This past Sunday — Palm Sunday — La Cañada Presbyterian Church welcomed its new pastor, the Rev. Jeff Hoffmeyer, who emerged from a field of more than 200 candidates to lead La Cañada Flintridge’s largest congregation.
In a pair of packed sermons before a congregational meeting at which Hoffmeyer, 42, was elected by a vote of 408-6 (with one abstention), he began his tenure at LCPC by espousing the virtues of “standing still.”
Hoffmeyer referenced Mark 10:46, in which Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, heeds the cries of mercy of the blind beggar Bartimaeus, and then stops and bestows him with sight.
“You see, Jesus’ ears were tuned for just that, to engage brokenness,” said Hoffmeyer, an ordained Presbyterian pastor and theologian whose most recent position was as interim senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, Colorado — where life is notably slower-paced, he said.
“The hardest thing to get used to is, of course, the freeways,” Hoffmeyer said. “The number of freeways, the size, the sheer volume, the speed of traffic, all of that blew our small Colorado minds.”
Hoffmeyer described driving on those freeways on his first visit and, perhaps over-confidently, steering his family into the left lane. What followed, he joked, was some “intense fellowship” with his wife, Heather, who told him, “Jeff, you’re going to get us killed! You’re driving the speed limit.”
The process of selecting a pastor for a church that, in its 70-year history has had only four senior pastors and two interim senior pastors, was not so swift.
A nine-member Pastor Nominating Committee worked for 18 months to identify and evaluate potential successors to replace Rev. Gary Dennis, who retired on July 13, 2014, after 24 years leading the LCPC congregation. He’d followed the Rev. Gary Demarest, who was the church’s pastor for 23 years.
The Rev. Gareth Icenogle, LCPC’s interim pastor, will serve until Hoffmeyer starts on May 15.
“It was a methodical process,” said Dick Kleinert, the PNC co-chair, of what was required to select a pastor to lead their 1,200-member congregation.
“We considered the individual’s education, their background, their experience. We considered the settings they’ve been in, we considered their theological beliefs, we did hours and hours and hours of viewing sermons online, looking at their preaching style, both in content and delivery, and a lot of paper review, Skype interviews, a lot of Internet-based research to narrow it down, and more Skype interviews.
“We also went and visited a number of these individuals to see them preach in person in different parts of the country. And there was reference-checking and all of that stuff you would expect. We had some wonderful, great candidates.”
But when they found Hoffmeyer in October, they had a feeling they’d found the best fit, the committee’s co-chair Catherine Rayer said.
“He’s very Christ-focused, he’s not just talking about a lot of personal stories, and he has a very engaging style,” Kleinert said of Hoffmeyer, who will move to LCF with Heather and their children, Eleanore, 14, and Andersen, 11.
Judging by the vote, and several personal accounts, Jeff Hoffmeyer made a fine first impression Sunday.
“I liked his sense of humor and his sincerity,” said June Orlando, a parishioner since 1992.
“He’s a Christ-centered minister, and I hope he will bring the young people in,” said Margie Barbour, who’s attended LCPC since 1982.
“I was moved,” said Chris Lazo, a regular, he said, since he was in his mother’s womb 25 years ago. “It seems he’s the right fit. It’s exciting. I’ve only ever known Gary [Dennis] and Gareth, so it’s exciting for me to be a part of a new era.”
Hoffmeyer — whose hobbies include fly fishing, reading, cooking for his family and cheering the Denver Broncos football team — indicated that he will encourage his new congregation to slow down.
He surmised Sunday that the fast-paced lifestyle that he’s encountered in Southern California, and in LCF, does not lend itself to space to heed a cry of brokenness, as Jesus did.
“Jesus does stop, and he listens and he hears the cries and he engages the brokenness,” Hoffmeyer said. “We, as followers, we need to match that pace. More than anything, that’s what’s needed in Southern California.
“He’s needed and his church is needed because of the pace of life here, and I’m not just talking about the freeway; I’m talking about the more and the bigger and the better and the shinier and the faster and the constant climbing and climbing and getting ahead, in the midst of that we have Jesus.
“We as a church, LCPC, must do the same. And the only way I know to lead a congregation is to do so in prayer: Pray, stand still, listen, train ourselves on the voice of the Father, so when there is a cry of brokenness, someone shouting out, ‘Have mercy!,’ we stop, we stand still, we don’t stay in the left lane and keep going, but we make time.”