A lover of learning and history
Disarming. That's the first word that comes to mind in describing Rev. Eric Lemonholm, the new pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes.
Excitement about his work is obvious, as he discusses his ongoing project to visit the homes of every member of his congregation.
"I've visited about 30 families so far," he said. "It's been fun talking one on one with them."
This is Lemonholm's first calling as lead pastor of a congregation, after six years as an associate pastor at United in Christ Lutheran Church in Eveleth.
"It's been a neat role shift for me," he said. "Instead of deferring to a senior pastor, I've got to make the decisions now... it's a good opportunity to grow and develop as a leader. I've been enjoying it."
"Fun" and "neat" are words that come up a lot in conversing with Lemonholm about his work as a pastor, and his family's new home in Detroit Lakes.
"It's gone by fast," Lemonholm said of the two months that have passed since he and his wife Mindy brought their three children to live in Detroit Lakes in late January, when he was installed as pastor at Grace Lutheran.
"It's really fun living here," he said. "The parsonage is right across the street from the church, and next to the (Roosevelt Elementary) school. We can walk our kids to school, and I can just walk across the street for lunch every day."
Lemonholm has also been very impressed with the enthusiasm of his new congregation.
"The spirit of the people here... they want to reach out to the community," he said. "Mindy and I went to several churches (looking for a new calling)... there was just something about Detroit Lakes, and this church. There's just a real sense that they want to grow, and reach out."
Lemonholm said he and his family felt "very welcomed" when they first moved into the community.
He said one of the reasons why he became a member of the Lutheran Church, after being raised in the Evangelical Covenant faith, was that the very first time he and Mindy attended a church service at the Lutheran church near Princeton Seminary in Princeton, N.J., "They were so friendly and open we didn't want to go anywhere else."
That decision to change faiths required more education, however. After earning his bachelor's degree from North Park College in Chicago, with a double major in philosophy and theology, Lemonholm went on to Princeton Seminary and received a master of divinity degree.
But when he decided to become a Lutheran during his stint at Princeton, it would require an additional year of work at Lutheran Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa., where he earned a second master's degree in sacred theology, before Lemonholm could be ordained as a pastor in the Lutheran faith.
After graduating from Lutheran Seminary, Lemonholm accepted his first calling at United in Christ Lutheran.
"It was a co-terminus calling," he said -- which basically meant that when the senior pastor under which he served would decide to retire, his term as associate pastor would also end. That end came in December, when the church celebrated its move to a new building.
"He (the senior pastor) stayed until the building project was finished," Lemonholm explained. "He's now advisor to the church until they get a new pastor."
When Lemonholm accepted the calling at Detroit Lakes, he received some good advice from a fellow pastor.
"He told me during the first year (heading up a new congregation) to be a lover, and a historian," Lemonholm said. "Love your congregation, and learn its history. At this point, I'm still in learning mode, getting to know the people here."
He's also preparing for the unveiling of Grace Lutheran's own building project -- an 8,000 square foot addition that will roughly double its size.
"It's exciting to see the volunteers working together on this," he said. "It's been a real bonding experience for them... it's neat to see the camaraderie that's developed. And they have ownership in this building now -- everything except the geothermal (heating and cooling system) project and some taping of the sheetrock, will be done by volunteers.
"We're looking forward to putting that (addition) to use, hosting more events and inviting the community in... plus it will open up a space right next to the sanctuary for youth and Sunday school programs and activities.
"It's pretty exciting," he concluded.