by Adam Gruenewald
Josh Bernau recently joined St. John’s Lutheran Church as their first new administrative pastor since 1995.
Bernau, 35, is a Royalton native who moved to Cortland native where he was active in track, graduating from Nicolett High School in 2000.
While the son of Donna and Pastor Wayne, Bernau didn’t seek to become a pastor.
“I learned from the best but had no desire to be a pastor,” said Bernau.
Bernau first sought to become at counselor at Wartburg College, but in three weeks soon realized his mistake.
Bernau compares his story to that of Jonah in the Bible, since he was involved with Bible Study and Youth Groups in high school.
“I had those gifts, but never really acknowledged I would use those gifts as a pastor. I literally ran from God’s call,” he said. “I quickly realized that was not where I needed to be… From that point on I haven’t looked back.”
After calling home, he switched to Concordia College in St. Paul to pursue ministry where he graduated in 2004.
It was also there where he met wife Leah.
“Very first class we were in together was an Old Testament class and we sat next to each other and got to know each other,” he said.
Later enrolling at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Bernau interned at Bay City, Michigan before becoming a pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Hastings, where he has served at since 2008.
“It was a good place for us to serve and it was hard for us to leave those people and that community,” he said.
While in Hastings, Bernau saw the congregation grow from 45 to 125.
The congregation is certainly a vast difference from Bernau’s first experience giving a sermon in front of 500 at St. John’s Lutheran in NYA. St. John’s has a membership of over 1,000 and marked its 150th anniversary in June of 2015.
“It’s a little bit overwhelming from a people standpoint,” said Bernau. “But at the same time, it takes a little bit of time to get to know everybody. They are the same types of people, they are good people and are faithful people.”
Associate Pastor Eric Hutchinson will still remain with St. John’s, while Bernau will take on the oversight of the ministries. Bernau took over for Pastor David Winter, who retired and moved to Alexandria where he opened a Winterhaven resort.
Still an avid runner, Bernau said his winter runs have helped him become familiar with the NYA community.
“I run pretty much every day if it’s above zero I’m out running,” he said. “My parents say when I started to walk, I started to run. I’ve always been busy and on the move. It’s hard for me to go slow and I like to be doing something.”
Moving to NYA also has given Bernau a chance to find a Lutheran education for his kids, Ellie, 8, Emma, 5, and Josiah, 3, something that wasn’t easily available in Hastings.
“My wife and I place a high value on Lutheran education for our kids and this is the type of setting we thought we’ll see where God takes it,” said Bernau. “There’s a reason why we are here and we know that.”
Looking ahead, Bernau envisions his family will be rooted in NYA, with Mayer Lutheran High School also in the picture for his kids’ education.
“Looking down the road at that, we’re excited,” he said. “This is a long term move.”
St. John’s Lutheran Church is located at 101 SE Second Ave. in NYA with the school at 27 First St. NW.
For more information, visit www.stjohnsnya.org and www.sjsnya.org.
Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald.