St. Michael's pastor retires


During his 39-year career as a minister, the Rev. Elmer J. Klein has had a great view of the world's changes.

"Everything has just boomed, and we're not finished growing yet," said Mr. Klein, who retired last month after 26 years as pastor of St. Michael Lutheran Church and its flock of more than 2,600 members.

During his years there, the congregation of the Perry Hall church has almost doubled and Mr. Klein has watched Baltimore County's population explode.

"Twenty years ago, I had to stop one night on Joppa Road for a herd of deer," Mr. Klein said. "Now [Perry Hall] is becoming a city."

Mr. Klein, 66, grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Polytechnic Institute in 1947. It was during his sophomore year, he said, that he received the call to preach.

After graduating from a seminary in Columbus, Ohio, in 1955, he married Viiu A. Vellisto and became assistant pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Arlington, Va. He was pastor of the Stewart Avenue Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh before moving to Perry Hall and St. Michael in 1969.

When Mr. Klein entered the ministry, issues like homosexuality were still closeted, drug and alcohol abuse were not rampant and the AIDS virus was unknown. Life and traffic in suburbia were less congested.

New problems have appeared with the passage of time, but Mr. Klein says the solution remains unchanged.

"The nursing homes, the marital problems, kids in trouble, it all breaks your heart but you deal with it with love," Mr. Klein said. "You have to have a strong knowledge of Scripture and its relevance to today."

A jovial man with a ready smile, Mr. Klein has a fondness for young people and worries about how today's lifestyles affect their Christian education.

"How can you effectively teach children when they are only [in church] every other week?" he said. "This week they are with mom, next week they are with dad."

About three years ago, the church opened an education center on its grounds in preparation for an expected influx of people moving into a planned housing development in the neighborhood. The homes haven't been built yet, but the classes at the center have been filled to capacity since day one, Mr. Klein said.

"There having been so many young families moving in," Mr. Klein said. "I decided to retire because I was getting tired, and with the type of growth we are having, the church doesn't need a tired pastor."

Mr. Klein, recipient in June of the Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Medal from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia for exemplary work as a minister, said he remains excited about the growth of his church -- and a few resulting "problems" -- even though he has retired.

"We have to deal with things like where do all the people park and how do we get out of the parking lot on Sundays without losing all of our religion," Mr. Klein said, laughing. "But those are wonderful problems to have."

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