HASKINS — Retiring Pastor David Bliss says that while he served at various congregations over his career, he found that leading with love is the best way to guide any congregation toward an active relationship with God.
“One of the greatest challenges a pastor faces is getting people to go from being spectators in the pews to being disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.
Bliss has continued to pursue these goals as he spent his last five years as interim pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. He retired at the end of May.
He said St. Paul’s was an ideal place to end his career.
“I really thought the congregation was lovely,” he said. “And … only 10 minutes from my house.”
Bliss has served as an interim pastor at a variety of parishes, sometimes driving an hour drive from his home. Bliss also served as an interim pastor in Bucyrus Ohio from 2009-15. Others were one year stints.
Reverend Bliss said one of the reasons he has served as an interim pastor at a variety of congregations was due to a shortage of people becoming involved in the ministry. He knows it is often not an easy course in life.
He said he also had to sort out what he wanted to do with his life, explaining that although he felt the calling to be a pastor from ninth grade, his path was not a direct one.
“I was like a Jonah. I tried many other things, from aeronautical engineering to being a history teacher, but just never was satisfied. Once I accepted the call to be a pastor in my junior year of college I have been content ever since.”
He moved to Ohio in 1973 to attend Wittenberg University’s Hamma seminary.
“The bishop asked me to serve in the Ohio Synod and I took his offer.”
He retires with 43 years in the ministry.
His longest tenure was as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Arcadia, where he served for 20 years.
His story of how he ended up at Trinity Lutheran was an example of patience and faith.
“It was this town of 583 and I had never lived in a city of less that 75,000,” Bliss said. “When I went to the interview I loved the church, but did not like the small town. I asked the bishop what to do and he said, ‘just stay there for a couple of years and then move to a larger city.’ Well, those two years turned out to be 20.”
He said what kept him at Trinity was the chemistry. “We really loved the people and it was a great place to raise a family.”
Reverend Bliss continued to pursue his philosophy of love and involvement while working at Trinity, which included starting a daycare and latchkey program for migrant workers’ children.
In addition, he said he had the opportunity to do mission work in Tanzania, Africa, going over there 16 times in 20 years to serve as a companionship coordinator. He said he saw mission work as connecting partner congregations in Tanzania’s Doma diocese with those in his diocese in Ohio. To do that he would lead mission trips to Tanzania to visit and get the cultural experience of Tanzania’s congregation.
As a result, he said they were able to do various programs.
“For one, we created a mission we called ‘Tractors for Tanzania,’ where we rebuilt old tractors and shipped them over to the congregations there,” Bliss said, adding that another program helped pay the salaries of pastors in the Doma diocese for three years.
Finally, he said they created a cultural exchange where a group of 16 Tanzanians came to Ohio and shared their faith story, singing African hymns and interacting with congregations here.
“It was a beautiful thing to see happen,” he said. “Faith for the Tanzanian parishioners was shown in the enthusiasm they had in their singing and in the sharing of their faith in Jesus,” he said. “They have a great prayer life where they pray after everything, from going on a trip to sitting in the living room in the evening.”
He believes prayer brings people in tune with God. “I like what Martin Luther said, which was ‘We start out praying for what we want but through prayer, the Holy Spirit moves us to what we need. And that is when God answers our prayers’.”
Bliss and his wife Jill are moving to Indianapolis to be near their daughter and her family and intends to enjoy the grandchildren.
“It’s like moving home. I grew up in Fort Wayne.”