Vista, LeSueur River’s search for full-time pastor concludes with first-time pastor
A GATHERING PLACE — LeSueur RIver and Vista Lutheran’s full-time pastor Brian Gegel invites you to his spacious garden for a time spent in connection with God. (Star Eagle photo by Rachel Rietsema)
By RACHEL RIETSEMA
Seated amongst his home congregation in Indiana, Brian Gegel felt an urgent sense of both an internal and external sense of call to become a pastor.
However, it just never seemed to be the right timing. Until now that is.
“There is faith and hope in the call of the church,” said Gegel, the newest full-time pastor for the two-point perish of Vista Lutheran and LeSueur River Lutheran churches. “There’s a little bit of anxiety in a new atmosphere, but I’m excited about being established in a new place and discovering what it is God brought me to these congregations to learn and do together.”
Originally from southwestern Illinois, Gegel and his wife Jane have happily settled into the character-filled parsonage that clearly has been loved for many years. The stewardship of the church is obvious, he says.
“This was a beloved home for the Espes,” he said. “We are the beneficiaries of that in so many ways. The parsonage and the churches represent an amazing abundance that God has presented.”
And so, after dwelling within an urban and suburban setting for 30 years, he is excited by the return to a slower pace of life, to the roots of his family really.
“Jane lived in a town of 400 people, while I lived about a mile away on a farm,” he said. “This farming and coal mining county we grew up in maybe has 25,000 people in it.”
How God also drew him to this area is kid related. Yes, this Midwesterner has a passion for youth and their unique faith journeys.
“We all had a hoot for Bible School just a few weeks ago,” he said. “I derive a lot of joy from working with kids, and seeing their enthusiasm, openness and easy faith in God.”
Also evident at both churches are the deep roots that go back multiple generations. He stands amazed at the historical beauty of that.
“I’ve never been associated with a congregation that has the cemetery right next to it,” he said. “However, we have been members of a church that has a field behind it, but never surrounded by them.”
Actually, before accepting his first pastoring call in June, his curious nature took him to a little online blog about Vista Lutheran Church. The pictures and prose he found there really spoke about the faith and wonder of the country church as a whole.
“Last night, there was a young man from 20 miles away parked at LeSueur River, when I stopped by to run off copies before running to Vista,” he said. “He came to that place because of the quiet and God’s presence. I could resonate with that.”
He has also hit it off with much of the congregation as well. Their welcome alone just goes to show how the love of God is alive and well.
“God is not just working within the walls of the church by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “God’s grace frees us to move outside of ourselves to be transformed and be Christ-like in the community.”
Like his congregations, he is striving to discover how to more effectively become a part of God’s work in the New Richland area.
“A previous pastor I know once talked about the church building as a tool box,” he said. “Essentially, it’s a place where saints are equipped through word and sacrament to go out and be God’s hands and heart in the world. That’s something I hope to move toward.”
As a leader, he also hopes to exemplify the true sense of welcome for all people and Lord willing, plant seeds of faith for the communion of saints.
“A very important aspect of ministry is hospitality,” he said. “It’s an extension of Christ’s hospitality in inviting us to the Lord’s Table. I want for people to feel encouraged and listened to, and prayed for.”
In response to the unfathomable nature of grace God so freely gives, he has given of his time and talents in the form of mission projects. So far, he has been to Birmingham, Alabama, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, London, Ontario and many more sites across the United States.
“It’s a very significant opportunity to feel the breadth of the church and how God is working across so many states,” he said. “I’ve done everything from roofs, to building porches, painting and doing drywall. It’s good stuff.”
More recently, he has been involved with the organization YouthWorks, which promotes more relational-type outreach programs.
“The youth and I visited with elderly folks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, cleaned up parks and even spent time studying the civil rights movement,” he said. “With the kids, we participated in African American worship services.”
While doing such things, that’s when he really felt a great sense of peace. Now, as he resides in New Richland, he knows this is what God intended for his life.
“After graduation from a seminary in Chicago, I waited for God to call me to a particular place,” he said. “I expressed interest in Illinois, parts of northwestern Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana. But, sometimes, God has plans for you that you don’t know about.”
Following God’s divine path here to Southern Minnesota, he anticipates the future and asks for strength to guide these two beloved churches he has been called to serve.
“God has brought me to a new place, but in a familiar setting that allows me to stay connected and rooted with family and farming,” he said.
Just the parsonage’s beautiful garden alone provides that sense of home and tranquility for him.
“Time with my hands in the dirt is a great spiritual discipline for me,” he said. “It's a place where I can quiet my mind and leave behind all the chatter of my day-to-day life. It's a place to pray and listen for God's voice and direction.”
It’s even a place to “hang his shingle” and be available for people if they just want to talk and visit.
“I discovered this when I had flower beds in front of our Hyde Park brownstone in Chicago,” he said. “A garden can be a place of meeting and reconciliation. I really appreciate the Genesis 3 image of God casually strolling in the garden's evening breeze, looking for Adam and Eve. Plus, it can be a place of beauty for all the senses, of momentous struggle and triumph (weeds), of abundance and productivity.”