Ascension, Salem Lutheran opt to share pastor

Published 5:00 pm Saturday, February 25, 2023

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This isn’t the 1st time for the 2 churches to collaborate throughout the years

Mark Boorsma has stepped into a new but familiar role as lead pastor at Salem Lutheran Church.

It’s new because this is his first time leading the congregation, but it’s familiar because he has been a pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church for 16 years.

He even had a phrase for what’s happening: a holy experiment.

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“It’s experimental in the sense that we’re doing something that is new to all of us,” he said. “We’re stepping out into a new adventure and we’re willing to try things and we’re willing to — maybe in some instances — fail or stumble and then pick ourselves up and figure it out.”

The holy part of it: Boorsma argued it was Spirit-led.

This will not be the first time Salem Lutheran and Ascension have collaborated either.

“Over the years there have been things around which these two congregations have cooperated,” he said.

One result of their collaboration: doing their confirmation program together. That included holding classes at both Ascension and Salem and holding special services together.

“This was sort of an organic opportunity to talk about how we could do more together,” he said.

“It was probably a couple years ago that Salem sent out a letter to congregations in the area inviting people, inviting other congregations to explore the idea of shared ministry,” said Beth Spande, president of the congregational council at Salem Lutheran Church. “We are a very small congregation, and we needed to look at different possibilities other than a full-time pastor.”

The previous pastor resigned in February 2022.The church didn’t received much of a response initially, but Ascension seemed interested.

He wasn’t quite sure how he planned to split his time between the two churches, though he noted there would be an 8:30 a.m. Sunday service at Ascension and a 10 a.m. service at Salem. Prior to Boorsma leading Salem, both churches held a service at 9 a.m.

He also planned to have a physical presence at both churches.

“There was a concern by a leader of [Salem’s] congregation early in our conversations because I think he was imagining that I would only have an office, a physical space and a physical presence at Ascension where I already am,” he said.

He also didn’t plan to have identical sermons at each church, and argued each one brought their own personalities.

“It’s a little like asking if you had two Christmas dinners — would they be the same?” he said. “Of course no. They’d have a lot in common. They’d have a festive table, they’d have family, loved ones gathered around a table. They’d have a spirit of joy and celebration.”

He said when congregations got new pastors, the new leader would feel excitement and have new energy. At the same time, those feelings came with a cost: severing relationships with the current congregation.

But he felt this arrangement provided the best of both worlds.

“I get all the excitement, enthusiasm, fresh energy of serving a congregation that is new to me, but I don’t have to say goodbye to a congregation that I already know and love,” he said.

Boorsma’s familiarity with church was part of how he grew up.

“I grew up in a family that was active in the church and Sunday church service attendance was just a given,” he said.

At his church there was an older couple who treated the congregation as extended family, and noted they embraced all the children.

“I remember that they would sometimes end up sitting behind us in the church service, and we were a bunch of wiggly young people, fidgeting and so on and so forth,” he said. “Our mother — probably to help keep us quiet — encouraged us to draw little pictures.”

And that older couple started receiving some of those pictures, and eventually a relationship was formed. And when Boorsma was a senior in high school, they asked him what he planned to do with his life.

At that time, he considered a career in medicine.

Their response was that he would “pack it in with his preaching.”

He admitted that was a call for service, but he ignored it.

“What happens is you just say ‘No’ for a long time, and then it’s like the Spirit just sort of wears you down,” he said.

And so, after some time, he decided to look into the career.

“I ended up at seminary and loved it,” he said. “I loved the subject matter, I loved working with people. I loved that ministry is a service profession, and I’ve never regretted it.”

While Boorsma admitted there were some instances, including Bible studies, confirmation classes and worship services, that could be planned, defining what a typical day looked like was difficult for him. Instead, he believed the bulk of ministry was responding to need in the moment.

“Much of ministry is responding to what is presented to you in a given day,” he said. “If somebody is dying, often they didn’t plan that. If somebody dies suddenly, they certainly didn’t plan that.”

And though he did observe some of his colleagues in the ministry being involved in different things, he argued that impaired their ability to respond to things that pop up unannounced. But he also said ministry itself was intrusion, though he argued people had a valid expectation for a pastor to be there for them in a moment of need.

Spande has some experience working with a pastor for two churches, as her husband worked at a two-point parish. She also had familiarity with Ascension church, where her husband was pastor.

“I think it will work fine,” she said. “I have a great deal of hope for the future for both congregations. And Pastor Boorsma is very open and willing to share his time and to be a pastor for both congregations.”

Her sentiment was shared with Ellen Kohl, president of the congregational council for Ascension Lutheran Church.

Her biggest hope for the two churches sharing a pastor was that the two churches would grow closer together.

“One of the things that has impressed me through the process of meeting together as two councils and as two congregations has been the love and connection that the members have for their churches,” she said.

Boorsma was ordained in 1993, and his first call was in Peoria, Illinois, where he served for four years. He and his wife then decided to move closer to grandparents. His parents lived in Chaska, while his wife Mary had parents in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Prior to moving to Albert Lea, he served for 10 years in Cleveland, Minnesota, before moving to Albert Lea in 2007.