John Syvertson to serve as interim pastor for Kenmare and Bowbells Lutheran churches
Posted 7/15/09 (Wed)
By Caroline Downs
Pastor John Syvertson, who begins his service as interim pastor at Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bowbells on Thursday, believes he was called into the ministry as a boy. His route to the pulpit followed a career in social work across two states, but as he approached the age of 40 he decided to meet that milestone in seminary.
“Six years later,” he said from his office at Nazareth Lutheran Church, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Pastor John was born and raised in Overly, North Dakota, and attended school in Willow City. He earned his degree in social work at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, then worked in Bottineau, where he focused on geriatrics, and Killdeer and Beach, where he moved through the ranks until he became the administrator for two counties.
At that point, he decided to enjoy the opportunities offered by the Twin Cities. He took a position for Hennepin County, concentrating on services for persons with developmental disabilities, until 2000 when he chose to heed his original calling and enter seminary. He completed his pastoral studies at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, with ordination in 2003.
“I’ve been in the ministry all my life,” he said. “[Social work] is the same call, just a different title. The hard part of social work is that you can’t share the Gospel or pray with someone to give them that extra hope.”
He described himself as a person with the ability to be compassionate and to listen, and he called himself a peacemaker. “Because of my background in social work, I’ve done a fair amount of counseling,” he said, “and just being present.”
These skills will serve him and his congregations well as the two churches explore the possibility of becoming one parish. “Our goal is to have two effective ministries to lift up the strengths of each individual church,” he said.
He smiled as he acknowledged the changes may not come easily or quickly. “We’ll get through it together,” he said. “My style won’t be intimidating to anybody in either congregation.”
He admitted a certain appreciation for life in Minneapolis, but Pastor John is happy to return to northern North Dakota. “I love the rural communities,” he said, explaining that his first call sent him to Lutheran congregations in Osnabrock and Milton, North Dakota.
Most recently of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Jamestown, the move to the Kenmare parsonage allows Pastor John to live near his family, including his parents and an aunt who live in Bottineau, two brothers who farm in that area, and a brother in Minot. “It’s important to be close,” he said.
Communication is one significant element of Pastor John’s ministry. He is planning to divide his time equally between the two churches, and he invites parishioners to get in touch with him. He can be reached at 385-4645 or 385-4646 in Kenmare and at 377-2652 in Bowbells.
He laughed as he held up his Blackberry. “If I’m not available, this is my office,” he said.
He also intends to continue a practice he started while in Jamestown, sharing a weekly e-mail message with members and friends of the churches. “This will be for both the congregation and beyond,” he said, adding that while at Immanuel Lutheran, current and former church members and friends from 11 states received his message.
The note will contain a devotion, prayers, a calendar of events and preparation for Sunday services. “And other information to pull people together,” said Pastor John. “But it will not replace the monthly newsletter.”
Beyond the church office
Pastor John is single and shares his home with two pet cockatiels, a four-year-old male named Monk and the one-year-old female Grace. He volunteered with the Humane Society at Jamestown and the Parrot Rescue program in Fargo, where Monk served as a therapy bird for several mistreated cockatiels.
Members of the Kenmare and Bowbells congregations, especially children, will become acquainted with the friendly Monk, who likes to meet new people and make himself comfortable on their shoulders. “[The cockatiels] are housebroken,” Pastor John said, laughing.
The churches will share the benefits of his Fontanini Nativity collection, a set of about 500 elaborately detailed pieces that covers five 2’x8’ tables when displayed each Christmas. Pastor John believes the figurines reveal many aspects of the Nativity story. “You can just imagine what else was going on in the community at the time,” he said.
When he’s not in the pulpit or the office, Pastor John will be found at local events. He listed auction sales, the Senior Citizens Centers and the Baptist Home as a few of the places he will visit, as well as school activities. “It’s important that if the kids of the church are in a sporting event, I go to support them and their families,” he said.
A former bicycle racer in the United States and Europe, Pastor John enjoys vacations with an adventurous or athletic focus. His most recent jaunt took him to Costa Rica four years ago, where he went horseback riding, kayaking and mountain climbing among other activities.
He likes the links, but he chuckled at his abilities. “I am a golfer, but I compete for the highest score rather than the lowest,” he said.
One original painting that hangs in Pastor John’s office reveals his commitment to spiritual health. Beginning in 1985, after watching a friend grow and change through meditation, Pastor John began an annual 24-hour vigil of praying, fasting and meditating at a specific location north of Medora in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. “You completely empty yourself and be filled with nature,” he said. “I do this for renewal. It’s amazing what you can come up with.”
He has returned to the same site each year for his vigil at a time when the weather is agreeable. Four years ago, during an art show at Jamestown College, he noticed a painting of a Badlands scene that looked remarkably familiar. He contacted the artist, David Brenth, to inquire about purchasing the picture and learned that Brenth had spent time hiking north of Medora in the same area of the Badlands where Pastor John maintained his vigil every summer.
Pastor John intends to continue his annual retreat in the Badlands, but moving to this part of the state, along with living closer to his family, has its own impact on his faith.
“Coming out to western North Dakota, I find this space to be very spiritual,” he said. “Here, you get away from all the noise. The people are very spiritual, too.”
Meet and Greet
Pastor John Syvertson will begin serving the Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bowbells on Sunday morning with services at Bowbells at 9:30 am, followed by an 11:00 am service in Kenmare.
After the Kenmare service at 12 noon, a potluck dinner will be served in the church basement. Members and friends of both congregations are invited to attend to meet and get acquainted with Pastor Syvertson.