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By Caroline Downs
Kenmare’s Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist and Nazarene churches have a long history as the congregations, buildings and programs have changed over the years and with the times.
However, the churches now find themselves in a unique situation with five congregations in town and perhaps only two pastors living in the community.
“There are at least 6,000 churches in America that do not have a pastor right now,” said Pastor John Fetterhoff of Kenmare’s Faith Baptist Church. “One of the things a minister brings is a level of credibility. He or she becomes the face of the church.”
One Kenmare pastor left a vacancy last summer that has yet to be filled, while a second pastor announced plans to leave in June 2013, only to revise those plans later.
Pastor Syvertson of Nazareth Lutheran Church, Kenmare,
and Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Bowbells
Pastor John leaves
for Iowa after Easter
A third pastor, Pastor John Syvertson of Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bowbells, will leave at the end of this month. He accepted a position in Spencer, Iowa, as the director of spiritual care for the St. Luke Homes & Services elderly care facility and will begin his new role the first week of April.
“I’m 50 years old,” he said with a smile. “It’s time I moved into a nursing home!”
Pastor John arrived in Kenmare in July 2009 as the interim pastor for the two Lutheran churches and stayed on in a permanent role. “I was planning on three to five years here,” he said.
He had no intention of leaving Kenmare and Bowbells this spring, but he did apply for the position with St. Luke Homes when it became available last fall because of his keen interest in working with senior citizens.
“I have a bachelor’s of science degree in geriatric social work and my first master’s degree is in geriatric spirituality,” he said. “Most of my social work career was with older folks. I worked cradle to grave, but [that age group] was my special focus.”
He looks forward to working primarily with a senior population again, but he leaves the two Lutheran churches with mixed feelings.
“I put lots of miles on my car every month,” he said as he ticked off a list of ways he is involved in the communities through the churches, including rounds at the Kenmare Community Hospital at least once or twice a week, weekly visits to residents at Maple View of Kenmare, and trips to see church members and others at Trinity Hospital in Minot.
Then there are the two youth confirmation classes, an adult confirmation group in Bowbells, meetings for the Kenmare Ministerial Association where he serves as president and treasurer, and visits to church members in Kenmare, Bowbells and now Flaxton after the Lutheran church there closed its doors and joined the Bowbells congregation.
He supports the church school and quilters’ group ministry in Kenmare and the youth group, quilters and prayer shawl ministries in Bowbells as best he can.
He also makes time most days to join the local coffee group at M&K’s Pizza Hub, a routine maintained by several of the older members of the Lutheran congregation.
“That’s where my calling has been,” said Pastor John.
Sharlet Jensen, church council president
at Nazareth Lutheran Church of Kenmare
Nazareth Lutheran may
have new minister soon
Pastor John’s departure should not leave Nazareth and Bethlehem Lutheran churches without a pastor indefinitely. The organization of the Synod provides a specific plan to replace that position when necessary, which includes a series of interviews with potential candidates.
As president of the Nazareth Lutheran Church council in Kenmare, Sharlet Jensen has been involved with the process. “Pastor Mark Narum, who serves as the bishop, has assigned a synod representative who met with us,” she explained.
Actually, the representative talked with members of both Lutheran church councils in late February to update the congregational profiles and discuss an opportunity to have a new pastor in place sooner than expected.
Jensen said Pastor Michon Weingartner of Augustana Lutheran Church in Minot was under consideration to move to the Kenmare and Bowbells churches. “Because of the [2011 Mouse River] flood and damage to the building, their church is merging with Christ Lutheran Church in Minot, which already has a pastor,” Jensen said.
Pastor Michon visited the Kenmare and Bowbells parishes on March 3rd. “People had a chance to hear her and meet her then,” said Jensen. “We’re hoping she would serve as the interim pastor, and if that works out, then the council would extend the call to her.”
Augustana will close its doors in June and, according to Jensen, Pastor Michon has told the local council members she is available right away. “If she comes, maybe it would be as soon as April, maybe in June,” Jensen said, “but she sounded very excited about the opportunity.”
Jensen noted the schedule for events and activities at Nazareth Lutheran Church would continue without interruption until a new pastor has arrived. “There’s a lot of pastor pulpit supply out there we can call on,” she said.
She was not certain where a new pastor would live yet, however, with parsonages available in both Kenmare and Bowbells. “Pastor Michon would look at both…and make a decision,” Jensen said.
Pastor John believed the transition could take place with little disruption. “I’m saying, don’t worry. It’s going to be fine,” he said. “Ideally, if everything went as planned, they could have somebody here by July 1st.”
On March 17th, members of Nazareth Lutheran and Bethlehem Lutheran will hold a joint service in Kenmare, followed by a potluck meal, to recognize Pastor John before he leaves the communities.
“It’s still a process of saying goodbye,” said Jensen, “but this is a great opportunity for John. He’s going where he needs to be.”
Pastor Kathy Hammond of the United
Methodist Church, Des Lacs Valley Parish
decides to stay
Pastor Kathy Hammond of the United Methodist Church Des Lacs Valley Parish in Kenmare, Donnybrook and Bowbells announced plans last autumn to leave the area at the end of June 2013, but reversed her decision by the middle of February.
She has served the three churches, living in the parsonage at Bowbells, since July 2008. “We were headed to Tennessee to live closer to our grandchildren,” she said, explaining her husband Wylie is retired from his former position at Minot State University.
Pastor John’s news about leaving Kenmare, coupled with United Methodist Bishop Bruce Ough’s renewed focus on the ministry in North Dakota’s western counties, caused Pastor Kathy to rethink her decision. Like the Lutheran situation, the United Methodist church has a procedure to replace pastors, and an interim pastor was planned for the Kenmare, Donnybrook and Bowbells churches until a permanent pastor became available in 2014.
Pastor Kathy was uncomfortable with elements of that plan. “With an interim pastor, it takes people time to build up a trust level with a minister, and then that minister is gone,” she said. “And with Pastor John leaving and the Church of the Nazarene without a pastor, there are not enough ministers in the area. When you’re a minister in a small town, you’re not just a minister in your church.”
Like the other pastors, Pastor Kathy maintains a full schedule. In addition to Sunday services in all three towns, she visits residents at Kenmare Community Hospital and Maple View and conducts services and Bibles studies there as part of the schedule shared by the community’s churches.
She assists with church school in Bowbells and supports women’s groups and Bible studies in all three churches. She also participates in a United Methodist Church ministerial association of pastors from across the region and serves on a conference CARE team to work with congregations facing crisis situations.
Her change of mind and heart surprised her congregations, and she is looking forward to serving the Des Lacs Valley Parish for one more year. “The Bishop wants to help us develop a ministry to the families and people coming here to be a part of the Bakken play,” she said. “Wylie and I did some soul-searching and we decided I will stay. It didn’t feel right, leaving these communities.”
Pastor Kathy’s schedule will be revised to accommodate the couple’s plans, which includes joining her husband occasionally at their new house. “When the weather starts getting rough, Wylie will go to our home in Tennessee,” she said. “I will work for three to four weeks, then take a week off and go see him.”
Joanne O'Neill & Beth O'Neill of Church of the Nazarene
Church of the Nazarene
While the transition between pastors is somewhat stabilized at this point for the Lutheran and Methodist congregations in town, the Kenmare Church of the Nazarene continues efforts to fill their pulpit.
Joanne O’Neill and Beth O’Neill are two of the church members who have devoted time and energy toward that goal, after Pastor Doug West and his family moved to Larimore in late July 2012 to serve a church there.
According to the women, the Nazarene Church has a system in place to find pastors, which includes matching information from the churches involved with resumes of potentially suitable ministers.
“Our district superintendent in Oakes [North Dakota] finds someone willing to come here,” Joanne explained. “Sometimes, that person will come for an interview, and we vote whether we want them to come here or not.”
“He’s still searching,” Beth said, with a laugh. “Lots of people are scared of the winters in North Dakota.”
Joanne acknowledged that asking a pastor to move his or her family during the school year could be difficult. “There are no prospects right now,” she said.
Worship services continue as usual at the church. “We have a lay pastor from Garrison who comes up almost every week,” Joanne said.
“He’s not a Nazarene, but he’s graciously given up every Sunday to do that,” Beth added.
The church keeps up with its other programs as well. Beth O’Neill helps facilitate the popular Kenmare Kings Kids Klub for children once a month, complete with songs, lessons, crafts, games, activities and snacks. Typically, those meetings attract up to 17 children between the ages of 4 and 12.
The Kenmare Church of the Nazarene is also known for its popular summer Vacation Bible School, already scheduled for June 2-6, 2013, and planning for about 50 children or more. “The theme will be Kingdom Rock: Where Kids Stand Strong for God,” Beth said. “We’ve started collecting things for our ‘castles’ already.”
Church members maintain visitation at Kenmare Community Hospital and Maple View and participate in the worship schedules there with the other churches to hold services and Bible studies. Joanne O’Neill and Layne O’Neill usually lead the singing and devotions for those sessions.
“It’s important to reach souls who don’t have a church home,” Beth said, “and to care for people. The members have to take on more responsibility.”
Despite the absence of a full-time pastor, the two women agreed attendance has remained steady at the church, with a few new families coming at times. “You do what you have to do to keep it going,” said Beth. “It works!”
Pastor John and Camille Fetterhoff
of Faith Baptist Church
Father Joseph Chipson of St. Agnes
and St. Anthony's Catholic Churches
and Pastor Fetterhoff
in Kenmare and Donnybrook
As the Lutheran, United Methodist and Nazarene churches face transitions, pastors at Faith Baptist Church and St. Agnes Catholic Church maintain their own schedules and prepare for additional demands.
Father Joseph Chipson, who also serves St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Donnybrook, would like to see the pulpits filled at all the churches in Kenmare so the local ministerial association could be more effective.
“We should have more meetings among the pastors,” he said. “That would be one of the ways in which we can be able to meet the needs of the people here.”
He conducts Mass and other services at the hospital and Maple View like the rest of the pastors. He is involved in the CCD classes for children and youth at his two churches, and working to start men’s and women’s groups.
In addition, he devotes time to visiting parishioners in their homes, particularly those who cannot go to Mass on a regular basis, in Donnybrook and Kenmare.
“Our senior citizens are not cared for as they should be,” he said. “It’s important even just to say hello to them.”
Faith Baptist Church serves about 180 individuals from Kenmare, Bowbells and the surrounding area, with Pastor Fetterhoff participating in ministerial associations in both Kenmare and Minot.
He extends his ministry directly through Bible studies, especially a men’s group that meets on a regular basis at M&K’s Pizza Hub, and support for the Mothers of PreSchoolers (MOPS) and children’s AWANA groups that hold meetings at the church. He also makes visits to the hospital and Maple View.
“We’ve already picked up services in both nursing homes and we’re at the one in Mohall as well,” he said, noting a shortage of pastors in that community.
Beyond the church walls, Pastor Fetterhoff coaches junior high and C-squad girls basketball and baseball for the Babe Ruth and American Legion teams, fills in as a substitute bus driver for the Kenmare school district, and officiates youth basketball, baseball, softball and football games in town.
“If you need a volunteer to do whatever and we’re available, we’ll do it,” he said. “The things I do in the community lead to other opportunities, such as building relationships with parents of the kids I coach.”
Pastor Fetterhoff viewed his school and community participation as a form of testimony. “It’s about being there for folks,” he said. “We follow up in the community and let folks know we care. Christ said our faith was to be public, and when we do that, good things happen.”
At the same time, he looked forward to sharing his ministerial responsibilities with other pastors. “Whoever comes here, they need to be called by God to come here,” he said. “There is such a need here for a lot of help.”
Schedules for worship services and other programs at the five churches in Kenmare, the rural Lutheran churches in the United As One Lutheran Parish, and other churches in the area are published each week in The Kenmare News, along with contact numbers and websites for additional information. Next week, Part II of this story will describe the needs these pastors see in Kenmare and the surrounding area as a result of oil and gas development in the region, along with the dreams the pastors have for churches here.