March 18, 2024 at 11:35 a.m.

Learning to Let Go: A Conversation with Pastor Andy Kilps

The Kilps Family (left to right): Karen, Curtis, Bella, Andy, Graydon. Photo credit: Submitted by Andy Kilps.
The Kilps Family (left to right): Karen, Curtis, Bella, Andy, Graydon. Photo credit: Submitted by Andy Kilps.

By JENN GUTHRIE | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

As a young man at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse in 1998, Andy Kilps intended to blend his love for sports with his passion for helping others and embarked on a journey to become an athletic trainer. 

However, God had other plans.   

“I was enjoying college life, meeting new people and learning new things,” Kilps reflects. “It was during the latter part of the college experience that I felt the sense of call and change in my heart to do ministry the rest of my life. I didn’t know in what capacity exactly, but I knew I wanted to be a part of God’s work in the world.”

In 2002, he graduated with a degree in communications with a psychology minor, which was a good pre-ministry degree, he says, though he didn’t know it at the time.

The 43-year-old Madison, Wisc., native grew up in the Moravian Church – one of the oldest Protestant Christian denominations that is still active today. And, when he received God’s call, it was to return to the church of his youth, he says.

When he and his soon-to-be wife, Karen, met during their junior year at La Crosse, both envisioned a future together that would be led by God and not one of their own design.  

As Pastor Kilps and his family celebrate the 10th anniversary of their move to Hope where he serves as pastor for the Hope Moravian Church – the last remaining church of its kind in Indiana – he says there’s absolutely nothing he would do differently.

He recently spoke about the experience of becoming a pastor, the blessings and challenges of his pastoral journey, as well as his thoughts about family, life and learning to let go and let God.

HSJ: If you would pastor, please tell us a bit about the trajectory that brought you to the pulpit of the Moravian Church here in Hope.

AK: [During college] I’d been away about six years. God spoke and I felt the call – that impression that it was time to return to the Moravian Church and to be a pastor and help serve in that capacity. Now, that trajectory turned into going out to our one Moravian seminary in the U.S. in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania – in the eastern part of the state – and basically my wife and I were newly married about one or two years in, and we moved to Bethlehem. We were there for three years, and I received a Master of Divinity degree, which is required to pastor the Moravian Church. There’s a high value on education in our history.   

HSJ: What was that conversation like with your wife prior to the move?

AK: For Karen, she also had similar to me a renewal experience in faith into the college life. We were involved in the same campus ministry so we got to know each other through that. by the time we got together our junior year and started talking about life together the future. Already there was a strong sense of unity that we want to be led by God. We had a strong sense of it. By the time after we got married and worked for a year and a half and this call for me to come back to the Moravian Church we were ready – it was an easy transition.

HSJ: When and where did you minister following seminary?

AK: The first church was Palmyra Moravian Church in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, from 2007 to 2014. We call it South Jersey. We were there seven years as the first church experience pastoring.  We already had our daughter Bella – she was born around the halfway point through seminary. And then we have our boys, Graydon and Curtis – our Jersey Boys, we call them – they were born in the first few years out there. Now Bella is 18 and a senior at Hauser; Graydon is 15 and a freshman at Hauser and Curtis is an 8th grader and 13. They’ve been great kids.

HSJ: How would you describe the Moravian approach to life and scripture?

AK: There’s a lot of similarity with other Christian churches – taking the Bible and saying with faith, ‘Live it out.’ We are a Bible people. Again, some churches say you have to totally interpret scripture one way, we say be in the Bible, be in discussion with others, and let God lead you in faith. We are a church that over the ages says we believe the Bible is important to our daily lives.

HSJ: What was it like going from Wisconsin to Jersey?

AK: Living and doing ministry in Jersey took some time to get used to. It was a bit of culture shock. The most urban and packed community I’d ever lived in – very fast-paced. Kind of the stereotype of people being a bit more abrasive. Out there it was definitely a different experience.

It was a small congregation and the people had lived there for years. There was a sense that amidst the hustle and bustle of the abrasive culture that was out there, we found a lot of really loving and caring people and the life of the church, which was founded in 1863 – so, Civil War-era. At the time it was built, there was farmland all around and, over time, things were built up around it. So, literally right next to the church, there was a Dunkin’ Donuts on one side and businesses on the other side. There was a lot going on.

HSJ: Wow, so how did it feel going from that type of cityscape to Hope, Ind.?

AK: Coming here to Hope was totally different. It was a breath of fresh air for us to come here and slow down a bit. To have our kids here where they can run around and play – there is more yard here at this parsonage. There we were kind of landlocked. Here, we started to slow down and sense more peace in our surroundings with a lot less traffic and people honking like in Jersey. They use their horns there to communicate with one another. And here we are coming up on 10 years at the end of August, and so it’s been a really great place for God to bring us to raise our children and get to know some great people. We are a bit more historic here with the church established in 1830 versus in 1860 there. We’ve experienced a lot of neat things here.

HSJ: How would you say your ministry has evolved over the years?

AK: I think early on, I thought, ‘I am the pastor and I have this role of spiritual leadership.’ I’ve always been pretty earnest to do my best to be a good pastor and, as I look back, I think I had a bit too much anxiety and almost like – some control issues. Me needing to parse that out and say, ‘God is in control,’ I can offer support and spiritual nurture, but I can’t force it on people. I think in the earlier years I was a bit excessive. I am learning to try and calm down and settle down and realize God is truly in control and not me. If someone doesn’t want to come to church, that’s where they are at that moment. And it is OK. It should be more invitational and let the person make a decision instead of being confrontational.

As a pastor you have to share the word and get people in church, but people grow at their own pace and you can’t force faith. I am getting better at that as I get older and leave a little room and being more easygoing with my approach has been a bigger change for me, I guess.

HSJ: What are your thoughts about the role of the church and its importance in the community?

AK: There’s a lot of upheaval in the world in so many ways. I think the church, in our country, the life of church is offering our culture a stabilizing force and an anchor to feel more secure and a little more peace instead of being flung around here, there and everywhere by so many different changes. One can get this sense of, ‘I can have some peace and security through God and others in a community of faith where they are focused on caring for each other and loving each other through the chaotic times.’

HSJ: You spoke of learning to let go earlier, what else would you say has been the most challenging thing about being a pastor?

AK: There are so many different things I do and so many people I care for that can be overwhelming at times, am I doing enough? Am I reaching out to everyone? That can be overwhelming and at the same time not missing that opportunity to be there for people. And that can be difficult because sometimes you can’t always be there.

In the past, a generational image of pastors, they are looked at on a pedestal of needing to live a certain way and being extra righteous and perfect and while I know there is that standard, it is the realization we are people, too, and we aren’t perfect. But still trying to do what we can with God’s help and leave the rest in God’s hands. That’s a bit of that sense of peace at the end of the day, ‘God you are more in charge of this world than I am. This is your church Jesus, you’re the true leader here. I am trying to help out and lead people to you and we walk together but, ultimately, you’ve got this.’

One phrase I meditate on is, I will do my best and God will take care of the rest. I think that helps me to keep things in perspective.

HSJ: How has being a pastor shaped you as a son, husband and father?

AK: Learning to be less self-centered, which is so easy for us to do as people. In the ministry life, in the life of the scriptures and with God it is saying, 'How can I get beyond myself and be there for others?' That is what love is all about, not saying. 'This is what I need, and the others need to satisfy my needs.' Say, 'What are your needs? What can I do to help you?' As a dad, husband, son, I continue to be shaped in that aspect of authentically caring for others. I am still on the journey and there are days when I don’t do great, but I feel like as I get older with God’s grace and guidance I am doing that better.

HSJ: So, what do you like to do in your spare time – when you have some?

AK: I like to play tennis. I am also the assistant coach for the girls Hauser tennis team and head coach for the boys’ team –so there’s leadership in the community of helping kids to learn the game and I also enjoy playing. I’ve also picked up pickleball. And I would say I need to work out more. Graydon is the fitness guy in our family, so he helps me to stay on track with that. and also, just relaxing and watching a movie in the evening with family after all the busyness of kids schedules and basketball games. Sometimes just relaxing is great.

HSJ: Looking to the future of your role with the church, what do you see?

AK: Continuing to stay connected with the other churches and pastors in our community – like with the Ministerial Association, continuing to serve whether it is through our clothing pantry, Monday meal site, pre-school ministry, etc.. I want us to continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in tangible ways in our community and have a sense of openness and hospitality for everyone to know they can come and join with us on this journey with Jesus. We need to do it together. No one should do it alone.