Pastor on redial
The Rev. Heidi Heimgartner, associate pastor at First Lutheran Church of Blooming Prairie for the past 16 years, has a new calling.
She officially began her duties on Wednesday, Nov. 15, as the new senior pastor at First Lutheran Church of Blooming Prairie.
"You're on redial! GET IT, THEY CALLED AGAIN?" said Pastor Heimgartner’s husband Paul while analyzing his wife's new pastoral responsibility. Just a month ago, members of First Lutheran Church at a congregational meeting voted overwhelmingly to call her as First Lutheran's senior pastor.
She replaces the Rev. Charles Leonard, who accepted a call to another Lutheran church in Rochester last December. According to church records, Pastor Heimgartner becomes the first woman senior pastor in the history of First Lutheran Church.
Pastor Heimgartner will be installed into her new position at a 9 a.m. church service on Sunday, Dec. 17. The Rev. Susan Miller will preach and represent the Southeastern Minnesota Synod at the installation. A brunch will be served following the church service.
First Lutheran Church is not a small church. It has more than 1,800 baptized members. Average church attendance last month was reported at 355.
A call committee at First Lutheran began its search early last spring for a new senior pastor. With guidance from the Synod, the committee members worked diligently to prepare a ministry profile.
The call committee, led by chairman Jack Heather, brought its recommendation to the congregational meeting of Oct. 15. In its recommendation, the call committee said Pastor Heimgartner "is gifted with skills that match First Lutheran's ministry needs."
In her Rostered Minister Profile, Heimgartner says she has a "passion for walking with others, listening deeply and offering encouragement to all to use their gifts to the glory of God."
This latest pastoral change with Heimgartner has taken place nearly a year since the senior pastor position was vacated. It was a relatively quiet process, she relates.
During the call process, the call committee of Heather, Adam Klocke, Gwen Kubista, Janis Lueth, Kristin Romeo, Jaclyn Schlichter, Herman Clausen and Becky Noble was required to write a congregational profile. Barry Olson, church president, and the Rev. Jeff Sandgren were ex-officio members of that committee.
Heimgartner also had to complete forms to indicate her availability for a call.
"I will do my best," she promises.
"With humility and gratitude, I accepted the call. It is a new call even though it is at the same address."
The story of how Heimgartner took a path to Blooming Prairie almost resembles a Walt Disney fairytale. She had not heard of Blooming Prairie until she picked up an atlas to plan driving directions for an internship interview during her seminary years.
The story lines trace the growing up years of a young girl raised in north central Illinois. Heimgartner is not embarrassed to tell people she did not grow up in a church family. She was not baptized until her teen years.
She was born to Kala and David Skumatz in Mendota, Ill., a community of over 7,500 residents. She has a twin sister Heather of Evansville, Wis. and an older sister, Michelle who resides near Mendota.
A connection with Blooming Prairie began during Heimgartner’s third year at Luther Seminary of St. Paul. She credits First Lutheran congregation member LeMar Nelson with getting her an internship at First Lutheran.
Sixteen years passed and Heimgartner said she was ready for the next step, a new call.
Documents had to be completed both by the call committee and by Heimgartner. An 18-page document detailed her professional experience, it reflected on her ministry style and told about her interests and experiences in other areas. These documents were filed with ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America).
An interview with the call committee came next. "I knew many of the call committee members for more than a decade," Heimgartner said.
"I am not going to say I wasn't nervous at the interview and I quickly saw that the committee had done its work carefully. We started at a deeper level and went to a much deeper level during the interview."
The First Lutheran call committee deliberated and unanimously decided to recommend to church council and to the First Lutheran congregation that Heimgartner should be called as senior pastor.
"I am very humbled by the call," she said.
Heimgartner and her husband sat down with their sons, Luke, 11 and Jonathan, 9 the night before the Oct. 15 congregational meeting and informed them of her decision to accept a new call if it were extended by vote of the congregation the next day.
Reflecting on the call to be senior pastor of First Lutheran, Heimgartner said she's likely biased, but believes she had been offered "the best call" and "the best church" in her estimation.
"This church feels healthy and does such a great ministry," Heimgartner said. She said the new responsibilities will help her grow in skills.
Heimgartner hopes to grow also in terms of vision and strategic planning for the congregation. She now will be more directly supportive in overseeing staff and the administrative pieces of the church.
The second phase of the call process now begins with a search for a new associate pastor. During that search, Heimgartner is making arrangements for short-term staff to help during this next interim. The same call committee will soon begin the process, looking for an associate pastor.
She is most appreciative of the church staff and she also thanks Pastor Sandgren and his wife Lisa for changing her life in the last 8 1/2 months of the interim.
Heimgartner plans to be a stable and steady leader relying on her institutional memory of the congregation to gain strength in planning the future of the church.
"The future is its people," she says. "I don't pastor the building, I pastor people, I and I don't teach the Bible, I teach people the Bible," she points out.
Lots of hard work is ahead for Heimgartner and the First Lutheran congregation. She plans on setting a tone of faith, trust, joy and expectation.
Family is very important to the Heimgartners. They strive to eat as a family every evening. "It's a strong tradition," she says.
"Kids can't wait, but, with exceptions for emergencies, work can," Pastor Heimgartner believes. She says very little will change from a practical basis for her family due to her new responsibilities. She continues to take her sons to school every morning, cooks dinner and also arranges intentional family time with Paul, Luke and Jonathan.
She says her children are changing as youngsters and they have gained a renewed interest in the ministry of the congregation. She also is very thankful for husband Paul's support. He is an educational specialist for the Mayo Clinic.
The new senior pastor said First Lutheran is a busy and purposeful place, one where she likes to do a different thing every day. She enjoys leading worship in new ways and embraces the best practices of teaching.
"Give people an opportunity to practice their faith and they will do it," Heimgartner believes.
She praises the work of the church council and its leadership. She said it was very helpful to have Barry Olson and Mary Worke, accept second consecutive terms as president and vice president, respectively.
Heimgartner is very active in the community outside the doors of the church. She has served the United Way, worked with the Blooming Prairie Youth Club, is a member of AAUW and serves on various outreach committees.
Her interests include Homiletics (art of preaching), Biblical studies, leadership development and technology. Personally, she loves to write, cook, travel and build interfaith friendships.
Always flashing that wide smile, Heimgartner said she is proud to have been an Awesome Blossom for the past 16 years (with more to follow).