Last year, Sylvania United Church of Christ presented a lecture series titled âScientists in Congregations.â
This year, the church is getting its own science-savvy minister when the Rev. Sam Buehrer is installed as pastor at 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 24).
âIf I didnât go into the ministry I would be doing research in genetics right now,â Buehrer said in an interview this week. âThatâs what I studied at Heidelberg College as an undergrad. So thereâs a science piece of me thatâs pretty strong and I still have that interest.â
He found Sylvania UCCâs focus on science and faith to be a good fit, and for that and other reasons, accepted the congregationâs call to be its pastor. He had served just shy of 20 years as pastor of a UCC church in Galion, Ohio.
âEvery year I evaluate my ministry and ask how itâs going, what can I do differently. After that many years there I figured they probably needed a change. I had done as much as I could and I started to wonder if they might need a new person, a different person, a different kind of energy. Sometimes it gets a little too comfortable,â he said.
Buehrer wants to build on Sylvania UCCâs lecture series and said thereâs no need to draw battle lines between science and religion, as some people do.
âA lot of people in the church tend to turn their brains off because we tend to — well some of us tend to — read the scriptures way too literal,â he said. âAs a result we have a hard time trying to make sense of what we have learned in science.â
He said Sylvania UCC has a highly educated congregation and there is âan expectation that weâre well read and that weâll share it in such a way that it connects with our daily lives. Itâs not just a head trip; itâs also a heart trip, and the challenge is to make a better connection of the two.â
The church, which traces its roots to 1834, averages about 240 people at its Sunday services, he said.
Before Buehrerâs hiring, the congregation organized a 2013 lecture series named for the Rev. Bill Chidester, who was Sylvania UCCâs pastor for 25 years until his death in May, 2011.
While the Chidester series is not centered solely on science and faith like last yearâs lectures, the fourth and final talk in November by Daniel Spencer will be on religious communitiesâ response to environmental issues.
Buehrer, 51, grew up in Archbold, Ohio, a Fulton County village of about 4,300, and although he was raised in the United Church of Christ he and his family were influenced by the areaâs strong Mennonite heritage.
âWe were highly affected by the Mennonites, especially the peace side of the church,â he said, adding that Mennonite teachings on justice also had a lifelong impact.
At Heidelberg, he began asking himself a soul-searching question: âAm I using the gifts God has given me well?â
As much as he liked science and genetics, he didnât want to spend his life surrounded by test tubes, microscopes and computers.
âWhile I realized I had a science part of me, I also realized I was more outgoing than a lot of the lab people,â Buehrer said.
His extroverted personality and his deeply rooted faith led him into the ministry, he said. He received a master of divinity degree from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in Minnesota and began serving as pastor at Spencerville UCC in Spencerville, Ohio, before joining the staff of First UCC in Galion.
Buehrer said the United Church of Christ is facing the same challenges as all Christian denominations at the dawn of the 21st century.
âThereâs just a decline or the lack of interest by the younger generation. Having not grown up in the church, they donât know the value of what the church has to offer. So there is going to be more and more changes afoot in that way. The challenge will be adjusting to the changing demographics,â he said.
âWhy Iâm excited about Sylvania UCC is that they are willing to ask those questions and meet those needs in ways that many people arenât.â
Buehrer and his wife, Ellen, have two sons, Steven, who studied biomedical art at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and David, a student at Capitol University in Columbus.
Among the pastorâs hobbies are backpacking and canoeing, which have taken him to the mountains of Alaska and the bottom of the Grand Canyon.