By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN After serving the congregation of St. James Lutheran Church in Howard Lake for 17 years, Associate Pastor Martin Schoenfeld will be moving on to his next calling.
Schoenfeld has accepted the call to serve at Rose of Sharon Lutheran Church in Cottage Grove.
“He is a good man faithful to the word of God,” said Senior Pastor Michael Nirva, who is Schoenfeld’s colleague at St. James Lutheran. “Cottage Grove will be gaining a good pastor. We will miss him.”
Schoenfeld’s final sermon at St. James Lutheran will be April 22, followed by a potluck to wish him and his family well in their new adventure in faith.
He will be installed at Rose of Sharon Lutheran in Cottage Grove April 29.
“He is going to be greatly missed. The congregation is still kind of in shock. We will be losing our ‘German shepherd,’” said St. James Lutheran School teacher Luke Dahl. “We’ve taken for granted the faithful leadership we’ve had over the years.”
Schoenfeld received his call to St. James Lutheran in July 1995. He had just been ordained at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO that May.
He and his wife, Janice were newlyweds when they came to Howard Lake. Their daughters, Rebekah, 15, and Joanna, 12, were born and raised there.
“We love it here, and care about the people here,” Schoenfeld said. “I’ve enjoyed good relationships over the years. It’s going to be hard to leave, but I need to follow God’s call.”
One of Schoenfeld’s greatest enjoyments as a pastor is studying the scripture and preparing for his sermons.
“I want to communicate the gospel and the importance of Christ in peoples’ lives,” Schoenfeld said.
“Getting everyone to know Jesus is Lord is important to him,” said church secretary Viann Montgomery.
When asked about his accomplishments at St. James Lutheran, Schoenfeld said it is not about him, but what God has done through him.
Being a traditional, reserved pastor, people respect Schoenfeld, but still feel comfortable approaching him, Dahl said.
Although he is mild-mannered and reserved, Schoenfeld also knows how to get his point across, Montgomery said.
“He leads by his sermon, then follows it up with Bible study and other outreach,” Montgomery said.
Schoenfeld is also a good administrator, making sure things run smoothly, Montgomery said.
“There are a lot of good volunteers and staff that (also) contribute to the cause,” Schoenfeld said, acknowledging the numerous volunteers and staff who have helped him to accomplish so much during his time at St. James Lutheran.
“He’s not the driving force (behind church projects and initiatives) but a true pastor. The congregation makes the decision, and he is there for spiritual support,” Montgomery said.
It is clear when speaking to Schoenfeld, and those he has worked with over the years, that he is committed to the spiritual growth of his congregation and the community.
“Early on, I challenged the congregation to read the whole Bible, and we have done it twice,” Schoenfeld said.
One of his main focuses over the years has been Christian outreach. He has started Bible studies, supported women’s Bible studies, started services at Codger’s Cove in the summer, and supported missionary work and youth groups.
“Anything to get the gospel of Christ out salvation through faith in him,” Schoenfeld said.
Janice has also contributed a lot to the church, starting women’s Bible studies, coordinating and planning women’s retreats, and starting a youth group for fifth through eighth grade called friends in serving him (FISH).
“It’s important that people don’t just stay where they are at, but grow in their faith,” Schoenfeld said.
Throughout his tenure at St. James Lutheran, Schoenfeld has consistently encouraged members of the congregation to grow their faith by being involved in outreach efforts.
“When he sees a need, he seeks to fill it,” Montgomery said.
“He has a talent for getting people involved in the church,” Nirva said.
Montgomery noted that if there are not enough volunteers for a church project, Schoenfeld always seems to be able to find more.
One of the challenges Schoenfeld has faced in his time in the ministry, and said he will continue to face wherever he is, is the changing world.
“People think differently in regards to faith and spirituality. It’s not the 1950s anymore,” he said, noting that the culture and so many things have changed. “Faith isn’t what it once was.”
Every day poses a new challenge when working in the ministry. “You never know how your day is going to end one phone call can change everything. But, thankfully, God’s mercies are new every day, too,” Schoenfeld said, referring to Lamentations.
Although known for being mild-mannered, Schoenfeld did provide a little adventure for his congregation over the years.
For instance, he used a real donkey for his Palm Sunday service one year.
“For special services, Schoenfeld would try to come up with something new and different,” Montgomery said.
Another dreary Sunday in December, Schoenfeld was preaching about judgement day when all the lights in the church went out.
Although he didn’t skip a beat, continuing right on with his sermon, the congregation all kind of looked at each other wondering how he did it, Montgomery said.
Of course, Schoenfeld had nothing to do with the lights going out, Montgomery said. A truck had hit a power pole.
One of the things Schoenfeld will miss about the Howard Lake area is sharing life with people.
“I’ve been able to share a lot of big events in people’s lives, bringing God’s word into those situations weddings, funerals, trials, and triumphs,” Schoenfeld said.
Not only will Schoenfeld and his family miss the church and schools they have been so much a part of for 17 years, they will also miss Howard Lake, with its small-town atmosphere and rural setting, he said.
However, Schoenfeld is also looking forward to getting to know people in Cottage Grove, and the challenge of mission and outreach work in a new setting.
“It will be a different ball game in the suburbs,” he said.
“It’s tough because I don’t know what to expect,” Schoenfeld said. “I’m looking forward to being settled again. We’ve been incredibly unsettled since last fall.”