Zion Lutheran Church of Amor, Battle Lake, Minn., has been in mission in Otter Tail County, part of "Minnesota Lake Country" in the northwestern part of the state, for nearly 130 years. It hasn't been welcoming interns for quite that long, but it is definitely an experienced internship congregation. Those privileged to serve their internship at Zion always come back knowing that they were blessed by being in this supportive congregation. We tried to get to know the place better by posing a few questions to Zion Pastor Jim Gronbeck and 2010-11 intern Phil Roushey.
First of all, help us get acquainted with the two of you.
Pastor Jim: I am a graduate of Luther Seminary (1984), Moorhead State University, and have spent my ministry in rural areas. My first parish was in Cromwell/Wright, MN (1984-1991) and I have been at Zion of Amor since 1991. My internship was an extremely positive experience in Novato, CA, where I learned a great deal about ministry in an area where Christians made up only about 20 percent of the population. My wife Julie and I have three grown children: Matt, Andrea, and Kristen. Matt and Andrea will both be getting married at Zion this coming summer, so we have a busy year ahead of us! Kristen is a student at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.
Intern Phil: There are a couple things it would probably be nice to know. The first is that I'm married. My wife Rachel works here in the local school district. My wife and I are both from small towns in upstate New York, so although we're used to living in small towns, we're not originally Midwesterners. We moved to Minnesota in 2008, right after we got married. I majored in biblical studies as an undergrad, back in New York. So I've been on the path toward ordained ministry for a while.
I'm also big into kayaking. I spent a good chunk of time this fall exploring area lakes and rivers. I plan on doing more of that this spring.
Now tell us something about the congregation.
Pastor Jim: We are a rural church in terms of our location—10 miles north of Battle Lake, MN—but we are right in the middle of the lakes country of Otter Tail County. We add a service from April to October when we have a large influx of summer visitors. We have regular visitors who have cabins on the lakes surrounding the church and many of them worship here regularly each summer. They attend Bible studies, take part in fellowship activities, and consider this their summer church home. We have had a number of weddings for our regular summer visitors over the years, and even baptisms. We also have a large number of 'snowbirds' who are here for approximately six months or so a year then go south when the weather gets cold. We really don't have a quiet or slow time during the year as the summer is busy with our visitors and the regular activities keep us busy with our year around residents and members. Our membership has transformed over the past 20 years to include many retirees who have moved to their lake homes full-time and are very active in Zion's ministry. They add a lot of new ideas, wisdom, insights and enthusiasm. We are also seeing people move into the rural areas for the great quality of life that is present here.
Of course the internship program has been a very exciting part of our ministry. Phil Roushey is our twelfth intern. We see ourselves as a teaching congregation for future pastors who are interested in exploring rural ministry and we also understand our ministry with interns as something we can do for the ELCA at large as we give future pastors a positive experience in rural ministry, encouraging them to seek a call in a rural parish.
Intern Phil: I think the setting is a unique characteristic of Zion. We've got some pretty remarkable natural surroundings which is a big draw for people to come to the area. There are lakes everywhere and a lot of people want to get out and enjoy the beauty of the area.
If you looked at the setting at Zion and then witnessed a week here, you might be surprised. Although the church is well outside town, the church is definitely a gathering place throughout the week. Some of it is fellowship, but there are tons of service or mission things going on here. They take discipleship very seriously. Even if you're only here for a few months of the year, people get involved. There are groups that gather to be equipped for a variety of ministries during the week and then people are sent out across the area. It's exciting to see so many people who feel a sense of ownership of the ministries of their church.
Pastor Jim, Zion has been hosting interns for a number of years. How has this become a priority for the congregation? A priority for you personally? What do you get out of supervising? What advice would you give to new supervisors?
Pastor Jim: Zion takes great joy in teaching the interns and letting them experience ministry in an environment where they are free to try new things, grow in confidence and experience all aspects of parish ministry. The congregation warmly welcomes the interns and their families and takes great interest in their development as pastors.
I am excited to share ministry with our interns, watch them develop their skills, and give them the same kind of well-rounded, positive experience that I had on my internship. It is gratifying to see the interns as pastors in parishes around the Midwest and know we have been a part of their growth as pastors. I also enjoy the discussions and interaction with each intern as I learn so much from them and am able to keep my skills fresh and stay abreast of the new teaching and insights they bring with them.
Advice: Let the intern have the ability to try new things, grow, and even fail, in an atmosphere of learning, collegiality and be open to growth in your own ministry! Let the intern be involved in all aspects of ministry and help them to grow and gain confidence in their skills. These students have a very good theological background—give them the freedom to grow!
Phil, how does Zion compare to other congregations you have known? What is most satisfying to you about your internship?
Intern Phil: think the fact that people come from all over contributes to a welcoming culture. So many people of the congregation are from somewhere else. Many have had their professional lives, raised their families in other parts of the state and bring their experiences and gifts to Zion. The "lake people" who are here in the summer also make the dynamic interesting. I've seen how the church changes during my first few months. As the weather changes, so does the church. A lot of people go south, or have winter homes elsewhere. They're here in the summer to enjoy the lakes. As an intern I get to experience some of that lake culture myself. The intern house is on a lake about five miles from Zion, which is really nice.
Zion's had a long list of interns. I'm number twelve for this site. Learning has just become part of the DNA of this congregation. People know the drill of internship here, and I feel like I'm given the space to learn, create and experiment. As an intern I feel like I'm encouraged to let my gifts and talents in ministry come forward. That's the most satisfying part of internship for me. I'm given the freedom to learn and be a student and a pastoral leader, without confusion of roles or expectations. It's a great to feel freedom to explore and discover this thing called pastoral leadership with a good group of people around you.