Newspaper editor becomes minister

Published 9:24 am Friday, April 24, 2015

ROCHESTER — How does one go from being a newspaper editor to a Unitarian Universalist minister?

Now-Rev. David Kraemer, for eight years the editor of the Ames (Iowa) Tribune, explains: “It’s like Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road.’ Life is one long, steady stream with good adventures all along the way.

“A book about my life,” Kraemer said, “would be called ‘Adventure by Adventure,’ where I turn good newspaper stories into good sermons. So, it could also be called ‘Story by Story.’ Journalism, at its root, is about words and people. I like both. Ministry is much the same.”

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Kraemer was ordained April 12 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Rochester, only the second minister to be ordained there in the church’s 149-year history.

“At this moment, you are the newest Unitarian Universalist minister in the world! This is a moment to savor. You have worked long and hard,” said the Rev. Dr. Carol Hepokoski, the church’s minister since 2006, in the ordination service.

Kraemer’s nontraditional path to the ministry can be traced back to high school, when he read “Walden,” a seminal book that “turned me around” and sparked an enduring academic interest in American transcendentalists. But when asked if his life has turned out how he planned from those high school days, he said, “Hell no! I had no idea!”

Kraemer studied philosophy, then journalism in college, and held jobs at weekly newspapers, then dailies in Winona, La Crosse, Wis., and Racine, Wis. His first job as editor was in Ottumwa, Iowa, at the Courier. From there, he moved to the Ames Tribune, where he went on to launch a Sunday edition and an internship program, and to collect numerous awards.

Though journalism felt like a calling, after his sons were grown and his wife was offered a position in Rochester, Kraemer began to reassess his life’s priorities and interests. Church became more of a focus and things “grew deeper and deeper,” he said.

His call to seminary was not a “lightning bolt experience,” but a gradual meandering. A friend’s suggestion “first put the idea into my head that I could do this,” Kraemer said. That friend, chairwoman of religious studies at Iowa State University, had simply turned to him and asked, “Ever thought of being a minister?”

So, 30 years removed from his last classroom experience, Kraemer returned to school, at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and loved it.

Four years later, in 2013, he graduated with a master’s of divinity degree. In 2011, he began a ministerial internship at First Unitarian Universalist Church for just over a year. He then did a required one-year, full-time internship in Rockford, Illinois. He now serves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“Life’s a little scattered for me right now,” Kraemer said. “But a typical day consists of time meeting with congregants for planning or pastoral care, time writing sermons or newsletter columns, and attending board meetings. There is still a lot of writing. There are also a lot of night meetings when congregants can meet.”

A Unitarian Universalist minister is involved with social justice, action and the community — not too different from the job Kraemer did as an editor.

To him, social justice issues are paramount. So, too, are environmental issues. He has strong concerns about climate change and the oil economy. “We have squeezed every last drop out of the Earth and we are feeling the consequences,” he said.

Kraemer worked for marriage equality in Rockford before the state passed legislation legalizing gay marriage. In Sioux Falls, Kraemer’s congregation is raising awareness of race issues and conducting rallies. He has been in his role there since August and hopes to inspire change by being the “lived faith of the world.” He is also working with a congregation in Sioux City, Iowa, once a month.

For all of his global concerns, Kraemer says his most cherished family tradition is dinner. If he had the power to solve just one world problem, he says, it would be “getting people to listen to each other. There’s the old saying that none of us is as smart as all of us. We have to have communication to make it work.”