At the conclusion of a raw and often emotional congregational meeting on Sept. 28, members of the Riverside Presbyterian Church voted by an approximately 3-to-1 margin to dissolve their relationship with their pastor, The Rev. Scott Jansen.
Mary Ann Sadilek, the clerk of the church’s Session or governing body, declined to release the exact breakdown of the vote, but confirmed the margin. Around 100 church members voted by a secret ballot.
Jansen, 52, who has been the pastor at Riverside Presbyterian for a little more than seven years, will serve as pastor until Oct. 16 and conduct his last service on Oct. 12. Then he will be on a paid sabbatical until the end of the year. He was not at Sunday’s meeting as is customary in such situations in the Presbyterian Church.
“It was a gut-wrenching decision for everybody involved, for both sides of it,” said Diane Chaney the chairwoman of the Session’s personnel committee. “It isn’t something that anybody took lightly. It was very hard.”
In the wake of the church congregation’s decision, Jansen addressed the situation very briefly.
“I just wish God’s blessing on the congregation of Riverside Presbyterian Church and God’s blessing on my future,” Jansen told the Landmark on Monday.
Multiple members of the church spoke for and against keeping Jansen during the meeting, which lasted more than an hour.
“There were members who spoke very passionately and from their hearts both for and against approving the dissolution, but the congregation was respectful of the views of those who differed from them,” said Sadilek who supported Jansen and wanted him to stay. “Everyone who wished to speak was allowed to do so.”
An emotional Marilyn Slanec spoke in defense of Jansen and wanted him to continue as pastor. She said that she was wearing the same dress she wore to her husband’s funeral, because of how helpful Jansen was at that time. Some supporters of Jansen reportedly claimed that some of the comments made about Jansen were slanderous.
Some church members, especially those not on the Session or not closely involved in the inner workings of the church, were unaware that the Session, and many other church members, had serious issues with Jansen’s leadership.
“People should have known,” said Cindy Reynolds the church’s financial secretary who spoke during the meeting in favor of getting rid of Jansen. “This was a surprise to some people, because everything was always kept secret.”
Reynolds said that the church should have addressed the issues with Jansen earlier.
“I did say that we all should accept responsibility for this, but the big problem was that we didn’t try to do anything,” Reynolds said. “Maybe there could have been a chance when we could have worked it out, but we waited too long. Now too much has happened.”
Issues with Jansen revolved around his personality and what many have described as an aloof personal style.
The church has lost some members during Jansen’s tenure specifically because of Jansen’s style and leadership. Some felt that Jansen was also slow to make decisions and was not a good leader.
In addition to losing members, some who had been very active in the church, Riverside Presbyterian has been spending more money than it has been taking in for years and has been covering its operating deficits by dipping into its endowment.
“The financial situation is an indication of the issues,” Reynolds said “It’s an indication of the angst. … It got the point where you didn’t see how it was going to get better without a big change.”
Jansen’s annual compensation package exceeded $100,000, Chaney and Reynolds said.
The church’s minister of music, Sally Sloane, and the leader of the Girls Group, Tara Gregus, reportedly spoke in favor of dissolving the relationship with Jansen and spoke of issues they had with Jansen.
“It was a rough meeting, but I think it’s for the best,” Reynolds said. “It’s not what anybody really wanted. But you can’t look the other way and ignore the issues.”
Supporters of Jansen asked why the church didn’t work with the presbytery in a reconciliation process, but that is an alternative the Session apparently rejected.
“Most of the people on the Session didn’t feel like reconciliation was going to be possible,” said Reynolds, who is not a member of the Session.
Sadilek, who has been a member of Riverside Presbyterian Church for 62 years, wanted Jansen to stay on and said so at the congregational meeting.
“I have great respect for Scott’s preaching, teaching, and care and concern for the members of RPC and will miss his leadership in helping us all to grow in our faith,” Sadilek told the Landmark in an email.
Jansen himself proposed the motion that was ultimately approved. The church will now begin the long process of finding a new pastor.
First the church will secure a “gap” pastor while it searches for an interim pastor, who could be in place by January, according to Sadilek. Then a nominating committee will be formed to find a new permanent pastor, who will be approved by the entire congregation. “This usually takes about a year, but does vary,” Sadilek said.