Longtime Pastor Passes Baton at Sunnyside

December 07, 2015 | Warren Rushold

It is a long way from Beulah, N.D., to Portland, Ore. — 1,286 miles to be exact. It takes 20 hours and 29 minutes travel time by car with average traffic and weather. For Scott and Dorothy Lemert, it also took a career of 40 and a half years filled with about 2,100 Sabbaths and countless blessings serving God and shepherding His people.

Along the way Scott filled pastoral positions in North Dakota, Iowa, Idaho and Oregon. He held the position of Oregon Conference assistant to the president for 13 years before his final pastoral stop of more than five years as Sunnyside Church’s senior pastor.

Scott had intended to retire in spring 2016 after 41 years in the Seventh-day Adventist ministry. His plans changed with a significant medical event in March 2015. He suffered a stroke that produced left-side numbness and much anxiety. Because of his healthy Adventist lifestyle, he had no risk factors for stroke, leading his physicians (neurology and cardiology) to do testing that was beyond routine.

It was finally determined that the cause of the stroke was a congenital growth on the inside the left ventricle of his heart attached by a thin filament of tissue, which had either shed a piece of itself or a clinging blood clot. Cardiac surgery consultation, including calls to specialists in Chicago and at Oregon Health and Sciences University (OHSU), gave the verdict: Scott needed heart surgery as soon as possible. With the cardiac surgeon’s skill, the support of family and the prayers of Sunnyside members, Scott came through with flying colors. However, he would need considerable recovery time.

Early in the process of diagnosis and treatment, Scott decided to move his retirement up to Oct. 3, 2015. This produced a sense of urgency, as Sunnyside had just lost its associate pastor, Shirley Allen, to the Oregon Conference children’s ministries department, leaving only assistant-turned-associate pastor Jonathan Russell on staff, with support by the church elders.

With Scott's support and encouragement, a Sunnyside pastoral search committee was formed to work with the Oregon Conference to start the search for the next senior pastor and associates, while he was still in office. In September, it was announced to the congregation that Russell had been asked by the Sunnyside pastoral search committee and the Oregon Conference to accept the senior pastoral role at Sunnyside and he had humbly accepted. The congregation enthusiastically agreed.

Russell, with his wife, Jaclyn, started his ministerial career with a two-year internship at the East Salem Church, working under Gary Parks. This was followed by training at the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. After seminary, Russell accepted a call to Sunnyside to be assistant pastor with a focus on young adult ministries. Over the years, his ministry has expanded as has his family, which now includes three energetic children. They have been blessed by the graceful spirit and generosity of Sunnyside, and members have been blessed to have them ministering in their midst.

It very rarely happens that a senior pastor preaches his last sermon and retires and an associate pastor is installed in his place all on the same Sabbath, in the same church service. That is what happened Oct. 3, at Sunnyside. Warren Rushold, Sunnyside Church communication leader, reviewed highlights of Sunnyside’s history, head elder Arnold Petersen presented a well-deserved tribute to Scott Lemert, who then preached his last sermon. Then Dave Allen, Oregon Conference vice president for administration, installed Russell as Sunnyside’s new senior pastor.

Colby Maier was also introduced as Sunnyside's new assistant pastor for young adults and youth. The search committee and Oregon Conference continue to search for two additional associate pastors to keep Sunnyside moving toward the heart of God and His kingdom.