Payson's Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church organized almost 23 years ago.
Its congregation has hosted several pastors over the years, but it has only had two men called to serve it permanently. The first was Todd Arnold, who was with Shepherd of the Pines from 1996 until this summer. He left Payson to lead a church in San Francisco.
Steve DeSanto is the second; he stepped up to the pulpit at 507 W. Wade Lane on Aug. 10.
Both men came to the church fresh out of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo. Both men entered the ministry as second careers.
Arnold was a chemist and laboratory manager before going into the seminary at the age of 35. DeSanto worked in the technology field for 35 years, serving as an international business consultant the 20 years prior to making the change in his life.
"I started spending more time with my home congregation, working in the lay ministry," DeSanto said.
"I discovered my heart was there. It was where I received joy. My ministers suggested I investigate going into the seminary."
DeSanto took a brief retreat at the St. Louis seminary and felt it was the right place for him to be -- if his wife, Wendy, a physical therapist, went along with it.
She did. So, they packed up and picked up stakes in suburban Houston, Texas and moved to St. Louis and into the student life.
"It was quite an adjustment to live on a student's salary again," he said.
The couple's son Dominic, now 19, had just finished ninth grade when they made the move.
"Where we were, high school was just 10th through 12th grades, so he was going to be changing schools anyway, so it worked out well. There were actually more educational opportunities for him in St. Louis," DeSanto said.
Dominic made the move to Payson too, and according to his father, will be enrolling at Gila Community College soon. The pastor's wife is waiting for her Arizona physical therapy license to be processed right now.
When the leaders of Shepherd of the Pines knew they were going to find a new minister, they wanted someone who had chosen to be a pastor as a second career and were connected with DeSanto.
"I just had a brief phone interview with the church leaders before coming here," DeSanto said.
The Missouri Synod has a board that makes placements for the seminary graduates, he said.
"The placements are based on a congregation's desires and the seminarian's preferences to a point. Interestingly, it (the match) always works," he said.
DeSanto said he had never heard of Payson, Ariz. before being asked to come here.
"It is a great area and we are blessed to be here. We have found ourselves in a very loving and supportive congregation. They are making it truly easy to transition from seminary to pastoral ministry."
There are 160 baptized members in the Shepherd of the Pines congregation and between 120 and 140 of them attend the 10 a.m. Sunday service.
Assisting DeSanto lead the church is a board of directors, elected by the congregation, to handle the business side of things, and a board of elders, who are appointed to serve as spiritual leaders.
DeSanto will be further assisted by a new group of church leaders in Stephen Ministry -- a Christ-centered one-on-one ministry by specially trained members of the congregation. The Stephen Ministry leaders train other members of the congregation to be Stephen Ministry ministers. They work with individuals in life situations that require active listening and assistance in finding solutions.
Everything is confidential and is available to anyone within the community.
The program is just being organized now, DeSanto said. The church has four Stephen Ministry leaders trained. The next step is to seek out the congregation members who wish to be Stephen Ministry ministers.
Between eight and 10 members of the congregation will be trained in each class, which is held over a series of several weeks. DeSanto hopes to have the program operational by the holidays.
In the meantime, DeSanto said he is looking forward to getting to know more about the community and become more active.
Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church is at 507 W. Wade Lane, Payson; worship on Sunday is at 10 a.m.; at 8:45 a.m., Sunday, both adult Bible study and Sunday school classes are held. A men's Bible study meets at 8 a.m. Monday and an open Bible study is held at 10 a.m. Thursday. For more information, call (928) 474-5440.
To learn more about the Missouri Synod, visit lcms.org For more information on the multi-denominational Stephen Ministries, visit stephenministries.org.