BRANDON — Lucia Oerter and her husband, John, love fly-fishing together — but their jobs keep them apart.
Both are ordained Presbyterian ministers and serve as interim pastors, filling in nationwide when churches lose their leaders.
On Nov. 1, the Rev. Lucia Oerter took the helm of First Presbyterian Church of Brandon, after the previous pastor, the Rev. Rebekah Maul, went to a church in North Carolina.
John Oerter stayed behind at a church in Missouri. The happily married couple talk frequently and schedule visits every few months.
Whenever they have the opportunity to fish together, they do, and they never keep the fish they catch, said Lucia Oerter.
They believe catch-and-release pertains to ministry, too.
“Give the Gospel to people,” she said. “It's not about them belonging to this club you have, you are to release them into ministry in the world.”
As an interim, the friendly, energetic, 61-year-old Oerter is a mirror, helping the congregation “see who they are in today's light. They've been moving forward with Rebekah for years,” she said. “It's time to assess again: who are we today that we weren't 17 years ago? And what kind of minister do we need now to get where we need to go?”
Oerter feels especially suited to move from church to church. She loves to travel to new places and is inquisitive, able to ask questions in a caring, nonjudgmental way to uncover the unique story of a particular place.
She's also compassionate, able to identify with the pain and messiness of people's lives.
She grew up in a dysfunctional family.
Her call to ministry came in the 1960s, when very few women were clerics. The path seemed impossible.
Her first marriage was abusive but produced three beloved children.
When she got out of the marriage, doors opened for her to attend seminary, and she was ordained in 1997.
And then, instead of life becoming “peachy keen,” she said, she lost two young grandbabies in tragic circumstances. One died only days after being born; and the other, 2½, was killed in a murder/suicide.
“In seminary, you have the sense that you're the encourager, the motivator, the positive for the congregation,” said Oerter.
But after experiencing “that brutal, difficult time, it hits you: I can't just be saying this stuff,” she said. “Now I see what you're talking about. I think going into that deep depression and grief really helps you know what people are going through.”
“Everybody's going through something,” she said. “Every time I've preached about those really tragic times, people have come up to me and said, 'I've had suicide in my family;' 'I've had murder.'”
“Church should be a place for talking about things honestly,” she said. “A place to ask, what's God up to? Where's God? How do you work through that?”
“People know I'm real. I don't have a lot of answers,” she said. “People want to know how you fit this faith stuff into daily life. It's not how much do you know? It's how much do you feel? 'Cause it's all about heart work.”
Barbara Routen can be reached at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.