By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN When Marc Schwichtenberg was a young boy going to church at St. Paul’s in Lester Prairie, becoming a pastor wasn’t the first thing on his mind.
“I thought, sounds boring,” Schwichtenberg laughed. “You have to be grey-haired and dull.”
But the Lord used Bill Metzger, who was pastor at St. Paul’s from 1986 to 1996, to nudge Schwichtenberg toward the calling.
“I saw him as someone who’d be a good pastor,” Metzger said.
He was right, and now, Schwichtenberg is the senior pastor at Saint Paul Lutheran Church and School in Mount Prospect, IL.
For the past year, Metzger has also been nearby, serving at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Cary, IL, about 20 miles from Mount Prospect.
“When I was installed, he (Marc) was the pastor for that service,” Metzger said. “I invited him to come.”
After leaving Lester Prairie, neither Metzger nor Schwichtenberg expected that they’d once again be living so close, but “that’s how God does things,” Metzger said.
The early days
Metzger and Schwichtenberg first got to know each other when Schwichtenberg was a student at Mayer Lutheran High School, and his family was a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lester Prairie.
“While we were there, a couple things happened that affected him greatly,” Metzger said.
In his junior year, Schwichtenberg was the first witness to a fatal car crash. That experience caused him to think more deeply about mortality, and the importance of telling people about God’s grace and forgiveness, and their need for a savior.
“You just don’t know how long you’re going to be here,” Schwichtenberg said.
In that same time frame, Schwichtenberg’s mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“She battled for five years, and passed away my sophomore year in college,” Schwichtenberg said. “Her dream was for me to go into ministry.”
Metzger also saw potential for Schwichtenberg in the ministry field.
“He puts his faith into practice,” Metzger said. “I saw a gentleness and a compassion for other people.”
Both men vividly recall the day Metzger presented the idea of becoming a pastor to Schwichtenberg.
Metzger took him to a restaurant in Silver Lake, which was called the Tasty Burger at the time.
“I said, ‘have you thought about becoming a pastor?’” Metzger said.
“I had to laugh, because, yes, I had,” Schwichtenberg said. “It blew me away.”
“To hear it from another person, it helps a lot,” Metzger said.
That wasn’t the first time Schwichtenberg was told he’d make a good pastor, however.
Schwichtenberg, who attended Lester Prairie Schools until eighth grade, had the opportunity to participate in religion class at St. Paul’s church during the school day.
During class when he was in junior high, the students took a vote of who was most likely to go into public ministry.
“When the teacher opened up the votes, my name was read over and over,” Schwichtenberg said. “It kind of freaked me out a little bit. What did my classmates see in me?”
At that time, Schwichtenberg hadn’t thought too seriously about his future career, but that experience stuck with him.
Later on, he thought, “what could be more important than sharing the gospel?”
After high school graduation in 1989, Schwichtenberg attended Concordia University in Chicago. At first, he had thought about pursuing Christian education and teaching art, but by the end of freshman year, he felt called to become a full-time pastor.
At Christmastime in 1990, Schwichtenberg’s mother was very ill, and Metzger called to see if Schwichtenberg would be interested in preaching.
“He said, ‘I think your mom would be so honored by that,’” Schwichtenberg said.
He’s not sure how much of his sermon made sense that day, but it was clear that his mother was proud.
“She was in the front row, with a big smile on her face,” Schwichtenberg recalled.
About four months after that sermon, she passed away, and Schwichtenberg said he is grateful that Metzger gave him the opportunity to preach that day.
“He had quite an impact on my life,” Schwichtenberg said. “He was one of the first pastors to help me take head knowledge and connect it with the heart. He helped me see that Jesus was relevant, and he taught in a way that was understandable.”
Despite having been the pastor at five churches, Metzger said he’ll never forget his time in Lester Prairie.
“We still talk about Lester Prairie all the time, and compare it to all the other places we’ve been,” Metzger said. “It seemed like family and it seemed like home. It’s one of the most special places we’ve ever been.”
Schwichtenberg said his Illinois congregation is also familiar with his homeland.
“Sometimes, people roll their eyes when I mention Minnesota,” he laughed. “I am an obnoxious Minnesota Vikings fan.”
Everyone at Schwichtenberg’s church knows “tons of stories” about Lester Prairie.
“It was a great place to grow up,” he said. “It’s a place that comfortably doesn’t change.”
Schwichtenberg and his wife, Shane, have a 9-year-old daughter, Abby; and a 7-year-old daughter, Katy.
Metzger and his wife, LaVonne, have two daughters, a son-in-law, and two grandchildren.
To learn more about Saint Paul Lutheran Church and School in Mount Prospect or to listen to Schwichtenberg’s sermons online, go to www.saint-paul.org.
More information about Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Cary is available at www.holycrosscary.org.