By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN After 23 years serving as pastor of Good Shepherd Free Lutheran Church in Cokato, Pastor Lyndon Korhonen has been elected president of the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC). He will lead his last service at Good Shepherd near the end of September.
The vote took place at the annual AFLC conference in Wisconsin June 11-14 to replace the current president who was retiring after six years (two terms).
With 270 churches from across the country represented at the conference, it didn’t seem very likely to Korhonen that he would be the one to receive the majority of the ecclesiastical ballots.
Two weeks prior, Korhonen preached on Genesis 12, in which God calls Abram to leave his homeland and go to a land that God would show him.
From that passage, Korhonen decided to leave it up to God to decide his next calling, and if the presidency was God’s will, the answer would be in the votes. If the opportunity was given to him, he said he wouldn’t decline, because it would be “God’s call” for him.
With roughly 500 delegates from various congregations attending the conference, the vote began with 50 pastors.
As the results are announced, pastors can decline and be pulled from the ballot box, Korhonen explained.
With the first vote, Korhonen came in second, and the pastor in first place removed his name.
On the third vote, Korhonen’s votes had climbed to where he was ahead by 20 votes.
Before the day ended, a fourth vote was taken, but the results hadn’t been announced.
He was told by the head teller, however, that “if the current voting trend continues, we will have to add a ‘son’ to your last name, because we’ve never had a Finn as president.”
After two more votes, Korhonen had the majority and was declared president.
When he heard this, Korhonen said he felt overwhelmed.
“It wasn’t an aspiration of mine,” Korhonen said.
Two of the delegates at the conference were from Good Shepherd and had been sitting between him and his wife, Linda, when the vote totals were announced.
“They didn’t know whether to be happy or sad,” Korhonen said. After all, that meant they would lose him as a pastor.
For him, the entire voting process was “gut wrenching,” he said, but the good thing was that it wasn’t him choosing this path, but God.
“As awful as it was, it’s still a good experience to go through,” Korhonen said, because it allowed him to have faith and trust in God’s promises.
The AFLC headquarters are based out of Plymouth, and he and Linda will move there come September.
His installation as president is planned for Sunday, Sept. 15, and he will begin two weeks of training the following day. He will assume responsibilities as president Oct. 1. His final service at Good Shepherd is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 29.
As president, Korhonen will be responsible for installing new pastors, presenting at church anniversaries, conducting funerals of former pastors, attending parish visitations, and whenever invited.
Korhonen explained that because it’s a free denomination church, he doesn’t have much authority as president.
“Never-the-less, pray for wisdom and understanding for the new president. He needs it more than Solomon,” Korhonen said about himself.
Korhonen has spent the past two years on the AFLC coordinating committee, which meets on a monthly basis and governs the clergy roster. This has allowed him exposure to the presidency and, in an essence, to “get his feet wet.”
A unique twist to the story is that his brother-in-law, who is also a pastor, was voted in as vice president, Korhonen noted. He explained that the two of them had grown up in the same congregation, went to college together, married sisters, and now end up serving as president and vice president together. They both happen to be Finnish, as well.
Korhonen said that when the results came in, someone posted on Facebook, “It is Finnished.”
The Sunday worship at Good Shepherd following the vote was a painful service for Korhonen, he said, even though much of the congregation had already heard the news.
He will miss the freedom he has had preaching God’s word from his heart and not worrying about what people are going to think.
“I will miss working together with the other churches here, and the schools. That’s pretty unique, I think,” he commented, adding that it’s a pretty close-knit ministerium.
He will also miss the congregation, of course. “Not only the spiritual closeness we’ve developed, but the other ways we’re intertwined from building projects, fixing cars, cutting wood, . . . and ministry together.” The good thing, however, Korhonen said, is they will always be together in the family of God.