The Rev. Paul Sartarelli on Sunday announced that he is stepping down as senior pastor of The Chapel, one of the area’s largest churches.
“It was very difficult and very emotional, for both Sue [his wife] and I. The Chapel is our home,” said Sartarelli, 54. “We followed the Lord when we came to The Chapel and we feel like the Lord is calling us to something different, and just like we were obedient to the Lord coming to The Chapel, we want to be obedient to God in our next step of faith.”
Sartarelli said he plans to celebrate Advent with the congregation in December and address the church for three Sundays in January, presenting “lessons from my heart, which I consider vital.”
Sartarelli became senior pastor at The Chapel in 2009, after a three-year transition period. He began the transition period as associate senior pastor. In 2007, he became co-senior pastor with the now retired Rev. Knute Larson, who pastored the church for 25 years and now lives in Michigan.
Prior to becoming senior pastor, Sartarelli and his wife, Susan, spent eight years serving in church ministry at The Chapel, before leaving in 1991 to plant Riverwood Community Chapel in Kent. Sartarelli was serving the Kent congregation when he was chosen to succeed Larson as The Chapel’s fourth senior pastor.
The Chapel’s main campus is located at 135 Fir Hill in Akron. The church also has campuses in Green and Wadsworth. Each campus has a lead pastor, and all three campuses offer the same programs, services and ministries. The nondenominational church attracts about 4,500 worshippers on Sundays.
The Rev. Jon Platek, campus pastor in Akron, said that Sartarelli’s announcement was met with surprise and shock and that many tears were shed.
“When you’re part of a church that has had only four senior pastors in its more than 75-year history, you don’t expect to hear that kind of announcement,” Platek said. “I think people are still processing their shock, but everyone was gracious and understanding. And many of us are very proud that he is bold enough and courageous enough to step out on faith and respond to God’s calling, especially not knowing what the future holds.”
Sartarelli said that while he and his wife of more than 30 years are sure that God is calling them away from The Chapel, they are not certain where he is calling them to go. He shared that they have concluded, after much prayer and internal struggle, there are three possible areas:
• Church planting in Cincinnati (where their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter live).
• Ministry to the Dalits (untouchables) in India and ministry addressing human trafficking via a Washington D.C.-based organization.
• Ministry and leadership training in Europe and Milan, Italy, via a ministry based in Kansas City.
Sartarelli said that they will explore the possibilities further after leaving The Chapel.
“Church planting is still in our hearts and our love for God’s people and teaching the Scriptures will always drive whatever we do,” Sartarelli said. “A significant part of the difficulty of this decision is that all 28 years of our ministry lives have been dedicated to The Chapel in one way or another and every one of our divine callings in ministry has been connected to The Chapel, including this difficult one.”
Sartarelli said that depending on where God leads them, their next ministry may be an opportunity for partnership with The Chapel. In February, the Sartarellis plan to spend time in Cincinnati, Kansas City and Washington D.C., seeking God’s direction on where their next ministry will be focused.
During the next two months, Platek said the church’s board of trustees and leadership team, which includes the three campus pastors, will develop a transition plan to move the church forward.
Dale Bissonette, vice chairman of the board of trustees, said church leadership will be praying for the Sartarellis and God’s guidance on how to proceed.
“We’re trusting and counting on God to lead us and we’re trusting God to guide Paul and Susie as they take this challenging step. I don’t think there is anything greater than responding to God’s call, even if it isn’t clear,” Bissonette said. “God’s call on someone’s life generally doesn’t happen in our timing. So, we are feeling a sense of loss, but we are celebrating that they are feeling God’s call.”
Bissonette said he will miss Sartarelli’s ability to help people apply biblical principles in their everyday lives. He said Sartarelli is leaving the church in good financial and spiritual condition.
“We love The Chapel and only want the best for her,” Sartarelli said. “We’re waiting to hear from the Lord, but this could end up being more of a sending out from The Chapel to do a different ministry rather than us just leaving.”
For more information about The Chapel, go to www.the-chapel.org.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org