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'The ministry doesn't wait'

Two weeks in, and the new pastors of First Lutheran Church in Mitchell are already in full swing.

"The ministry doesn't wait," said Rev. Heidi Kvanli. "There's a lot of things to do."

She and her husband, Rev. Lon Kvanli, started in their new roles as co-pastors of First Lutheran on June 1.

"We were very much looking forward to coming to Mitchell, and we've had a very warm welcome from the congregation," Heidi said.

They were officially installed on June 8, and said they are excited to minister in Mitchell.

"We look forward to getting to know the community," Lon said, adding he's already on the hunt for a racquetball partner.

The Minnesota natives answered questions from The Daily Republic via email about their transition to Mitchell and First Lutheran. Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourselves. Where are you originally from?

We both grew up in Minnesota. Heidi's home was in Crystal, an inner-ring suburb of Minneapolis; and Lon grew up on a small farm just outside of Montevideo.

Q: How did you meet?

We met at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, graduating together in 1979. We then attended Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

We were married in 1980 and graduated from seminary in 1983. We were ordained about a week after graduation, and a couple months later our oldest daughter was born; in 1985 our second daughter was born. From 1983 to 1988 we served churches in Palisade and McGregor, Minn., (about 70 miles west of Duluth).

In 1988 we moved to Cannon Falls, Minn., and served churches in that area. A couple months after our move, our twin sons were born. In 1995, the bishop of Nebraska suggested our names to a congregation in Lincoln, Neb. We served there until 2001. That was when Heidi was asked to join the staff of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls. A few months later, Lon joined the staff of East Side Lutheran.

Q: How did you come to Mitchell?

First Lutheran was a congregation looking to fill two pastoral positions. Connections and conversations took place. The leadership of First Lutheran felt we met the needs of the congregation, and we believed God was calling us to join First Lutheran in ministry and mission.

Q: Have you ever co-pastored a church together before?

We've been Lutheran pastors for 31 years. Approximately half of that time we have served as co-pastors in the same congregation. So we have a lot of experience in this area.

Q: What do you think are the benefits/challenges of serving together in that capacity?

The main challenges are communication (e.g., making sure we don't answer for each other) and maintaining healthy boundaries between home and office. The benefits are numerous: shared values and beliefs, a mutual love and respect for each other and our varied gifts in ministry, a collaborative style of leadership, and providing both a male and female pastoral presence.

Q: What do you see as the role, in general, of the pastor at First Lutheran?

The most basic expectation of Lutheran pastors is to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments. In addition, we hope to join the people of First Lutheran in discovering how God has gifted them to participate in God's mission in this community and beyond.

Q: How do you see yourselves, individually, fulfilling those roles?

While we will be sharing the tasks of preaching, teaching, pastoral care, administering the sacraments and other tasks, we will each have areas of particular responsibility.

Heidi will provide guidance in worship planning and will be focused on developing the congregation's family ministries (specifically to expand the milestone ministry and equip parents to nurture the faith of their children). Heidi will also provide oversight for the congregation's health and caring ministries.

Lon will give special attention to strategic planning (gathering a group of people to discern the congregation's gifts and God's future for First Lutheran). In addition Lon will focus on holistic, year-round stewardship (recognizing that God has given us all we need to participate in God's mission).

Q: Many churches across the country are experiencing lower memberships/attendance rates. Is that something First Lutheran Church is also contending with, and if so, how do you see yourselves trying to stem that?

Like many congregations in the long search process for new pastors, First Lutheran experienced a dip in worship attendance (although membership remained constant). We hope that providing consistent pastoral leadership and ministry will soon lead to a rebound in worship attendance.