Bethesda’s long-time pastor retires after 38 years

Pastor Stylski at his final service on Sept. 27. 

Bethesda-on-the-Bay Lutheran Church bid a fond farewell to its pastor of 38 years, the Rev. Dennis Stylski, who retired on Oct. 1. His final service on Sept. 27 was attended by more than 360 past and present parishioners and friends, including the Rev. Karl Bierman, Assistant to the Bishop of the Northeast Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

One week earlier, Pastor Stylski and Bishop Abraham Allende, Bishop of the Northeast Ohio Synod of the ELCA, celebrated the confirmation of four youth members. Also attending the service was a surprise visitor – the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding Bishop of the ELCA and its 10,000 churches in North America, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

More than 200 people attended a dinner in honor of Pastor Stylski and his wife, Gerry Ann, at Westwood Country Club on Sept. 23. Master of ceremonies was Dr. Terry Pope, President of Cuyahoga Community College’s West Shore Campus and a long-time Bethesda member. Attendees also included Bay Village Mayor Debbie Sutherland and many of Pastor Stylski’s colleagues in the clergy. Chris Webner, Director of Christian Education at Bethesda, led the planning for the event and presented Pastor Stylski and Gerry Ann with a check for more than $10,500 from congregational members to be used on a vacation trip.

“Leaving is difficult, probably more difficult than anything I’ve been called on to do in my ministry,” said Pastor Stylski. “The love and affection that the Bethesda community has shown my family over the years has made a deep impression on all of us.”

Pastor Stylski and his family arrived in Bay Village in December 1977, after he spent his first six years as a pastor at Faith Lutheran Church in Ashtabula. At Faith Lutheran, Pastor Stylski quickly became active in community service, including serving as president of the board of local Family Service Agency. In 1975 he received the Ashtabula County “Man of the Year Award.”

After arriving at Bethesda, Pastor Stylski immediately began leading his congregation and serving his community. He served 12 years on the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Board, 35 years on the Knickerbocker Senior Citizens Board, several years on the Bay Village Foundation and was co-chair of the levy committee to build the new Bay Middle School. This levy succeeded, as did a second levy to continue support for the school system.

Pastor Stylski also helped to instill a strong mission of community service at Bethesda-on-the-Bay, which currently sponsors nine Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups, Thanksgiving and Christmas programs for inner city youth, and has reached in its ministry as far as a school for Haitian children and provided funding for five water systems in a Guatemalan village. The Bethesda Child Care Center also serves the community by helping children with schoolwork before and after school.

During Pastor Stylski’s tenure, the Bethesda congregation voted to do something extraordinary during each 10-year anniversary of the church. This included committing 10 percent of its annual budget to benevolence to support the worldwide work of the church, a commitment that has been faithfully made for 35 consecutive years. Other projects included the renovation of the sanctuary with new stained glass windows and a Casavant pipe organ, the addition of a steeple, bell tower and boat garden in the yard, new roof and windows for the facility, as well as a renovated kitchen, church lounge, and the addition of a youth playground.

Bethesda also has faithfully supported special hunger and other worldwide concerns through Lutheran World Relief.

“With help and guidance of the Holy Spirit many wonderful things have happened here in these last 38 years,” Pastor Stylski said. “One of the happiest decisions in my ministry was the one that brought us to Bethesda.”

Pastor and Gerry Ann have four grown children – Michael, Kristine, Jenny and Andrew – and seven grandchildren.

Gary Weiland

Free-lance writer and public relations consultant.

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Volume 7, Issue 19, Posted 8:53 AM, 10.06.2015