Working an average of 70 hours a week can be exhausting, but last summer Pastor Kent Happel realized he could not keep going at the same pace he had been. His wife, Heidi, health’s started to decline. He decided it was time for a change.
Happel has been a pastor for approximately 25 years. He was the Pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Salina for 17 years. Before that, he pastored in Texas and in Wisconsin. While he was ministering at Immanuel Lutheran, he was also working part-time at Hospice of Salina.
“I was working a minimum of 70 hours and I think my longest week was 90 hours,” he said. “My wife has multiple sclerosis and her health started declining last summer, and it just got to a point where I could not keep up or keep doing that. So, I decided it is time for a change.”
He had been looking to switch and work at a different church and the Bishop at Immanuel suggested Happel to apply at St. Mark’s. Happel laughed and shared that he said no twice because he thought the position was only part-time, to which he explained he had no idea why he thought of that.
Then, he applied.
“Throughout this process and looking back,” Happel said. “You can see God at work moving different things around to get us here at the appropriate time.”
He enjoys working at St. Mark’s full-time, but still having time to take care of Heidi and himself. They moved to Emporia on Aug. 13 and he started preaching at St. Mark’s on Aug. 16.
Due to his wife’s MS, the move was not easy. He shared that they had been under a lot of stress and that takes its toll, but he is grateful to be here so Happel can tend to his wife more.
“[Emporia] was what I was looking for, but not what I was looking for,” he said. “When I first filled out paperwork, I was looking for around Kansas City.”
Living in Kansas City, they would have been closer to doctors and their daughter.
“God knows better than I do is how I look at it,” Happel explained. “Because God has really done some marvelous things bringing us here.”
St. Mark’s is a loving and family-oriented congregation, he attributed. The President of the congregation and the Chair of Call Committee stopped by and informed Happel that they had a discussion with the council that day.
“Usually that is not a good sign when there is a council meeting without the pastor,” he said. “But the council decided to give me two weeks paid leave. So, I could focus on unpacking, taking care of me, taking care of Heidi and getting to know Emporia a little bit more during that time period. It was really cool, I never had a congregation do that before.”
Happel will be installed at St. Mark’s at 9 a.m. Oct. 25. The Bishop will join for worship and officially install him as the pastor.
When he began ministering at St. Mark’s, he had to learn how to do Zoom worship. The church opened up for in person worship three weeks ago, but they do offer Zoom worship.
“For our members who are not comfortable coming in, then they can join us on Zoom,” he said. “For those who do not have Internet capabilities or feel okay coming in, we have pews marked off where you can sit and everyone wears a face mask. If they are comfortable with that, they can come and worship in the building.”
Other COVID-19 precautions limit the congregation from singing, they have one soloist singing with a special singing face mask.
“I look forward to singing again,” Happel said. “But you know, right now this is what needs to be done to protect people and I am okay with that.”
He shared that he is called by God to proclaim the gospel, to interact with kindness and respect and to share the gospel through his words and deeds.
“I am one to believe that words really do not matter if our actions do not back them up. Our actions speak way louder than words,” he said.
Everyday, Happel tries to demonstrate the gospel through his actions.
Visit his installment at 9 a.m. Oct. 25 at 1508 W. 12th Ave. Visit their website at https://www.stmarkslutheranelca.org/index.php for more information about the church and Zoom worship.