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Guiding his flock to new future

When you place the word "interim" ahead of someone's job title, it often implies that their position is a temporary stopgap -- that they're there to fill in until someone steps up to take the job on a permanent basis.

But for Rev. Rob Nelson, his position as interim pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes is about much more than that.

"I'm here to provide transitional services -- helping the congregation prepare to welcome a new pastor," he said.

What that entails, Nelson added, is "to help them rediscover who they are as a congregation, and to refocus their ministry if needed."

Many churches today are faced with the challenge of needing to stay active and vital in an era of diminishing resources, and Grace Lutheran is no exception.

The Grace Lutheran congregation numbers approximately 450 people, Nelson said. "I think it's got a nice mix of ages," he said.

"Grace is a relatively young congregation -- only 45 years old," Larson continued.

Yet the space allocated to its youth and family ministry is relatively under-utilized, he said.

"One of the areas we're going to look at is how to best use that space for children, youth and family ministry."

Another goal, Nelson added, is to help the congregation re-establish the connection between church and home life.

"The home needs to be the center of faith development," he said. "It takes more than the church to help with a child's spiritual development -- we need to reconnect parents, family and church, (bring them) together."

Family outreach is one way Nelson feels that this connection can be re-established -- by "equipping families with the resources to take the living word of God they hear every Sunday, live it out and celebrate it the rest of the week in the home."

By re-establishing Grace's identity as a neighborhood church, doing more family outreach, and finding ways to make better use of under-utilized space, Nelson feels he can help guide the congregation and "give its members a new mission."

Once that new mission has been established, he feels the congregation will be ready to begin the search for a new pastor.

"Interims usually run between 9 and 18 months," Larson said. "Hopefully they will know when the time is right (to begin a pastoral search). By year's end we should know what direction they'll be going."

In the meantime, however, Nelson will be providing all the services of a full-time pastor -- from preaching services on Sunday, ministering the sacraments and teaching religious classes to performing baptisms, marriage ceremonies and funerals.

His regular office hours will be from 8 a.m. to noon every Monday through Thursday, but most of his time will be spent out in the community, ministering to his flock on a more personal basis.

"An average week is about 55 hours (of work)," Larson said, "but I'm on call 24/7.

"It's very exciting," he added of his new job. "These are very good people -- I haven't had a disappointing day here yet.

Pastor Rob and his wife Darlene Nelson make their home on Ottertail Lake, near Battle Lake. They have four grown children, and five grandchildren.

He is an accredited minister of the Northwest Minnesota Synod of the ELCA, whose past calls to ministry have taken him to serve congregations at Lands Lutheran in Zumbrota, Minn., and Immanuel Lutheran in Wadena.

But the ministry is actually his second career, Nelson noted.

"I worked in the North Dakota state government before going into the seminary," he said.

But eventually, he found his true direction in life, and now, he hopes to help the congregation of Grace Lutheran to do the same.

"It's my challenge to the congregation and church leadership that they have to know what direction their going in the ministry before they can call a new pastor," he said.

But with a little guidance, both here on Earth and from above, they should soon find that path to the future.

"I'm always amazed at the Holy Spirit's leadership, and where it might be taking us," Nelson said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454