Pastor Ron Kempe will preach his last sermon at Peace Lutheran Church in Puyallup on Nov. 17. It will be a day of mixed feelings for the congregation and for their pastor.
Kempe has been at Peace Lutheran for the past 25 years. Under his leadership, the congregation has grown and reached into the community to help the disadvantaged.
Congregation members describe him as caring and dedicated.
Peace Lutheran’s location, at 214 E. Pioneer, lends itself to serving the homeless.
“A lot of the homeless live on the river, there is the Good Samaritan Mental Health down the street and low-income housing nearby,” Kempe said. “We are here, and a lot of people come.”
Peace Lutheran hands out passes so people can take showers at the YMCA, and it offers coupons for two loads of laundry. The church’s food bank is running strong, and it has served lunch to all who come each Saturday for the past 18 1/2 years.
“There was nothing on the weekends for people, and a lot of them were going hungry from Friday to Monday,” Kempe said.
Peace Lutheran has a long history with the community. Kempe said Ezra Meeker built the church in 1892. It has undergone remodeling and name changes, but some of the structure still stands. The original doors that were used from 1892 to 1952 were moved to the interior of the church during a remodeling and are now used to enter one of the common rooms.
Once Kempe retires, he said his wife will continue to work as a first-grade teacher with the Puyallup School District. When she retires, they plan to travel and work for Habitat for Humanity.
“South America and Africa are on my bucket list,” Kempe said.
The couple looks forward to spending Christmas with their son and family in Olympia.
“Christmas was always such a busy time for us,” Kempe said. “We’ve never been able to do that before.”
Under his leadership, the congregation has gathered school supplies and provided Christmas stockings for Helping Hand House, and their Peace Quilters assemble 350 quilts a year to distribute through Lutheran World Relief.
Nancy Armstrong and her family have been members of Peace Lutheran for 51 years.
“When he came to us 25 years ago, he was a young person with a young family, and his personality drew people in,” Armstrong said. “It is really hard on the congregation to see him leave.”
Armstrong was on the committee that hired Kempe.
“We’ve been blessed to have him for 25 years,” Armstrong said. “It is hard to see him go, but we understand. He has touched a lot of lives.”
The congregation will hold a coffee hour between the 8:15 and 10:45 a.m. services on Nov. 17 to honor Kempe, who sees himself as a gatekeeper.
“People come to me because we have a relationship, and I can be supportive of them as they make their journey,” he said.Joan Cronk is a freelance reporter at the Herald.