation’s health right now is pretty strong, its health is pretty good.”
That should bode well when the new pastor arrives.