Two pastors look forward to sharing ministry in united Methodist parish

Pam Seebach and David Stoeger are sharing a five-church charge in the United Methodist conference, including Wykoff, Mabel, Newburg, Harmony and Preston. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER
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Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Spring Valley Tribune

“Five churches coming together as a united parish will be a great opportunity,” stated Pam Seebach, licensed local pastor. She, along with the Rev. David Stoeger, will share the pulpits of five congregations across Fillmore County, including Wykoff, Preston, Harmony, Mabel and Newburg.

She elaborated on the changes to the pastoral care at the five churches that will be effective July 1.

“David and I will share Preston and Harmony, and I will also be leading worship in Mabel and Newburg. It took a lot of discussing, and the district superintendent worked with the communities to provide pastoral coverage and keep the communities of Preston and Harmony connected.”

Stoeger, who will serve as pastor of Wykoff United Methodist Church, stated, “I think it’s always a great opportunity when United Methodist congregations expand their mission into the community.”

Seebach, of Newburg, grew up in Decorah and her husband grew up in Cresco. “We’ve both lived all over — he’s an attorney and has practiced in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. I went away to Cornell College and got my master’s in social work and worked for 20 years at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester and retired in 2012,” she added.

Seebach has been working at her husband’s law firm in Cresco since then. “I finally answered the call God’s been trying to get me to respond to for a while,” she said. “My husband and I have a blended family of three kids — my son is in seminary at Duke University, Bart’s son is a computer engineer in San Francisco, and my daughter works in STEM education in the Chicago area.”

She added, “I just received my license to be a licensed local pastor. This is a second career for me, and for me, it’s about making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world, an opportunity to share the love of God with people in the communities in which I live. There’s a lot of hurting in the world. God has healing hands, and we are those hands.”

Stoeger has been a radio announcer and a pastor, both of his aspirations as a youth. He’s served as news and program director of various radio stations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, has been managing editor of the Spring Grove Herald, served as pastoral intern at Presbyterian Homes, led worship at Mabel and Newburg Methodist churches and served at Wykoff United Methodist Church for the past year, completing his seminary education this June.

He has been married for four years to his wife, Amy, and he has a daughter from a previous relationship, Ella, who is entering third grade this year.

Stoeger said, “I think my emphasis for ministry is not anything new, but at the same time as we practice, our ministry changes. My emphasis is still on loving God and loving your neighbor, and also, for me, finding God in our questions and being willing to embrace God and our questions…that we don’t always have easy answers.”

The “easy answers” that used to come when there were pastors available for every church have given way to the slightly-complicated worship schedule the two will share, but they anticipate the blessings will accompany the hustle from one church to another.

Stoeger commented, “There’s been a lot of change in rural communities, and it’s happened at a rapid pace. The congregations are also affected by change, and a lot of times, we fear change. But we both love small communities and small, rural churches. We have these communities in our blood, and we’re both looking forward to doing ministry in these communities that we love. It’s part of the gospel…that God already has the future. I think we need to be bold and try new things, live together as one body with many parts.”

He went on, “I love working on ecumenical things, finding unity in the body of Christ. We’ve been brainstorming about what we want to try, but we first have to get our feet wet and get things working well.”

Seebach registered, “There’s an element of trust to be built among the parishes, and after getting going, one thing I’d like to do are some powerful joint activities. We’re looking forward to strength in numbers, because two pastors together means that if one of us wants to take vacation or go with the youth to church camps, visit hospitals, it’s a great arrangement for the other to be able to take a church. There’s collegiality in supporting each other. And the church is the people, and if the people aren’t in church, the church needs to go to where the people are. That’s what we’re going to do…be in ministry. That’s not to say that there aren’t people in church, but….”

Stoeger finished Seebach’s thought. “Ministry is being where the people are…if the people are out for coffee in the café every day, that’s where we are.”

So far, the five congregations have convened once to make arrangements for their coming year of shared pastors.

Stoeger explained, “We’ve formed an interparish council and had one meeting…it’s been a positive time to discuss matters that affect all five congregations. There’s tremendous opportunity in change, and I’m looking forward to working with Pam and the other congregations.”

The worship schedule for July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, places Wykoff, Mabel and Newburg meeting at 10:30 a.m. and Harmony and Preston convening at 8:30 a.m. The schedule will be reexamined on an annual basis, but no matter what time services are held, the pastors welcome visitors to become new members of their churches or to just stop by and hear what the good news is all about.