When he hears God call, the Rev. Brad Lauster doesn’t hesitate. He jumps right in.
“I have the gift of faith. I am not someone who has to be persuaded,” he said. “I’m like a dog when the car door opens. Wherever you are doing, I know you love me. I don’t want you to leave me behind. I am in!”
Lauster demonstrated that when Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton him to leave Indiana Grace United Methodist Church, where he had just started his 13th year as senior pastor, to serve as superintendent of the Washington District. He’ll step into the post left vacant when current DS Eric S. Park moves to Butler to serve as senior pastor at First UMC on September 1.
“My only aspiration has been and continues to be to serve Jesus and the church that I was privileged to become a part of since I was saved and became a Christian at the age of 30. However God wants me to do that, I have said yes,” Lauster explained.
Lauster has served as senior pastor of Indiana Grace since July 1, 2000. The church has nearly 1800 members and offers five worship services in three locations each Sunday. Besides contemporary services at the main church, there is a Sunday morning casual service at the YMCA and another on the campus of Indiana University of PA. In his ministry, Lauster has stressed the importance of community outreach and partnerships to reach new people. One such partnership resulted in the YChurch.
“In my heart, I know that we have the greatest mission in the world -- to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. Wherever we can do that, we have to try,” Lauster said. At Indiana Grace, he explained, “we have been willing to take risks; we have not always waited until we had everything lined up. Some things have not been as fruitful as others. But we say, ‘The bus is moving – Get on!’
“It’s easier for me because I have the gift of faith, and I am lucky to have a staff and leaders that found creative ways to meet new people. The Y service is drawing 150 a week now, and on campus, it doesn’t cost us a nickel,” he said.
Lauster has used a creative approach to providing so many worship and ministry opportunities. The Grace staff consists of one ordained elder and five licensed local pastors doing the work, he said. “We have people on the ground and they all specialize. They are local people and they are going to stay local,” he explained. “It’s much more cost-effective because we don’t need all the parsonages.
“My experience may be a help to the church, Lauster said. “I have found that as God calls us to do something, the resources are provided.”
In Lauster’s journey in ministry, God has provided individuals and district superintendents as mentors, something he hopes to be able to do in the Washington District.
It started in 1984 while he was working as a supervisor at the chemical company in the Meadville area. Although he had attended church as a youth in Kittanning, as a young adult Lauster’s church attendance was sporadic at best. His wife Karen had a relationship with the church, taking their two sons to Sunday School and VBS at Saegertown UMC, he said.
“One Sunday -- November 11, 1984--I got up and said I was going to church,” Lauster said. “My wife said she was going to let the kids sleep, so said I’d go myself. I may have slammed the door on the way out.
“On that particular Sunday, there was a young man a little older than me who had become a Christian a few weeks before. His name was Duane and he told his story. I think God put Duane there for me.
“Hearing him, every thing I was searching for in life, I suddenly found. The work of God in my life is just huge! I became a Christian, was saved and called at the same time. I never looked back, “ he said.
“Within three weeks, I told my boss I would be quitting at the end of June. (To enter ministry) I had to have one year’s worth of membership in a local church and my membership at First UMC in Kittanning had been expunged,” he said.
In 1985, he was hired by District Superintendent George Crooks to serve at Geneva: Faith UMC in the Erie-Meadville District.
“George Crooks and Dottie took care of me; they took me under their wings and he made it happen for me…He knew I knew nothing,” Lauster said. “Dick Hawke was at Stone church (in Meadville) and he mentored me, showed me how to do things. They were caring for the new kid.
“That’s part of what I hope to be as a superintendent – someone who believes in and acts as a coach to the women and men of the Washington District,” he explained.
Bishop Bickerton thinks he’ll be able to do that. “Brad is deeply spiritual and will be able to be both supervisor and pastor to the clergy and congregations in the Washington District,” he said. “One of the hallmarks of Brad's life is his trustworthiness and his integrity.”
The Bishop added that “Brad has a keen awareness and sensitivity for people and takes a genuine interest in the well-being of everyone. He brings a vast array of ministry experiences and deep insights to this new adventure in his ministry.”
Lauster is a graduate of Mercyhurst College and earned a Master of Arts degree from Edinboro University. He graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1989 and was ordained an elder in 1991. He later earned a doctor of ministry at PTS.
Before being appointed to Indiana Grace, Lauster served six years as an associate at Dutilh UMC, where he worked a few years with the Rev. Don Scandrol, now the Pittsburgh District Superintendent. In addition to Geneva: Faith, he has also served in Warren, PA at Epworth and Stoneham UMCs.
The work of a superintendent is something for which Lauster believes God has prepared him.
“I have had experience in the small church, a multi-point charge, was an associate at a large suburban church and pastor of a larger congregation. I have learned something of value in every setting or any circumstances. Things I have tried have either succeeded or failed,” he said, but he has learned from all of those experiences.
God has called (the people of the Washington District) for a purpose, and I want and I want to help them live into that purpose,” he said. “We may have to get out of that box a little bit.”
Lauster and his wife Karen expect to move into the District parsonage along with Brad’s mother, who is under hospice care at their home, in early September. One benefit to the move is that they will be closer to their two sons and grandchildren. Son Brian and his wife Elizabeth have two sons, ages 6 and 1 and live in Pittsburgh’s North Hills. Sean and his wife Bethany also live in that area.
The Lausters have two boxers and two horses and enjoy the out-of-doors, fitness activities and spending time together.