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First Lutheran pastor resigns after liquor store incident

The Rev. John Simonson is seen in this 2018 photo. Marie Johnson / Forum News Service

The First Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes has started the process of replacing Pastor John Simonson and his wife, Rachel, also a pastor at First Lutheran.

He resigned about three weeks ago after criminal charges were filed against him for an incident at the Detroit Lakes municipal liquor store.

John Simonson joined First Lutheran in Detroit Lakes as an associate pastor in 2015, after three years at his first ministry in Killdeer, N.D.

He placed longtime Pastor Dave Peterson when Peterson retired in late 2017.

"We're looking for an interim pastor now," said Susie Reitmeier, business manager at First Lutheran. "That's how the Lutheran Church does it."

As Peterson said in his retirement story in the DL Tribune, "ELCA protocol says, when a pastor leaves, they leave." So he won't be serving as interim pastor.

The interim pastor serves for about nine months to a year while the church goes through the process of getting a new pastor, Reitmeier said. The process involves outreach to "see what the congregation wants," along with information about the size of the church, number of members, financial data, and information about the Detroit Lakes community. That all goes to the Synod office in Moorhead, which puts it out to eligible Lutheran pastors nationwide, who submit a resume if they're interested in the position.

Part of the process is highlighting the many good things about the community. "It's just like hiring a CEO ... selling the town," Reitmeier said.

Simonson, 38, was accused of stealing liquor from the Detroit Lakes municipal liquor store and scratching a person's vehicle with a metal object after an altercation with a woman at the liquor store on Dec. 20.

He was charged in Becker County District Court with gross misdemeanor third-degree criminal damage to property, and misdemeanor theft.

According to court records and the police incident report, about 9 p.m. on Dec. 20 Simonson allegedly had a verbal altercation with a Frazee woman at Lakes Liquor. Following the altercation, he allegedly used a metal object to scrape or "key" her brown 2014 Buick Enclave.

Video footage of the parking lot showed Simonson using a metal object to make a downward scratch near the passenger side front and rear door. He made a statement admitting to damaging the victim's vehicle. The cost of repair was listed as just over $593. An affidavit for restitution was served Jan. 29.

Video footage from inside the liquor store allegedly shows Simonson approach a display of "shooters" or mini bottles of alcohol, take an unknown number of shooters, place them in his pocket, and continue to shop. He then left the store without paying for the merchandise in his pocket.

His case is set for an omnibus hearing May 6 before Becker County District Judge Peter Irvine.

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