by Darren Diekmann
Last Sunday at Resurrection Lutheran Church in St. Joseph, the new full-time pastor, Jennifer Thul, introduced herself formally to the congregation. It was a day for which both the congregation and Thul have been praying for a long time.
The welcoming response by the congregation was another affirmation to Thul that she had found a church that was a good fit. She said she and the church share the same belief in the church’s role in the community and the larger world.
She is excited to begin her new role at Resurrection – helping people grow and develop, both young and old, and teaching a love of learning, especially with youth.
Getting Pastor Thul and Resurrection Church together was a long stretch for both parties.
The call process, as it is known in the church, isn’t seen so much as a hiring, Thul explained, but as a lengthy process involving several meetings with much prayer and trust.
“It is sitting together and having conversations about shared gifts and plans,” she said. “In all, it’s about trusting what God is up to, what God has in store for both the pastor and the congregation.”
In this case, it ended in the happy realization for both Thul and Resurrection they are called by God to work together.
Thul began looking for a new church in September. She has been pastor of Danebod Lutheran Church in Tyler, southeast of Marshall, for more than seven years.
“I felt my gifts for ministry and my sense of call to ministry and the context in which I was serving was no longer a good fit for Danebod,” Thul said. “I feel my gifts for ministry in the setting of Resurrection Lutheran Church is a good fit for them and for me. It just feels God is calling us to have a ministry together.”
The church’s call committee was excited and relieved to be able to agree with her. The members of Resurrection have had to exercise patience for more than a year-and-a-half since their full-time pastor of 21 years, Dwaine Bruns, retired.
“Though the transition was tough, it made the congregation stronger and ready to successfully welcome our new pastor,” said Amanda Lynn, a member of the call committee.
Lynn said the committee thought Thul to be relatable and genuine.
“She seems to be really great with the youth,” Lynn said. “We found her personable, she was so easy to talk to and seemed to listen well. She was so real.”
Thul said in the last couple of months she has discovered Resurrection is a place where she and the church can share and develop their gifts and beliefs.
“I have an incredible passion for life-long learning, for sharing the grace and love of Jesus Christ,” she said. “But not alone. I’m excited to do this in a community who wants to share Jesus with a broken and hurting world.”
She is impressed with the church’s outward focus
“With this church it’s never about a building; it’s about the people,” she said. “It’s not like, ‘Hey, we are Resurrection and we want your butt in the pew.’ It’s about being a shining light in a dark, crazy world . . . It’s loving people and walking next to them”
As an example of that spirit of outreach, she points to the non-denominational community meals several area churches provide for anyone who wants it. She was excited to be a part of that for the first time Dec. 15 at the Resurrection community meal they provide every year around Christmas.
She also mentioned Fare For All, a non-profit community-supported organization that sells food at a 30- to 40-percent discount. They distribute at several locations throughout Minnesota, including Resurrection.
“Food insecurity is such an important issue,” she said. “I’m glad to be part of a community that recognizes this and cares.”
Thul is also excited to continue Resurrection’s outreach to the St. John’s and St. Benedict communities with a renewed effort, she said.
This most recent move to the area is Thul’s 24th. All this moving has not been a burden to her, she said. She likes change.
“Some people say they have lived in the same place for 40 years,” she said. “I can’t imagine that. How boring.”
One particularly nomadic period was when she was young and the family moved around, following her father’s work until he settled into a position with the State of Minnesota in the New Ulm area.
“I call New Ulm my home town because when I was young, my family lived there the longest,” she said.
Her ministry position at Resurrection will be just her second. Her first, where she has just spent more than seven years, was at Danebod Lutheran. That was the longest she has stayed in one place in her life. So she is excited about the move, but is sad to say goodbye.
“My sister-in-law said it best when she said the pain of loss is a testament to the love and the relationships we had with the people in those communities,” Thul said.
She has not always had such a strong sense of mission to be a pastor. In fact, the call is relatively new.
After high school she spent five years in the U.S. Army, much of it stationed in Munich, Germany where she served as a Russian linguist and an interrogator.
When it was suggested this job seemed at odds with her current focus on love and community, she laughed and explained it wasn’t war time and most of the people were cooperative.
“I(‘ve) worked with people who were willing to share information about their country in exchange for an opportunity for a better life,” she said.
That experience, Thul said she believes, gives her a unique perspective on the refugee crisis today.
The Army also taught her a sense of community, Thul said. And it helped her learn to cooperate and get along with people, even the difficult ones.
After the Army, she became a teacher for 11 years. She first taught English as a second language for three years, then first and second grade.
That career choice, Thul said, was partly motivated by the contrast in quality in the teachers she had growing up.
“I had some terrible teachers in my life.” she explained. “But I absolutely loved my fourth-grade teacher . . . She cared about me as a person and saw the potential in me even when I didn’t.”
Thul said she wanted to be like her and show kids they are loved and respected. She wanted to help kids realize their potential— as she still does today.
She said she felt the call when a friend told her she and her husband were the kind of people needed in the ministry.
“I just laughed and told him, ‘No, my calling is in the classroom,’ So this was not the path that I chose. I thought I was fine teaching elementary school, but God had something else in mind.”
Thul said she believes being a teacher and a pastor are not entirely different. Much of what she does is still teaching because she is developing relationships and helping people reach their potential.
“I’ve never had a day when I thought, ‘ah this doesn’t feel right. I should be doing something different,'” she said. ” It’s an absolute joy and an honor to be paid to be in a relationship with people.”