After 22 months, Meierding bids farewell to NR area churches
TOUGH TO SAY GOOD BYE — After 22 months, LeSueur River and Vista Lutheran interim pastor Paul Meierding delivered his final sermon there last Sunday. The Meierding family, from left, Paul, Erika, Karl and Jorun. (Submitted photo)
By RACHEL RIETSEMA
For the last 22 months, the two-point perish of the LeSueur River Church and Vista Lutheran has experienced an interim phase.
All the while, they waited patiently for a full-time candidate to come along, and finally, their prayers have been answered. But, before Brian Gegel takes the lead, the congregation must say a bittersweet goodbye to Paul Meierding.
“As an interim pastor, people often tell you they want you to stay,” Meierding said. “It’s an honor to hear that. It’s also fun to hear people appreciating my ministry.”
Meierding can’t get over how great this interim time has been. Sundays won’t be the same, he says.
“It’s always a good feeling to be connecting with all these people,” he said. “If I’m just worshipping in a church some place, my talents aren’t being used. I’ll miss that involvement.”
He added, “I’ll turn 65 in November. I do have a son in his senior year at Yale and a daughter in her sophomore year at St. Olaf, so I probably will do one more interim.”
In the meantime, he will undoubtedly break out his Nikon camera. The new telephoto zoom lens has to be broken in, you see.
“It’s really slick,” he said. “You can always explain what you’ve done, but pictures say it much more loudly.”
He’s actually used his photography talents to capture many moments inside the church.
“Four or five times I’ve sent pictures in to the Star Eagle and they’ve been printed,” he said. “The people absolutely love it. They are proud of the church. The pictures are also great conversation points for members of other churches.”
Collages of youth group adventures just so happen to be a big portion of these chats.
“We went on a bike trip last August at the Tunnel Trail in Wisconsin,” he said. “Last June, we biked the Red Jacket Trail. It’s good to do activities because otherwise you’re just sitting in a confirmation classroom all the time.”
Trekking the tunnel trail with the youth will be an outing he will never forget.
“These tunnels are located between Sparta and Elroy in Wisconsin and are actually one of the first railroad tracks in the country that was converted into a bike trail,” he said. “They had a blast.”
Celebrating the church’s 150th anniversary proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. It was actually kind of a high for him.
“Three hundred and fifty attended that worship service,” he said. “It was jam packed.”
He also had a chance to document more history in the making. This time, it involved taking pictures of their late 17th century organ in the disassembling process.
“There were some notes in the organ that didn’t produce any sound,” he said. “It really needed a major overhaul.”
Roland Rutz in Morristown, MN is handling the repairs. The project is expected to reach completion in August.
“In a way, I’m a little disappointed that I won’t be here for that,” he said. “I think they are planning to have a concert with a guest organist soon though. I do want to come for that.”
He also would be delighted to attend any other major celebration in the near future. But besides that, he believes it’s best to devote his Sunday time elsewhere.
“It’s important for the new pastor to really be the pastor,” he said.
Only good things lie ahead for these churches as well, he says. The cooperation between this two-point perish and amongst the congregation members is phenomenal.
“If both churches continue to do things to meet the needs of the entire family, they have a good future,” he said. “I think it’s really neat to have a group of this many kids in a rural church that are excited about being involved in Sunday School and youth activities.”
He has also witnessed the strong roots of their Vacation Bible School program.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve acquired a video projector,” he said. “So before the service, we did a slideshow of Bible School pictures. They really liked that. Another big development here is that we just hired Debbie Kemp for 4-8 hours of secretary hours per week.”
Just those few hours alone have tremendously eased the pastoral load for him. Because, when you’re leading a rural church, there are many hats to wear.
“One of the things the church has enjoyed is my singing,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of solos. On the 15th, my wife and I will do a number together. She will play the piano and I’ll be on vocals.”
Something he’s also emphasized in his ministry is the importance of prayer. He even printed up a calendar for the confirmation kids to keep themselves accountable.
“You can learn everything you need to know, but if you don’t know how to pray to God, what have we accomplished?” he said. “At the end of May, one of the girls asked if they could have cards for June, July and August.”
Now, as things are coming to a rapid close, he expresses his thoughts about the people he’s encountered in the last two years.
“There are really great people here and I’ve enjoyed them,” he said. “On Tuesday, the quilters always have coffee at 10 a.m., so if I’m able to be here, that’s really a fun group to visit with. There is just warmth in a church like this.”
At least for the foreseeable future, he plans to fill his wide-open schedule with quite a few endeavors. Some of them have been on the to-do list for quite some time.
“After I served 12 years as a pastor, I went back to school to earn my PhD in Biblical Studies,” he said. “I did a dissertation on the book of Acts. Now I would like to follow up on it and maybe put a little book together that focuses on the idea of mission and how to accept others not like you.”
More specifically, he feels the need to address the issue at hand in Acts. And that is acceptance of all people within the church, no matter what their past or current troubles are.
“For the Jews, the Gentiles were the outsiders,” he said. “The same problem is here today as it was back then,” he said.
Other than that, there are some rather intriguing projects and activities he’s just itching to get started on.
“About a month ago, I got a call from my relative Lois Meierding,” he said. “She wanted to know if I was interested in repairing an old pump organ that my great grandfather brought with him from Germany.”
Sure, he may not know all the secrets to fixing this 1885 instrument, but he’s going to find a surefire way to restore it. The Rutz Organ Company promised to help answer questions when needed too.
“I think it will be a blast,” he said. “Both my kids have taken a lot of piano lessons. Although, I think Karl would have a hard time getting his knees under there. My wife was actually the organist for her home church in Lake Mills, IA all through high school and took lessons at St. Olaf College.”
In between bouts of repair work, he is antsy to rebuild a fence back home in Mankato, add to his photo gallery and do more mountain climbing.
“For the last three weeks, I’ve also been riding bike for about 13 miles each weekday morning,” he said.
So, although it’s hard to say goodbye, life will go on. And, it most likely will include one last interim job in Southern Minnesota.
“For not living in the community, I felt really welcome,” he said. “They have treated me as if I did live here. This is the longest interim I’ve ever done, but I told them at the very beginning that I’d be here for as long as they needed me.”