This Sunday will mark the final service of Pastor Michael Brecke at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Juddville. Michael recently announced he is accepting an interim position with a church in Kansas so he can be closer to family in anticipation of his retirement shortly thereafter.
I imagine I’m like most people in Door County in that I’ve never set foot in Michael’s church. Yet while relatively few of us are parishioners in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, there are many of us that are members of Michael’s congregation.
The word “minister” literally means “to attend to the needs of others” and that is the epitome of Michael. He has long taken it upon himself to check on the wellbeing of most everyone he’s ever met. If he hears that you’ve been facing challenges, he’ll drop by to offer help and to lift your spirits. But even if he’s heard nothing at all, Michael’s been known to stick his head in your office for five minutes just to make sure you’re well. I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered anyone who so willingly seeks out and takes on the troubles of so many in the community.
My interactions with Michael have been largely centered around his service on the board of directors of the Door County Community Foundation. When it comes to philanthropy, he has a mantra that has become a guiding philosophy for us. Michael always says, “Give to your passion.”
The Community Foundation is the behind-the-scenes umbrella organization for millions of dollars of charitable activity every year. All kinds of projects operate under our corporate umbrella – the Green Fund, the Women’s Fund, the GO BO Foundation, the Sturgeon Bay Skatepark, the Scholarship Network, Write On, Door County!, the Civility Project, the COIN Micro-Loan Program, and too many others to list here. Yet, even though we’re involved with a lot great initiatives, sometimes a donor is still looking for something different.
Michael has essentially said we should be like Macy’s of the Miracle on 34th Street fame. If we don’t have what you want, we will help you find it, even if that means sending you to Gimbel’s.
While that all sounds simple enough, consider how it plays out in the real world. During a conversation with a donor, if we hear your passion for an idea that has nothing to do with the Community Foundation, we’ll offer to arrange a meeting to introduce you to another charity that has a project we think might better fit with your passion.
That’s what he means by “give to your passion.” Michael has nurtured the fundamental belief that the Community Foundation should connect people who care with causes that matter – regardless of whether it’s our project or not. When your charitable dollars follow your personal passion, you become more than merely a donor. You begin to get involved and take leadership positions. You become a champion and advocate for that cause. In other words, you become a philanthropist.
Michael will soon be leaving Door County, but I know his lessons will continue to guide and inspire us. He has taught us well.
Thus, while I am selfishly saddened by the fact that I will no longer be able to enjoy Michael’s company and counsel, I am also heartened by his decision.
For many years, Michael has eased the way for countless people by helping to carry their load. Even for one with shoulders as strong as Michael’s, that has to be quite a weight to bear every day. Perhaps it’s time for him to lay down the burdens of others so he can spend more time simply enjoying life with family and friends. Goodness knows he’s earned it.
In his farewell letter to his church, Michael wrote, “As a child I loved Peter Pan, I read the book, watched in awe as Mary Martin flew through the air. I vowed then, and to some extent now, to never grow up.”
I have often joked that I want to be Michael Brecke when I grow up. Yet perhaps the best way we can honor him is to never quite grow up. Let’s try to emulate Michael and hold fast to a joyful optimism in service of others with an unwavering belief in the power of hope.