'This is the time to step aside' — Beloved pastor calls it a career
The Rev. Canon Mike Hesse is stepping down as senior pastor at Immanuel Anglican Church ... but he won't go far.
One of Father Mike's ongoing prayers has been for a smooth transition to take place when the time came.
"In my imaginings, the Lord would send us the right man a few years before I reached retirement age to make that possible," Father Mike told The Log. "In Father Caleb Miller, he answered my prayer."
Father Caleb arrived in February 2014 and it soon became clear to the members of the church that he was the man God had sent them.
"Caleb loves Jesus, loves his family, loves the members of Immanuel and loves other folks," Father Mike said. "At 38 years of age, he brings with him both experience in the ministry and a young man’s eyes. I heard the Lord telling me that this is the time to step aside so that the next generation can have its turn."
Father Mike said God would do a new thing in the parish as well as through them within the larger community.
"The Lord brought Father Caleb to Immanuel because he has anointed him as his servant leader to walk before the parish family."
To his parishioners at Immanuel, Father Mike says, "Be excited, because you are in for the ride of your lives. Jesus is prepared to challenge each one of us to move to a deeper relationship with one another and with him."
During his first year at the University of Florida, Father Mike heard the Lord call him to the ministry. After graduating from Virginia Theological Seminary, he served for three years (1973-76) as an assistant at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Tallahassee, and then answered a call to plant a congregation, Holy Cross Episcopal Church, in Pensacola. Father Mike was there 15 years before he received the call to Destin in 1991 at St. Andrew's/Immanuel.
For more than 40 years, Father Mike has served in the parish setting, including the joys and privileges of walking through the best of times and the hardest of times with the congregation of St. Andrews By-the-Sea Episcopal.
"By the grace of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was obedient to the Lord in leading the congregation out of the Episcopal Church due to that denominations questioning of the authority of Scripture to define what we are to believe and how we are to act, and the uniqueness of Jesus as the only way by which a person might be saved," Father Mike said.
With a unanimous vote, the group departed from the Episcopal church, knowing it would cost them facilities and other items held dear to the congregation since earlier generations of families had provided the land, the building and many of the furnishings of St. Andrew's.
"We successfully held together for the five years it took to move into our own facilities in a new part of town. I can’t really claim anything, except that I was obedient to the Lord."
In 2005, after experiencing their own version of the Exodus, Father Mike and his congregation became Immanuel Anglican Church and he served as a missionary priest sent by Bishop Edmund Dawson Ahmoah of the Anglican Diocese of Dunkwa on Offin in Ghana to the Anglican Mission in the Americas.
"I also continued my role as a canon of Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese in Uganda. You see, being obedient to the Lord we love, no matter what he asks of us, is the most important calling we Christians have. The great thing about ministry is that, priest or layman, we never graduate from his service. God calls us to love others in his name in our thoughts, words and deeds."
While he will certainly continue to be involved with people, Father Mike said a parish priest has the privilege of being invited into the lives of his parishioners in the most profound ways — sharing baptisms, weddings, funerals, surely, but also sharing the best times and the worst times with them.
"People invite you because you represent the love of Jesus for them. I will miss that privilege, I think, most of all."
At 10 a.m. May 31, Father Mike will celebrate his last service as senior pastor. The next Sunday he will take part in a service where Father Caleb will be instituted as senior pastor.
"My predecessor Bishop Sandy Greene will be there as will his predecessor, Father Forrest Mobley," Father Mike said. "So the three senior pastors who have preceded Father Caleb, dating back to 1969, will all gather to pass the symbols of his priestly ministry on to him. Isn’t God good?"
An honored teacher at Choctawhatchee High School, including an Okaloosa County Teacher of the Year award, Claudia is also making some decisions about her teaching next year as she approaches this new season with her husband. She has taught everything from reading to International Baccalaureate classes, and served as long time chairman of the English department.
Since the Hesse's will stay in Destin after Father Mike steps down, Immanuel will continue to be their parish family. However, one of the most important things to Father Mike is to stay away for a season so the congregation can transition to Father Caleb's leadership. For the next few months, he and Claudia plan to worship with some other Destin congregations.
"It will be a pure joy to get to praise the Lord alongside other members of the Church of Destin for a while before returning to Immanuel where I will be Father Caleb’s most enthusiastic supporter and serve with my brothers and sisters there — however I am needed."
Father Mike waits patiently to see where God wants him to go next and what he wants him to do.
"I have clay feet and stumble regularly, but I want to serve Jesus however he wishes me to until the day I go to heaven," he said. "What a great adventure that will be! There, in his presence, I hope to hear him say, 'Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.'"