Pastor Leith Anderson, who’s led Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie as senior pastor for nearly 35 years, announced Wednesday evening he’ll be retiring at year’s end.

Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty is a member of the church, which he and his wife have attended for almost three decades. Anderson married the couple and has a close, pastoral relationship with them, he says.

Anderson notes, however, the timing of his retirement has nothing to do with Pawlenty’s run for president. He does not plan to participate in his campaign, but will “retain a friendship and perhaps a pastoral role” with the former Minnesota governor: “I’m not going to have a political role or relationship.”

In fact, Anderson said he decided about a year ago he’d retire at year’s end. And yesterday he made it official, e-mailing this letter to church congregants and posting it on the church’s website:

Dear Wooddaler,

Almost 35 years ago, on January 1, 1977, I became the Senior Pastor of Wooddale Church. It was the beginning of an absolutely marvelous journey with God and with the wonderful people of Wooddale Church. You and other Wooddalers have blessed me and Charleen more than my words could ever describe.
Now it is time to retire from this chapter of our relationship and step aside as Senior Pastor on December 31, 2011—exactly thirty-five years.
My decision to retire at this time is the culmination of lots of prayers, thinking and planning. Wooddale Church is thriving. God is blessing. These are good days. I prefer to conclude my pastorate when all is well and turn leadership over to a new generation.
More details will come later but here are a few of the plans: July is my usual Study Month so I will be away for the next five weekends (David Clark from Bethel University will preach on the Eden Prairie campus and Gary Clark, Edina Campus Pastor, will preach on the Edina campus July 2/3, 9/10, 16/17 and 23/24; the Summer Missions Festival will be on the weekend of July 30/31). I’ll be back to preach at Wooddale most of the weekends for the rest of 2011 with my concluding sermon at our Christmas Eve services.
After the first of the year the Elder Board will appoint a Senior Pastor search team to discover Wooddale’s next pastor. My research and experience says that it is usually healthy for a congregation to experience at least 24 months after a long-term pastorate before a next pastor begins.
The Elder Board laid out pastoral transition plans many years ago. They are graciously planning a retirement event this fall and have asked me to assume the new title of Pastor Emeritus (that’s like “retired” or “former” in Latin!!) and Minister-at-Large of Wooddale Church. So, I will have an ongoing pastoral relationship at the future invitation of Wooddale elders and the next Senior Pastor.
So many emotions. So much to say. For now, let it be the two words that have so often been in my head and on my lips when thinking, praying and speaking to all Wooddalers over three and a half decades: Thank you!

With love,
Leith Anderson

Anderson helped build the church of nearly 1,000 into one of the most prominent megachurches in the country. Besides Eden Prairie, Wooddale has a church campus in Edina and established another nine congregations around the Twin Cities and in Nisswa, Minn.

Anderson also extended his own ministry beyond the church with daily radio and television programs, writing more than a dozen books, teaching in numerous seminaries and conducting an extensive national and international speaking schedule.