TEMECULA – Should he or shouldn’t he? That was the question Pastor Jim Kirkman and his wife, Jennifer, tangled with while deciding whether he should leave his post at a larger Phoenix congregation and accept a position as senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church on Pauba Rd. in Temecula.
The couple talked, prayed, contemplated, and agonized about the decision. Sometimes Kirkman said he leaned toward staying in Arizona; other times Temecula called.
He finally made his decision while presiding over a funeral at Christ Lutheran Church a few weeks ago. The deceased, someone mentioned in a eulogy, was a “champion of change.” Those words sealed the deal for Kirkman. He would pack up the car and head west.
“I had become comfortable, content,” he said in an interview at his new office. “It was time to move on and accept my challenges. I am delighted to be in Temecula and I am looking forward to my time at Trinity.”
Moving to Temecula isn’t the first – or biggest – change in Kirkman’s life.
A decade ago he entered the ministry after operating a fly-fishing business in Phoenix. After completing seminary at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. and working at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church there, he returned to Phoenix, where he ministered at Christ Lutheran, a church with 2,500 members, five pastors and a school with 540 students.
He presided over his first worship service at Trinity on March 16, which drew 488 parishioners.
Trinity Lutheran also includes a school for pre-kindergarten students – students who have already witnessed another aspect of Kirkman’s style and personality: the puppet-master pastor.
Over the years, Kirkman has acquired more than 20 hand puppets he uses to educate and inspire youngsters. His menagerie includes Plato the Platypus, Bruce the Moose and Phoenix the Coyote. On a recent morning, Kirkman grabbed Plato and headed over to Stephanie Wasserburger’s classroom, greeting children and letting them touch and talk to the puppet.
He also dispensed some timeless advice, “Be kind to each other. Be respectful. Be helpful. Jesus is your friend. God loves you.”
“It’s a great way to interact with kids and get them laughing,” he said.
Trinity Lutheran School Director Karen Preston, who served on the search committee that eventually recruited Kirkman, said she’s delighted he came to Temecula. She said that he will fit in well in a growing community comprised of young families. He’s already a big hit at the school.
“He’s a rock-star on campus,” she said. “The kids and families love him. I am unbelievably excited that he’s here.”
Kirkman may find himself in a new church setting but he said the keys to living a quality spiritual life are timeless – going back to the Bible and beyond. Those include daily prayer, reading the Bible daily for the transcendent truths it conveys and attending church weekly.
“Faith comes through the message of God,” he said. “You learn the message through reading. The Bible says Jesus went to the temple to worship on the Sabbath, as was his custom. If he thought that was important, shouldn’t