St. John's United Church of Christ welcomes new pastor

By Paul Downer, Community Editor

The Memorial Day weekend kicks off a new summer season each year, and St. John’s United Church of Christ in Bongards enters this season with a new full-time minister.

Rev. Adam Westrich is prepared to preside over his first service at the church on Sunday, June 3, and the occasion will mark the fulfillment of a lifelong move toward ministry.

"I’m excited. This is a desire I’ve had since childhood," he said. "It’s taken a long time to process and discern, and now it’s finally here."

Prior to receiving the call to St. John’s – Westrich’s first since attending Bethany Seminary in St. Paul – he was working at the campus library and taking part in a number of internships. He began moving into the pastor’s home next to the church on May 19 along with his wife JaNae and their 5-month old daughter Verity. Thanks to the church’s agricultural surroundings, the location already feels like home.

"I felt like there was a lot of continuity with my past experience with my home congregation in central Wisconsin," he said, adding that he grew up in Colby, a town of less than 2,000 that is the home of Colby cheese. "I knew this was more rural and smaller, which were attributes I was looking for. It feels like coming home."

Westrich said he was originally drawn to ministry because of his enthusiasm for seeing God work in the lives of people.

"I love being with people, getting to hear their stories and about their lives," he said. "I’m passionate about training for a life of God in our own personal everyday lives. What does that look like? What does that mean? Being a Christian means something.

"It’s special and I believe it’s through Jesus that God is making all things new. When I preach that’s sort of my theme or motif that I carry. I believe that when people respond to that, then transformation can take place. Relationships can grow, families can thrive. God is putting together a new world, a new paradigm. You can see it take place in people’s lives. God is gentle. He doesn’t demand

change, and yet we’re invited to change to find life. God is the source of all life."

As far as a new vision for the church, Westrich said he plans to discuss goals or objectives with church members rather than setting his own agenda.

"I don’t want to just come in and lay out a new vision. I want to envision with the congregation," he said.

Outside of work, Westrich said he and his wife love visiting coffee shops, hiking and cycling, with off-road biking being one of Westrich’s favorite activities. Finding suitable trails around the area was just one of the things Westrich was looking forward to as the family settles in.

As for St. John’s, "We welcome people to come out. We’re looking to grow and we’re excited to be here. We’re excited to be at this church," said Westrich. "The people have been so wonderful, very welcoming, and there’s so much to learn. So far we’ve only meet certain individuals and there have only been a few interactions with the whole congregation, so we’re looking forward to that discovery and seeing their hearts for God."

Westrich is the new full-time replacement for Rev. Richard Mark, who left the church last year. In the meantime, Rev. Penny Etringer has been filling in as interim minister.