It was back in 1972 that the Rev. Paul Andell arrived at St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church, at Castor Avenue and Pratt Street, as a young assistant pastor.
At the time, the pastor was the Rev. Joseph L. Schantz. He served for 28 years until he died of liver cancer at age 58 in February 1975.
By the spring of that year, the congregation voted on whether to make Andell the permanent pastor.
Some 87 percent of the flock gave the OK, and Andell has been in place ever since.
“I never thought I’d be here longer than my predecessor or that it would be my only call, that I wouldn’t have another church,” he said.
Known to most as “Pastor Paul,” his last day on the pulpit was June 12. He’ll retire as a young-looking 65-year-old.
Next week, he will drive to his new home in Minnesota.
The move to the upper Midwest will be a homecoming, in a way. In 1968, he graduated with a history degree from Augsburg College in Minneapolis. In 1970, he did an internship in the state, serving two rural churches that were 20 miles apart.
In Minnesota, he met a young woman named Pam who would go on to become his wife. The two raised a family in Northwood and wouldn’t have a problem retiring in the neighborhood, where the vast majority of residents take pride in their properties.
“I love Philadelphia and I love St. James,” he said. “I think it’s a great city, and I have loved doing ministry here.”
THEY KNOW THE AREA
The Andells spent their summer vacations in Minnesota, where Pam’s childhood home sits near a lake.
The couple have a big mortgage on that home, and Minnesota tax law requires somebody to live there half the year to meet the primary residence requirement. Thus, Pam has lived there six months out of the year for the last seven years.
The Andells spent their first five years in Philadelphia living on Pratt Street, followed by a 32-year stay on Wakeling Street in a St. James-owned home. They’ve lived again on Pratt Street since 2009.
Rev. Andell, who was born in Rhode Island and graduated from high school in Miami, will spend his free time traveling, reading and being with his family, but he expects a major adjustment. He and his wife will be living in the country, near the town of Aitkin.
“It’ll be very dramatic,” he said of the lifestyle change. “It’ll be one of the greater challenges of my life.”
The Andells’ new church will be Bethlehem Lutheran Church. He’s kept in touch with some members for more than 40 years, dating to his days as an intern, and has formed close friendships.
Still, the couple will also remain members of St. James. Their three children — oldest son Todd died in 1990 — and five grandchildren, ages 2 to 10, attend services at the church.
“We’re going to support St. James financially,” he said.
HE’LL KEEP BUSY
In Minnesota, Andell might have the opportunity to perform weddings or funerals, and he would probably accept an interim position at a church that is seeking a pastor.
Having worked in the big city for almost four decades, he thinks he can be a consultant to an urban ministry in Minneapolis. He has plenty of energy left and is in good health.
“I think I really need to continue, but I don’t want to do it seventy hours a week,” he said, noting his heavy workload at St. James.
Andell, a fourth-generation Lutheran pastor, will drive to his new home on June 29, but most of his belongings have already made the trip. His wife has been there for six weeks, and he will head out only with a car-full of books and papers.
The outgoing pastor has been busy of late, performing a dozen baptisms and only in recent days relinquishing positions as president of the Historical Society of Frankford and member of the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame steering committee. He also served for 21 years on the board of directors of the Frankford Lions Club.
As Andell leaves, St. James — which opened in 1926 and remains the largest Lutheran church in Philadelphia — has a steady membership of 500 households and 1,200 people. About one-fifth of the households are in the 19124 ZIP code.
“We’re a Northeast Philadelphia church. We don’t have parish boundaries,” he explained.
The interim pastor will be the Rev. David McGettigan, who was recommended by Andell and the parish council. Andell announced in February that he was retiring, and a task force has been looking for a successor for four months.
A COMMUNITY ASSET
Each Sunday, there are four services, including a growing 12:30 p.m. Spanish service that started last fall. As Northwood’s demographics have changed, the church has also become a little more diverse.
St. James hosts meetings for the Northwood Civic Association, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s also the polling place for voters in the 23rd Ward, 10th Division.
Over the years, more than $1 million has been spent for church renovations and improvements.
The preschool, founded 38 years ago, is flourishing.
Fifteen years ago, the church began training lay leaders as Stephen Ministers, allowing them to make hospital visits, pray with people and counsel the grieving.
Andell sees St. James, which also serves as a distribution site for the Aid For Friends food charity, as a “community” church.
“We’ve become a parish that provides hospitality to all people. That’s one of my greatest satisfactions through the years,” he said.
One major move took place last December, when 92 percent of members of St. James voted to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and join the 600-church Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ.
“It makes St. James more independent,” Andell said. “We’re all about the gospel and all about the mission, in the name of Christ.”
Andell will be missed by his congregation and people in the community.
Debbie Klak, a former president of the Historical Society of Frankford, described him as a fixture in the Frankford/Northwood area.
“It’s a big loss to the community and the Society,” she said.
KEEPING IT ALL IN FOCUS
Jack McCarthy, project director for the Northeast Philadelphia Hall of Fame, said Andell’s strength is his ability to make organizations benefit communities at large.
“In any organization, whether a historical society or a church, it’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day matters and lose sight of the more fundamental reason of why you’re here,” he said. “Paul keeps that bigger picture in mind.”
Sister Eileen Maguire, who has served as the parish social minister at St. Martin of Tours since 1986, said Andell works well with other people. She teamed with him and a former St. Martin’s pastor, the Rev. Anthony Janton, on a housing ministry. She would often see him at hospitals visiting the ill.
“He has an untiring devotion to the sick,” she said. “His heart is invested in the church and neighborhood. He taught me what it’s like to minister.”
Janice Mannal, owner of Mannal Funeral Home, said Andell has extraordinary pastoral skills, He’d often preside at a funeral service for an individual with no church affiliation, and the deceased’s family would always appreciate his work. He even filled in at the last second at a funeral at Deer Meadows when the chaplain became ill.
“Nobody does his homework like Paul,” Mannal said. “He is one of a kind. I’m going to miss him like crazy.”
Andell will be back in town in late September and early October to perform four weddings. He also has his children and grandkids in the area.
Looking back on 39 years at St. James, Andell has nothing but fond memories.
“The whole thing has been exhilarating,” he said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or email@example.com