Pastors have played an especially important role in the lives of Joel and Dawn Sarrault for as long as they can remember.
“We both grew up in Lutheran congregations and were both influenced by good Lutheran pastors,” says Joel, a pastor himself at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Adrian, Mich., where he has served since 1999.
When he was in junior high school and felt the call to ministry, Joel wondered what it would be like to lead a congregation. He immediately thought of his own pastor, whom he had long admired.
Pastors came front and center again at a pivotal time in Joel’s life at the end of his first year in the Master of Divinity Program at Concordia Seminary. After a “very tough” first year of studies in the 1984-85 academic year, he was unsure if ministry was for him. His classmates were placing bets on whether Sarrault would come back in the fall.
“We both grew up in Lutheran congregations and were both influenced by good Lutheran pastors.”
– Rev. Joel Sarrault
It was another pastor, Dr. Arthur Graudin, now professor emeritus at the Seminary, who encouraged him to consider a summer vicarage. “I thought, sure, it’s better than going home and flipping burgers,” he recalls. Turns out his vicarage supervisor at Peace Lutheran Church in Shell Knob, Mo., gave him lots of ministry opportunities that summer.
“It was a mission church and I preached every single Sunday,” Joel says. “I got to write a sermon every week. I preached in a funeral home because they didn’t have a building yet. I did a Bible study on John’s Gospel on Tuesday nights in a member’s beauty salon. I taught confirmation for two or three grandchildren of one of the members. And I’m sure those kids wanted to be anywhere else, but I was teaching confirmation at my kitchen table in the middle of summer. And I absolutely loved it. When one of the members told me after a Bible study that he finally understood ‘grace,’ I was convinced that Jesus was nudging me into the ministry.
“That convinced me … this is what I loved doing. I went back to the Sem. I truly enjoyed my professors, my classmates and the rest of my time. So the Sem was a challenging but also a nourishing place to be prepared for parish ministry.”
Joel has been a pastor for three decades. Before his call to St. John’s, he served congregations in Scott City, Mo., and Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada. Dawn, who early on served as a teacher for a couple of years, moved to work in the retail industry. “I realized my heart wasn’t in teaching,” she says. “I began working in my mother’s quilt store and continued until Joel and I got married. Then, I was a stay-at-home mom, but always doing something in the quilting field.”
The couple has two grown sons, Nicholas, a truck driver in Texas, and Zachery, who graduated from Concordia Seminary and received his first call to Resurrection Lutheran Church in Cary, N.C., this year.
“In our society and our culture right now we need faithful servants in full-time church work.”
– Rev. Joel Sarrault
The Sarraults’ love for the pastoral ministry and for the education of pastors and other church workers is at the heart of their faithful support of Concordia Seminary as well as Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich., where the couple met and graduated. The Sarraults recently named Concordia Seminary as a beneficiary of their estate and have earmarked their ensuing bequest for the “Class of 1988 Scholarship Endowment,” which was established by Joel’s class. Distributions from the fund provide financial aid for ministerial formation students.
“We believe in what both institutions [Concordia Seminary and Concordia, Ann Arbor] do,” Joel says. “Both of them are very necessary, as they always have been. But in our society and our culture right now, we especially need faithful servants in full-time church work. We also believe that whatever we have in life, in terms of stuff and finances, it’s all on loan. God has loaned it to us. We don’t own any of it. We are truly stewards. In Matthew 25, the parable of the talents, it’s pretty explicit about the fact that we’re accountable for everything we’ve been loaned. I think the Lord is going to ask all believers someday, ‘So, what did you do with everything I loaned you?’ It’s our understanding, personally anyway, from Scripture that the answer to Him isn’t, ‘Well, we gave or left it all to my kids.’
“The answer should be, ‘I supported the ministries of Christ.”
Melanie Ave is director of communications at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis