Pastor Sain resigns position after 38 years

Staff Writer

Pastor Robert Sain, 65, is hanging up his white robe after 38.5 years of ministry. In early October, he resigned his position at Old St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Newton. Looking back on his journey, he says he wouldn’t change a thing.

Growing up the son of an apple farmer in western Lincoln County, Sain recalls his two sisters playing church with him. “We would play church, and I’d give them crackers and water,” he shared. “It was almost simulating communion.”

He enjoyed growing up in a simple time without social media, where church was the main emphasis. “I grew up in a time with three TV stations,” he said. “Church was our social outlet.”

Sain enjoyed singing in the choir and being active in the youth group. His youth group was very involved in the community— they even started the very first parade in Lincolnton’s Cat Square.

Sain decided to go into the ministry during his junior and senior years of high school. “A lot of it had to do with a connection,” he said. Sain said that his pastor, Al Mullen, greatly influenced his decision to preach the gospel. “His influence made me think for the first time...,” Sain said.

College at Lénior Rhyne sealed the deal. “I decided to go into the seminary,” Sain said. “I received affirmation from many people of what I’m supposed to be doing in life.” He became an ordained minister in June of 1981.

Since becoming ordained, Sain has served in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Before coming to Old St. Paul’s Lutheran, Sain served for 11 years at Messiah Lutheran Church in Hickory.

While serving, he helped his dad tend to greenhouses too. In 2008, when the economy took a turn for the worse, Sain’s father died leaving him to run the greenhouse business.

Soon after, he came to his present church, which he calls “special.” “I’ve been here for 10.5 years,” Sain said. “I’d say that my first call and this call are my favorites.”

There’s been “a lot of tears” over the departure. Even though his congregation is so beloved to him, Sain feels like it’s time to move on. “God is calling me and calling them towards something— I could stay here and be comfortable, but I don’t think that’s what God wants.”

He said it’s not just about saving souls, but drawing people into the Lord. “I can’t save anybody, but I can be the arms, hands, feet, and mouth that God uses,” Sain said.

Even while doing the Lord’s work, Sain’s had challenges in his life. He describes the past year as a “pivotal” transition for him after going through stressful times. In the summer, Sain was diagnosed with diabetes, causing him to change his diet and lifestyle habits. He also lost his 93 year old mother in February.

“It really brought my retirement into focus,” Sain said. He had a tough choice to make and didn’t make it alone. Sain thanks his wife of 15 years, Susan, for helping him through the hard times. “I can’t do anything without my best friend and wife, Susan,” he said. Susan, a hospice nurse, will continue working when her husband takes his new position in the spring.

Beginning in March of 2020, Sain is excited to be doing an internship at the very church where he began 40 years ago.

“I’ll be serving at Holy Communion Lutheran Church in Banner Elk a couple of days a week,” he said. “I’ll be the part time interim maybe for less than a year.”
He’s thankful for the established mountain families he’ll be serving. “Many of the families have been there for generations,” Sain said. “I look forward to serving them.”

After serving in Banner Elk, he plans to go back to farm life. His cause will have many facets of protecting farmland, growing healthy food, and keeping bees. “I’m going to use the rest of my life trying to preserve farmland,” Sain said. He’s also going to be growing crops for church camps in Newland and for the Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministries.

Also, Sain plans to explore beekeeping and possibly other things that may pop up. “It’s been quite a ride,” he said. “There’s been good times and down times. But I feel very content and at peace about what I’ve done with my life.”

Sain wouldn’t go back if he could. “I don’t have any desire to do a do-over.”