Zion's retiring pastor blessed by time in Hinsdale

Jay Klein grew up Jewish, which made his conversion to Christianity at age 32 unexpected and "electrifying," in his words.

"It's life-changing. My God is not distant and far away. He is close at hand. He has given me his Holy Spirit to live and dwell in me," he said.

Klein said he felt he needed to do something, but was uncertain of his next step. At the urging of his pastor, he agreed to spend a week on a mission trip doing street evangelism in New York City.

"I saw the rejection of Jesus right in front of my face. I saw the acceptance of Jesus. I saw it all," he said. "I came back and I was so on fire for wanting to do the work of the Lord."

He once again sought the counsel of his pastor, asking if Jews went to seminary.

"He said, 'I think you'd be surprised. Jesus is Jewish.' "

Klein attended Concordia Seminary in St. Louis for two years, completed his vicarage (internship) at St. Michael Lutheran Church in Michigan and then competed his final year of seminary back in St. Louis. He credits his wife, Sharon, for her patience.

"Without her support, without her grace and being with me, there is no way that this is a solo journey," he said.

After completing seminary, he served at a Minnesota church and did mission work in Houston before being called to be pastor at Zion. Making the decision to move is incredibly difficult, Klein said.

"It's a tremendous struggle to discern the will of God," he said. Now, 18 years later, he is planning to retire next month. He said his faith has matured in the 25 years he's spent in ministry.

"I would like to say it's matured without losing the freshness of it. I think that's what all Christians wrestle with, is wanting to mature and grow in the faith without losing the sense of awe of how God is present," he said.

The world also has changed over the past 25 years. Sundays once reserved for faith and family now are filled with activities, forcing parents to make tough choices. And society has become more divided.

"We've become partisan people and our politics and our religion - it's hard to distinguish between the two," Klein said.

He finds inspiration in the generosity of parishioners and in the Zion Early Childhood Education Center.

"It is a tremendous joy in my ministry here," he said. "I can't tell you what it's like to see 100 kids running around here. I spend as much time as I can at the school because of that.

He shared the story of one young preschooler who daily greets the large painting of Jesus in the center's lobby with a "Good morning, Jesus."

"Boom - there it is," Klein said. "Our Lord talks about entering the kingdom like a little child. There it is."

He said he and his family have enjoyed living in Hinsdale.

"It has its problems, but there is a certain sense of community that exists here that is unlike any other place that I've ever lived."

As he marks off the days until his final service June 9, he said he and Sharon are feeling emotional.

"We are so fortunate, my wife and I, to be part of this congregation. I really mean that," he said.

"Every pastor will say that, and I'm sure they really mean it when they say it, but we are truly blessed to be part of this congregation."

- story by Pamela Lannom, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Author photo

Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean