Approximately four years ago, the Rev. Mark Bernthal officiated a wedding at St. Armands Key Lutheran Church. As he and his wife, Cyndi, a registered nurse, walked through the church grounds, they discussed the church’s beauty and its unique location on St. Armands Circle and joked about how nice it would be to serve at a church just like it.
Now, Bernthal is about to find out. After a year-long search process, the congregation of St. Armands Key Lutheran Church voted unanimously to elect Bernthal as pastor, a position which he has accepted.
Bernthal, a native of Winter Haven, holds a Master of Divinity degree from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, in Columbia, S.C. He is currently pastor at Lamb of God Lutheran Church, in Haines City, a congregation he helped found when he became its mission developer in late 1989.
Having served at Lamb of God for the past 20 years, Bernthal admits that saying goodbye will be difficult.
“As exciting as it is to anticipate a new beginning, it’s really hard to bring closure,” he said.
Bernthal’s current church is similar to St. Armands Key Lutheran Church, with a seasonal congregation of approximately 530, compared to St. Armands Key Lutheran’s peak of 600.
Bernthal will move to Sarasota in mid-August. He and his wife have a family of five children ranging in ages from 8 to 22.
The Rev. Eric Wogen served as pastor of St. Armands Key Lutheran Church from 2000 until his retirement last June. The Rev. Mark Hillmer served as interim pastor until July 5. Supply pastors will fill in until Bernthal starts.
“It’s going to be good for us,” said Lynn Blackledge, council president of the church. “Every time someone new comes, it takes us in new directions.”