By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN A vision he had years ago became a reality for Rev. Mark Loder when he was ordained and installed as pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Winsted Aug. 9.
“The first time I saw a preacher in the pulpit, I saw myself there,” Loder said.
He was 19 or 20 years old at the time, and hired as a choir director for a church in Vermillion, while he was studying music at the University of South Dakota.
As the choir director, he started attending church every Sunday, something he had never done before.
“I didn’t grow up knowing the church. My family didn’t go to church,” Loder said.
From the time he was 4 years old, Loder also had to deal with a “very abusive” stepfather.
Without much of a homelife, Loder found himself in trouble in junior high, but said, “I was crying out for attention.”
It was in his freshman year of high school that Loder did a turnaround with the help of the school choir director who discovered he had an exceptional singing voice.
With his newfound talent, Loder volunteered for anything musical “because it kept me away from home,” Loder said.
“Through those high school years, my music teacher really embraced me and became one of the first really positive adult figures in my life,” Loder said. “She was the first person who cared about me.”
To this day, that teacher remains someone special in his life, and she was at St. John’s for his Sunday ordination.
Following high school, Loder attended the University of South Dakota for music where he met his wife, Molly, who was also studying music there.
They married Aug. 15, 1999.
Shortly after that, Loder made his first major career choice.
He was offered a full scholarship to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for its opera program and, at the same time, was offered an officer’s position with the police department in Vermillion, where the Loders were living.
“That had always been a childhood dream of his, to be a police officer, because his grandfather had been a state trooper,” Molly said.
The many opera competitions that Loder had participated in, even winning at the South Dakota state level, made him realize the amount of time he would have to spend away from home, and both he and Molly wanted a family.
He didn’t want to give up his singing altogether, but thought he would do it more as a hobby than as a profession.
So in the spring of 2000, Loder became a police officer and Molly began student teaching music.
“But God has a way of not letting you keep things on the back burner for too long,” Loder said.
In three years, Loder had seniority with the Vermillion police department because of a number of turnovers.
In his fourth year, he was going through the process of being evaluated for sergeant or detective because both of those positions were open.
“God just moved my heart to realize that it was a good time to go to the seminary. It was a big leap of faith,” Loder said.
With Micah, 2-and-a-half years old, and twins Mara and Mathias, 4 months old, the Loders moved to the seminary at Fort Wayne, IN.
While Molly taught music at a Lutheran school there, Loder was a stay-at-home dad finishing required classes needed before he could start the seminary the following year.
Academics were a challenge for Loder, but he found the seminary interesting.
“There were guys in their 50s to 60s and then there were kids that came right from college, still in an academic routine, to become pastors by the time they are 24,” Loder said.
“I was 28 or 29 and that was very difficult,” Loder said. “I am not the greatest with memory work and struggled with some of it. I had been out of school for five or six years by then,” Loder said.
He also found sometimes academics were sacrificed because he wanted to do things with his family.
After three years in the seminary, Loder was made vicar at Trinity Lutheran Church in Janesville, MN last year.
After serving as vicar for one year, he was assigned to St. John’s Lutheran Church in Winsted by the district president of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, following a series of interviews and worksheets to find a congregation that would be a good fit.
Before being sent to Winsted, Loder and Molly had never heard of the town, but in their short time here, they like what they see.
“It is an exciting time, with me being a new member of the community,” Loder said. “I have no doubt in my mind that there will be some struggles, but there are plenty of positives that have already happened. I am eager to get to know the people and I long for the day when I can walk through town and know everybody by name.”
Loder believes in the importance of establishing a good relationship with the members of his congregation.
“I think that much of ministry is personal relationship. You are not going to believe what I have to say unless I have a good relationship with you,” Loder said. “I tell you that I care about you and am concerned about you, but you are not going to believe that unless you see that in my actions. If you never see me except in the pulpit and at the altar, what kind of relationship would that be?”
Once things settle down for the family, Loder has made meeting the new Holy Trinity priest, Fr. Tony Hesse, one of his priorities.
He is hoping to set up a regular coffee hour with him, just to talk.
“We are two different churches, but that doesn’t mean we have to be strangers,” Loder said. “I think we can do many things together without compromising our doctrine and beliefs.”
Loder still loves to sing. He has sung the national anthem at sporting events and last year, he did a benefit recital for the Trinity Lutheran School in Janesville that lasted over an hour.
He also loves sports including NASCAR, the Cubs, and college football. He is a Nebraska Cornhuskers fan.
The couple will be home-schooling their children this year and Molly is trying to work more music into their curriculum.
Micah plays hockey and the Loders are currently working on finding out what district he will play in.
As a family, they like nature hikes, bird-watching, and antique shopping.