HJ/EDEnterprise Dispatch, Jan. 23, 2006

Church’s new pastor equips congregation

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

At first glance, a sign on the door to the Rev. Steven Thorson’s office in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cokato appears to be a mistake. It says “equipment room.”

The sign is not a mistake, though, said Thorson, who was called to the church in September. The sign sums up Thorson’s role in the ELCA church. The community does the actual ministry. Thorson, on the other hand, “equips” the congregation for its ministry, he said.

It is based on Eph. 4:12, “For the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ,” according to the New American Standard version.

“I’m not a Lone Ranger. I need people around me. It felt like that could happen here,” Thorson said of the Cokato congregation, which he described as “mature in faith.”

Thorson’s first project, when he and his family arrived in Cokato from Taylors Falls, is the Befrienders. About 50 of the members of his congregation are over the age of 76 and have needs that require a friend to help out. The Befrienders check on how they are doing, pray with them and help them get to worship, he said.

The congregation at the church is very active. “That’s exciting. It’s been hugely fun,” Thorson said.

Thorson’s wife, Toni, has been leading the adult choir of about 40 singers. Starting Saturday, Feb. 4, a contemporary church music band that she has been directing will debut, he said.

“We really enjoy being here,” Thorson said.

Thorson didn’t always think of himself as equipping others to serve and build up the church, though. When Thorson was at Augsburg College in 1978, he dropped out and almost destroyed his life, he said.

Thorson called this period of his life when he was a “prodigal.”

“God had to get a hold of me by the scruff of the neck and get my attention. I hadn’t been faithful to God,” he said.

Thorson eventually joined a charismatic, Pentecostal church in Minneapolis called The Jesus People Church. It was an emotional kind of Christianity practiced there, but at that time Thorson needed to “express both the grief and joy of life,” he said.

Thorson left the Pentecostal church by 1980 because he felt he didn’t need to rebuild his faith from “scratch.”

“I needed to surrender all to God instead of part of me,” Thorson said.

Thorson had gone to a Lutheran conference on the Holy Spirit that summer. The president of the American Lutheran Church synod had said, “We need your gifts.” Thorson believes that is when he first felt called to be a minister.

“I think I’m going to be a pastor,” Thorson told his sister, Karen. She wasn’t surprised. “But it really surprised me,” he said.

Thorson wanted to tell about God’s unconditional love he had experienced during his “prodigal” time. “God’s love is never failing. It does not abandon us,” he said.

Thorson finished college at Augsburg. While working odd jobs, he started seminary classes at Wartburg College in Dubuque, Iowa. Thorson had a professor there who taught a class about Jesus Christ, but didn’t seem to believe it was possible to have a personal relationship with him, he said.

So Thorson interrupted his formal seminary training to learn Portuguese in 1983, and serve in Brazil. He worked and ministered in both the rural south and the urban slums of Brasilia, the capitol city, he said.

Thorson learned that being an American is privileged and influential.

“And Jesus is the same for people, no matter what the circumstances of their lives,” whether a slum dweller or a businessman, he said.

Thorson returned to the seminary in 1984, this time Luther Seminary in St. Paul.

His first parish was in 1986 in Ladysmith, Wis. where he served for six years. Thorson also served in Taylors Falls for 13 years.

Thorson was content in Taylors Falls. The prayer life of the call committee at the congregation at the Evangelical Lutheran Church was what had led him to Cokato, he said.

Thorson’s children are active in the Dassel Cokato schools, too. Naomi, a senior, and Jonathon, an eighth grader, are involved in speech. Daniel, a sophomore, loves football, he said.

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