Pastor Alan Field's parishioners at Mount Cross Lutheran Church are facing the end of an era and possibly the end to one of Payson's most beloved and fastest-growing Christmas traditions.
Field, who has served both the community and his congregation at Mount Cross since 1992 home of the annual "Drive-Through Nativity" mega-production for five years has been called to be the new senior pastor at Spanish Trail Lutheran Church in southeast Tucson.
Field's final sermon in Payson will be delivered Sunday; he'll take to his new pulpit in Tucson only three weeks later.
Whether the popular Drive-Through Nativity will survive his transition is open to some question, Field says.
"If someone else rises to the issue of leading it, I hope (the tradition is maintained)," Field says. "They've got a wonderful facility to do it; they just need somebody who can look at possibilities, play with stuff, and be flexible enough to make it work."
When Field started the Drive-Through Nativity, he recalls, "You'd be amazed at how many people said it wouldn't work. But the day after our first presentation, the main picture on the front page of the Roundup showed cars backed up all the way to Burger King to go through this thing that 'wouldn't work.'"
Field prides himself as "someone who colors outside the lines and dances outside the box." And it was for those very reasons, he thinks, that he was called to Spanish Trail, where the congregation of about 500 is nearly twice the size of Field's current flock.
In Payson, Field says, "I introduced here a more contemporary style of worship. Lutherans aren't renowned for stepping outside the box where worship is concerned, so we've really tried to make worship come alive for people."
That appealed to the administrators of his new church, he adds, because "They are really hungry for something that's new and different. In the past year alone, their congregation has grown by about 60 folks, and they've had 33 baptisms. This church is directly in the corridor of Tucson's growth, and that's an exciting place to be.
"I've done pretty much all I can do here after nine-and-a-half years," says Field, explaining why he chose to make the move. "We become stale, and we preachers are pretty itinerant. This is just a really good opportunity for adventure for both my wife, Tamie, and I."
Tamie Field has taught full-day kindergarten classes at Frontier Elementary School for several years, and is now pursuing similar employment in Tucson.
Born in Waterbury, Conn., 49 years ago, Pastor Field grew up in Scottsdale, attended the University of Oklahoma, signed up with the Marines, went to Arizona State University, went to seminary at the "rather late age" of 30, served for two years at Phoenix Children's Hospital, and spent eight years in a Stockton, Calif., pulpit. He finally landed at Mount Cross in 1992.
In Field's absence, the church will be assigned an interim pastor through the Lutheran call process, which averages about a year before a permanent replacement is seated, Field says.
In the meantime, Mount Cross won't be alone in losing its pastor when Field heads south. For seven years, he also has served as the sole pastor for RTA Hospice.
"The nurses there call me 'the Peace Bringer,'" he says. "I can't tell you how often I've enabled folks with permission to die in peace. It's just been a wonderful opportunity for me to share with probably 200 families in Payson. God's given me the gift to work with the dying. It's an interesting gift. I didn't realize I had it until (RTA Executive Director) Vicki Dietz asked me to be the chaplain seven years ago, and it's just come very naturally to me."
Despite Field's enthusiasm for his new job, he says there are many things he'll miss about Payson starting with his staff and the RTA Hospice team, directly followed by ... Safeway?
"Safeway is my touch with reality," he says. "When things get stressful, I walk through the aisles there. They're used to seeing me every day. In a town this size, you always see someone you know."
So, Sunday morning, what will be the topic of Field's final sermon in Payson?
"I have no idea," he says with a laugh. "I write my sermons on Saturday night."
A "Celebration of Thanks" for Pastor Alan Field and his wife, Tamie, will be held at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 26, in the Mount Cross Log Building to share a meal of summer salads and desserts.