Since this is my first newsletter article as Senior Pastor at St. John’s, I figured I should introduce myself and let you know some of my basic thoughts about ministry. My name is Seth Jersild; I was born and raised in Moline, Illinois, a city on the Mississippi River. My dad was an orthopedic surgeon and my mom had her hands full raising five of us.
I represent the fourth generation of Lutheran pastors in my family, on my father’s side. The story goes that my great-grandpa vowed to become a pastor while caught in a violent storm on the boat to America from Denmark. My mom grew up in Rockville, Utah, near Zion National Park. Her family were Mormons, but all of them except one of my aunts left that religion, or were kicked out of it. My mom became an enthusiastic Lutheran after she married my dad.
My mom died when I was ten years old. Her death was a shattering experience; it drove me into the hands of God and made me think about faith from a young age. My father then married a widow in late 1976. Dee brought two boys from her former marriage into our family, making seven kids total. I accepted my new mother and her Swedish Christmas traditions—including lutefisk—with open arms. My dad passed away from complications due to throat cancer at age 80 in 2007. Dee just turned 90 last June and still lives in the Quad Cities. I’ve been blessed with a close and loving relationship with my parents throughout my life, and I have wonderful brothers and sisters.
My childhood was filled with amazing experiences, in large part due to my father’s adventurous spirit. He owned a Cessna airplane and flew our whole family around on our vacations. I inherited my love of aviation from him. I’m very thankful my dad encouraged us to take risks and try new things. I continue to be very ac- tive physically and love swimming, running, biking, hiking, tennis, sailing, and working out at the fitness club. I took piano lessons from age six through college and was honored with the opportunity to perform as a solo- ist with the college orchestra my senior year. I love all kinds of music except country and rap.
I went to Saint Olaf, a small Lutheran college in Minnesota, graduating with a double major in English and Religion in 1987. I then moved on to graduate studies at the University of Chicago, thinking I would become a college professor. However, one night near the end of my first year in Chicago, I received a powerful call from God—more like a kick in the backside—to become a pastor. The choice seemed obvious to me; I just had not paid attention to it before. Not only was I passionate to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ; I also suddenly understood that many of my gifts and abilities as an individual could contribute to effective church ministry. So, I finished out my master’s degree at Chicago, and then entered the Lutheran School of Theolo- gy at Chicago for my pastoral training.
At LSTC, I met the amazing woman who would become my wife. Karen was the daughter of a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, so she has always been deeply involved and familiar with church life. She became a pastor in 1994 and served at a church in Darien, Illinois for three years. She later served as an interim asso- ciate pastor at a church in Bristol, Connecticut. Most recently she has been serving as a hospice chaplain, a job she loves. In August, she will start her residency as chaplain at Riverside Methodist Hospital. We have two children: Eleanor, our daughter, is 21 and is currently serving as an au pair (nanny) in France until May of 2019. Victor, our boy, is 19 and is living in Champaign, Illinois while he finishes up at a community col- lege. Career ideas for our children are welcome.
I’ve served as a pastor at three different congregations before Saint John’s: four years as an associate pastor in Homewood Illinois (a suburb of Chicago); nine years in Bristol Connecticut, and most recently, twelve years in the small town of St. Joseph, Illinois.
In the last decade I’ve come to share with most of my pastor colleagues a deep concern for the state of God’s church in our country. Steeply falling church attendance is a fact for nearly all mainline Christian denominations. Even the evangelical “mega-churches” are experiencing a plateau in attendance and involvement. Lutherans in America have seen a 33% decline in membership and an even steeper drop in worship attendance, especially among the younger generation. Many people today falsely believe that they can be Christian without the Holy Spirit working on them and in them through the everyday ac- tivities of the Church. Religion has become a personalized consumer product in our culture. We can already see our society fragmenting into an “every person for themselves” state where the loudest and most powerful people inevitably start calling the shots for everyone. People are lost in beliefs that lead nowhere except to slavery, self-righteousness, and survival mentality. Believers need to speak boldly and humbly now for Jesus Christ, the true King.
No congregation is immune to today’s societal trends. I pray that I am coming to St. John’s with my eyes wide open to the real challenges in front of us. In order for us to grow spiritually and be faithful, it will be more important than ever to always be mission-minded (Matthew 28). God wants us to actively reach out to those who are unchurched, including the next generation of our own congregation. He wants us to invite them into a Christ-centered family that loves and cares for them and speaks boldly about the Good Shepherd. The truth is that the more outward-oriented we become as a congregation (mission minded), the better we become at truly loving and caring for longtime church members whom we’ve known for decades.
I don’t come with easy answers, nor do I believe there are shortcuts, when it comes to building up the church. It’s always been about faithfulness to God and commitment to mission. We must continually return to the biblical basics of discipleship:
Daily prayer, by ourselves and with others
Regular worship attendance
Regular bible study, personal and group
Regular fellowship with others in our congregation
Loving service to people within and outside the congregation
Generous giving of time, talent, and resources, for God’s mission and for those in need.
As we engage in these outward-focused activities, I am completely confident that the Holy Spirit will use us in a powerful way to serve Christ, and that we will experience the fullness of joy in our midst that Jesus intends for us (John 15). I am so humbled and impressed by all that I’ve seen in St. John’s already—your loving care for the homebound and hurting, your strong ministry in the community, your powerful youth programs, your sense of connection to the larger church, the sheer volume of Christ-centered activity that’s always going on in this building! I feel so utterly blessed and thankful to be part of this church family. Please pray for Karen and me always. I will need your help and support constant- ly to do a good job as your pastor. I’m looking forward to getting to know you and serving you, and I will keep you all in my daily prayers.
Pastor Seth Jersild