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After 25 years, Pastor Dave Peterson steps down from First Lutheran pulpit

Pastor Dave and Joy Peterson have made their home in Detroit Lakes since Dave accepted the call to serve the First Lutheran Church congregation 25 years ago. He will deliver his final sermon from the First Lutheran pulpit today (Sunday). Photo courtesy of Wagoner Portrait Studio1 / 2
The Peterson Family Band – with a few additional guests from the University of Minnesota — performed on the family pontoon for July 4 revelers out enjoying the lake this past summer. Several family members will be joining Pastor Dave to perform at this Sunday's worship services, which will be his last on the First Lutheran pulpit. (Submitted photo)2 / 2

First Lutheran Church Pastor Dave Peterson is an avid bicycle rider, so it's not too surprising that he chooses to use a biking metaphor to describe his decision to retire at the end of this month.

"I'm 're-tiring' — as in, putting on a new set of tires for the next phase of life's journey," Peterson said Friday morning, a little more than 48 hours away from delivering his final sermon from the First Lutheran pulpit.

He added that the 're-tiring' play on words was something he first heard while out biking in the Vergas area one day, when he met a man coming out of the Loon's Nest and they struck up a conversation.

"That's a good analogy," Peterson told the man — and it's one that he's used several times in the years since, to describe those days when he's needed to 're-tire' himself in preparation for a new phase in his ministry, or his personal life.

For the past quarter century, that journey has been one that Peterson has shared with his flock at First Lutheran — but now, it's time for their paths to diverge.

"ELCA protocol says, when a pastor leaves, they leave," he noted. "We just celebrated our 100th anniversary as a congregation... and now, there will be a new pastor leading them into the next 100 years. That's a good thing!"

As for what his own future holds, Peterson says, "I'll probably sleep in for a few mornings, then reorganize my workshop, which is a mess — and then drive up to northern Minnesota to get connected with my one and only grandchild, Maizy, who was born this past March 1."

Beyond that, he added, "I really don't know yet. I've done some thinking, I've done some praying, and I've had some people make some suggestions, but... I know I still have the passion, I still have the fire, and I'm here to serve the church and God's people. I just have no idea what that means at this point."

The desire to spend more time with his granddaughter, as well as with his wife Joy and their four grown children — Joshua, Daniel, Angela and Melody — was on the top of the list of reasons why Peterson decided the time was right for him to step down.

"The reality of being a pastor is that you don't make promises to your kids," he said, noting that while he would have liked to be there for all their important moments, he's often been called away to serve the needs of his congregation.

"That's not a complaint," Peterson added, emphasizing that he has thoroughly enjoyed his time as pastor at First Lutheran. "But I am looking forward to not being a 24/7 pastor, and having a lot more flexibility."

A native of Elbow Lake, Minn., who ended up settling in a community located a little over an hour away from his childhood home, Peterson says he was called to the ministry at an early age.

"I knew as a 9th grader in high school that the ministry was where I was being called... somehow, I just knew," he said.

Even after getting a bachelor's degree in music education, Peterson said, he knew he wouldn't end up in a classroom.

"I enrolled in Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa," he continued. "I graduated and was ordained as a minister in 1984."

His first call as a pastor was in Brainerd, where he would spend the next nine years before accepting the call to serve the First Lutheran congregation in Detroit Lakes.

"I chuckle a bit when I read the obituaries of some ministers, and see the long list of congregations they've served," he says. "My list will have only two."

And yet, Peterson noted that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of serving other churches in the area, on a temporary basis.

"I'm open to those conversations," he said, "but I haven't engaged in any yet."

One possible path may be a musical one: Peterson is a talented trombone player who is a member of the community bands in both Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids.

"My family and I will be providing the brass for our worship services on Sunday," he said, noting that music has played a prominent role in his life, as well as those of his siblings and children.

"My dad was the band director in Elbow Lake from 1953 to 1986," said Peterson. "Music has always been a huge part of my life."

Peterson said the public is more than welcome to come and hear him and his family perform at today's (Sunday) worship services, which will take place at 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. "They're pretty good," Peterson said of the other musicians in his family who will be joining him.

"This Sunday is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so it's going to be a really big celebration," he said, adding that the church is also planning to have a farewell gathering for him in between the services, at about 9:35 a.m.

"None of us knows what the future holds, but we know who holds the future — which gives us an opportunity to embrace that future with hope and optimism," said Peterson. "That's what First Lutheran is doing, and it's what I'm doing too. But after 25 years, we're no longer going to be doing it together.

"Opening doors to a new life in Christ... I was given that vision 23 years ago, and it has guided us (as a congregation) ever since. What are the doors that will be opening to us now? It's an exciting time."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

(218) 844-1454