I have a confession to make: Until recently I’d never been to Iowa.
Sure, I’ve travelled some, and have been to and through thirty-four states during various road trips and vacations spanning my forty-two years of life. Exploring different parts of the country is downright fun. And I’ve lived in seven of those states, including nearby Missouri and Indiana, along with other parts of the Midwest, South and East Coast. But, at least until recently, I’d never been to Iowa. And then, in late April, not so long ago, the phone rang.
It was a call from the Southeastern Iowa Synod, who had just been forwarded my pastoral mobility paperwork. They asked if I was open to exploring an opportunity in their neck of the woods. An opportunity that, at least on paper, looked like it could be a really good fit. The opportunity was for an Associate Pastor role, at Bethesda Lutheran, in Ames. After asking a few questions of the synod, poring over paperwork from the congregation, website and newsletter, then speaking with my wife Kathi, and praying – a lot – after two days of all this we said, why yes, we’d like to explore this some more.
Around this same time the Bethesda Call Committee, formed with a goal of finding an Associate Pastor, met to do many of the same things. They too pored over paperwork. They met. They discussed. They too prayed. And they watched a video of one of my sermons. And if you ever happen across Council President Rod Place ask him to tell you about his recent experience with a snake in the garden. He shared this tale with me recently; it’s a real life story of how the people of Bethesda Lutheran Ames, and me, a Pastor from South Florida awaiting call, came to be joined together. Thinking about it now as I write, surrounded by moving boxes, well, it gives me goosebumps.
After all this, the call committee said yes, we too see potential here, and they asked Kathi and I to come visit and interview. And before we knew it we found ourselves leaving on a jet plane, destined for Des Moines, with a car rental ready to take us thirty miles north.
And what did we find during our three days in Ames in the middle of June? We found a town full of kind people. Our family has lived in South Florida for the past 16 years. Prior to that Kathi has lived in or near Chicago for most of her life. We both went to undergrad at Valparaiso University, in Northwest Indiana. We both realized on this trip we missed “Midwestern nice.” Ames has that in spades.
While there we found Iowa State University, which is exciting to us for several reasons. Part of my sense of call is to connect with groups that can best be described by taglines like GenXers, Millennials, the unchurched, de-churched, atheists and agnostics. Many of these groups can be found, in large quantities, among young adults. And certainly among a Big 12 college with 37,000 students. In my previous career I worked for Nielsen, the TV ratings company, and absolutely love the challenge of reaching new audiences in new ways. In this last career at Nielsen we called it marketing. In this next vocation, as Pastor, it’s simply evangelism.
Kathi is also excited about Iowa State, but for another reason. She found out the university recently approved a Nursing program at ISU. Kathi has a PhD in Nursing, and has been interested in pursuing her own call, to academia, for some time now. It’s fun to imagine what that could look like for her, fun to imagine what those possibilities, as this new nursing program launches, could be.
We also found, of course, Bethesda Lutheran. We found a call committee, filled with passionate church members, excitedly sharing all they do, both locally and abroad. (Side note – mission to Tanzania? Cool!) We found Bethesda youth, who gave great perspective about the educational gem that is the Ames public schools. We found Bethesda young adults, on fire with energy about the emerging church, and what faith communities in the US will look like in the coming years. And we found retirees, the backbone of Bethesda, the group perhaps most adept at giving of their time, talents and treasures, more-so than most any other demographic. The South Florida congregations I have served in various capacities, including during my seminary internship year, are *filled* with high energy, dynamic retirees. Self-actualized people, living lives of meaning, lives of purpose. Lives as Christ followers, actively showing a disciple’s heart in all they do.
We also found Pastor Bryan, and wife Tricia, clearly beloved by the congregation. Pastor Bryan is a downright dream to work alongside as an Associate, believe me, I’ve been looking – (can you tell we like him?!?). We found Bethesda staff, who seem to know how to have some fun, all while doing what they do so well.
Heck we even found a house to live in (yeah!) and closed on that earlier this month.
We have a confession to make, Kathi and I. We found something during this three day visit to Central Iowa in the middle of June. We found something, for the two of us, for our seven-year-old Hannah and three-year-old Graham, and for our elderly toy fox terrier Chips. We found something we’ve been searching a while for. We found home.