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Vickroy: The quiet accomplishments of Pastor Bartz

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Updated: November 8, 2013 6:15AM



As quietly as he worked, the Rev. Robert Bartz drove off toward a Michigan sunset last week. But folks around Richton Park are certain, or at the very least hopeful, he’ll be back.

The retiring Bartz accomplished much during his 12-year tenure at the helm of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Richton Park. He restarted the preschool program, he helped send a school bus loaded with supplies to Haiti and he organized a much-needed, much-appreciated Thanksgiving dinner for seniors.

But what he’s most proud of is that he helped bring people — church members or not — closer to Jesus and closer to one other.

“That’s how I view success,” Bartz said.

But in a region awash with ethnic, economic and political issues, that often is easier said than done, he admits. Yet Bartz has been diligent about staying the course.

“He always had the same objective: to share Christ and build hope,” said Richton Park Trustee Gary Marquardt, who is not a member of Immanuel Lutheran but has worked side by side with the pastor on various community projects.

At the bottom of every email Bartz sent out, part of his electronic signature, was the saying: “It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus and it’s about doing good.”

At a recent going-away party, parishioners and community members feted Bartz and presented him with a poster with those very words.

“He was always there to lend a hand, wherever and however he was needed,” Marquardt said. He did so quietly, without a lot of fanfare.

In 2011, Bartz was among several village residents honored during the annual “I Make a Difference” awards presentation for his work on the Adopt-A-Block program.

Trustee Brian Coleman said Bartz is a patient, humble man with a unique ability to unite even the most disparate groups.

“His goal was to bring the church into the community and the community into the church,” Coleman said. “He galvanized a lot of people to care about each other and the community as a whole. I am truly amazed at what he was able to accomplish with just his spirit.”

Bartz organized the Coalition to Do Good, a project that engaged local business owners, schoolkids and government officials to buy, repair, load and ship a used school bus to Jeremie, Haiti. The group crossed political, economic and religious lines.

As a result, he helped bring aid and transportation to an impoverished district in southern Haiti and helped a Haitian pastor launch a new business.

Not only will the “tap-tap,” as taxi service is called in Haiti, enable locals to travel for work, medical or family visits, it represents a source of income for Pastor Jean Isaac Jacquet, who is struggling to feed and educate a growing number of orphans he has taken into his home.

Bartz said they expected such a project to run about $30,000, but so many people donated goods, time and talent that they were able to complete the task with less than $10,000.

“All I had to do was assign duties,” he said. “And every single person did what they said they were going to do. We didn’t have to have long meetings. It went very quickly, and we came in way under budget.

“The Lord opens doors,” he said, “It’s up to you to walk through them.”

Bartz was born in Green Bay, Wis., but rest assured, he is a Bears fan.

“My dad was a Packers fan,” he said. “I remember going to the Ice Bowl in ’67. It was so cold that the saliva froze to my dad’s mouth as he smoked his cigar.”

His father was a preacher, and Bartz carried on the tradition.

Bartz attended Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Neb., and then transferred to Concordia Teachers College in River Forest. He graduated in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

He worked for a few years at a bookstore and in 1981 enrolled in Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He graduated with a master’s of divinity degree. He was ordained the following November.

His first assignment was as the pastor of a church in Maryland. He then went to Culver, Ind., where he spent five years as a pastor of Trinity Lutheran.

In April 2001, Bartz was assigned to Immanuel Lutheran, a church whose roots were planted way back in 1852. Many of the graves in the onsite cemetery are pre-Civil War era.

“They bought this land from a farmer for one $50 gold piece,” Bartz said, while walking among the 15-acre square plot of land.

Back then the congregation was mostly German.

“As a rule, the German Lutheran culture is very reserved,” he said. “You have to earn their trust.”

Recently, Bartz worked to merge Immanuel Lutheran with Celebration Ministries in Park Forest. He was hoping to bring youth, diversity and longevity to Immanuel while simultaneously helping Celebration get on sound footing financially. Today, he said, the congregation is a microcosm of American society, representing all ages and ethnic groups.

Pastor Bryan Reeves, of Celebration Ministries, will serve as vacancy pastor at Immanuel Lutheran until a permanent pastor is named, likely by year’s end.

Bartz and his wife, Lindy Sue, have eight children. Their sixth grandchild is on the way. Their new home, in Three Rivers, Mich., will put them within an hour and a half of all but one of their kids. Bartz anticipates spending a lot of time with his grandchildren. He also likes to journal and expects that might lead to some writing projects.

“It’s a nice setting,” he said. “We’ll be able to watch the sun set over the lake from our patio.”



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