by Angela Busch, M.Div. Middler
How the rural parish pastor and father fulfills the Lutheran doctrine of vocation each and every day ...
It's Monday morning in late November at Zion Lutheran Church in Browerville, Minn., and Pastor Nate Loer , '03, is already at church. He's been there a few hours, moving tables into closets and generally cleaning up after the church's annual Lutefisk Dinner that served 200 people on Sunday despite one of the worst ice storms in Minnesota history.
"The clean-up committee doesn't know where the tables go afterwards," said Debby Abrahamson, church secretary and treasurer. "(Pastor Nate) takes care of the little things. He's the one who puts the church back together again."
Part-time janitor is just one of the many roles Loer has played in his nearly eight years at Zion. Browerville's population was just 735 at the 2000 U.S. census, and Zion was served by a multi-point parish pastor until 1980, when it became a solo call.
Being a Lutheran pastor in Browerville has always looked somewhat different than being a pastor at a large urban or suburban parish, where a church might employ multiple secretaries, youth and janitorial staff. Instead, Loer himself fills many of those roles. Abrahamson is the church secretary, but she works just one day a week for about three hours. The rest of the time, it's Loer who is answering phones and—in addition to writing sermons and visiting people in the hospital—making certain the day-to-day life of the church goes smoothly.
"When something is broke, I fix it," Loer said. "It might not seem like you are trained for a lot of these things in seminary, but they're important. I change light bulbs, de-ice the steps, move tables ... I really have seen that as another way for me to serve this congregation. I like working with my
hands. I pick up a shovel whenever I need to."
While his classes at Luther Seminary may not have taught Loer about construction, Loer has found new impact of his theological studies in his role at the rural parish in Browerville. He had always appreciated Martin Luther's writings on vocation, but after re-reading some of Luther's writings as a pastor and leader of a rural parish, Loer hears Luther's words in a new light.
He remembers specifically Luther's critique of pilgrimages and his words that, "Maybe if you had 10 hands and five heads you'd have time to take a pilgrimage!"
"Luther's words have made me more bold in really making that assertion of what important work we do in our families," Loer said. "It's made me more sensitive too, in terms of ministry, what people have to give up, for example, to go to an evening meeting at church. I don't want to give up bedtime with my kids, and I realize what other parents would be giving up, too. So we try to be very efficient with
our meeting times."
Of course, in a town of just 700 people, one hat Loer never seems to be able take off is that of pastor. Filling so many roles for so many people would be tiring for anyone, and Loer—while seemingly tireless—is not Superman.
He says he and his wife, Audrey, who works as a psychologist in nearby Long Prairie, help each other stay balanced by making time to talk with each other and share their triumphs and struggles of each day. They have their hands full outside of work, too. The couple has four adopted children from
Ethiopia, and the youngest, Amsale, has heart defects that will likely require multiple surgeries.
Loer extends his understanding of the Lutheran doctrine of vocation to his family life.
"I try to extend the same courtesy to myself as I do to my parishioners," he said. "I'm not only doing God's work when I'm inside this building or doing things on behalf of this congregation. I try to remind myself when I'm just simply being a dad and a husband and a neighbor, that's God's work, too."
Loer's philosophy seems to have rubbed off on the members of his congregation.
"When he and Audrey opened up to the congregation about (their difficulty having biological children) and their decision to adopt, it just brought us all that much closer," Abrahamson said. "Those children are such a loving part of our congregation ... his whole family is important. I'm sure Pastor could go anywhere else and probably get a higher paying job ... but right now he and his family seem very comfortable where they're at, and that makes everybody here happy."