By Jennifer Gallus
HOWARD LAKE, MN - Last week, as Joel Swedberg, the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Howard Lake was preparing for Christmas, he admitted that he has “always rolled with whatever the traditions are in the community” he is serving.
Swedberg’s father was a pastor, as well.
“I have lived with pretty much every tradition there is,” Swedberg said.
He grew up in a Swedish community that would attend 5:30 a.m. service on Christmas Day.
“We’d go to church before we milked the cows,” he laughed. “I remember as a small child, I would fall asleep during that service, especially since it was dark in there, and candlelit.”
“I don’t know of any churches that still have that early of a service,” he added.
All his life, Swedberg has enjoyed potato sausage and Swedish meatballs on Christmas Eve. His wife, Marylou, is not of Scandinavian descent, but adopted the Scandinavian traditions Joel remembers from his childhood.
As a pastor, Swedberg emphasizes the real meaning of Christmas in his sermons, and recently was invited by the Howard Lake MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group to speak to their children about the real meaning of the symbols we see at Christmastime, and how they all reflect Christ.
“Santa can be a symbol too of family fun, and of giving and receiving,” Swedberg said.
“God invented fun. He wants us to have fun, but to be grateful, as well,” he added.
Swedberg has served Howard Lake since 1990, and said he is kind of known as “the pastor who won’t die.”
“I was in a head-on collision on Highway 212, and then nine years later I repeated (the hospital stay and major injuries) with an airplane crash,” Swedberg explained.
“The first accident turned this congregation into a praying community. They could see day by day that I was getting better that their prayers were being answered, and God was taking care of me,” Swedberg said.
He explained that fascinating changes take place within a congregation when sudden accidents happen. The congregation grows and changes in many ways, which is something Swedberg feels privileged to witness.
“We’ve also learned that I don’t die in accidents. God says, ‘I’m not calling him home yet, he’s got to go back to work,’” he laughed.
“God saved my life,” Swedberg said, and because of that, he gets to keep doing what he loves, which is to preach the Word of the Lord.
“I really try to keep my sermons between 10 and 13 minutes, otherwise I could just keep talking,” he laughed.