Greins transition to new life after 29 years in Swanville

St. Peter’s Lutheran pastor John Grein retiring, moving to Hutchinson

John and Karen Grein have enjoyed serving in Swanville for the past 29 years. Two of their three children have no memory of any other home growing up. But they are looking forward to many things in a new chapter of their lives as they pack up and move to the home they bought in Hutchinson.

John Grein’s first call upon completing his years at seminary in 1983, was to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Swanville and he just never left.

That will all change this month as he and his wife, Karen, retire and move to their new home in Hutchinson.

“Everything will change except our family,” said Karen. “I will miss probably everything, but am looking forward to having our own home and to doing things together on the weekends for the first time.”

John grew up in Lakefield in southwestern Minnesota. The thought of being a pastor was in the back of his mind from his high school years, but he was not thrilled about the prospect of eight more years of school.

“I enjoyed sports and was successful in that, earning a football scholarship to South Dakota State University (SDSU),” John said. “So that got me to do the first four of those eight years.”

John was then drafted into the Army and served much of his two years in Germany, returning to Lakefield after his discharge. The following summer of 1972, he and Karen began dating and married in 1973.

With a physical education major, math minor and an interest in coaching John was still finding it difficult to find a teaching position. He took a battery of aptitude tests and remembers asking the counselor about being a pastor.

“He told me that he never advised anyone to be a pastor; if God was asking someone to be a pastor, eventually that person would answer the call,” John said.

The Greins’ first home together was in Millbank, S.D., where John had a job as a junior high math teacher and head football coach.

After a few years, he was not finding satisfaction teaching five seventh-grade math classes each day. About that time, the vicar (intern) in their congregation suggested John study for the ministry.

After finding out that John had three more years of G.I. Bill available, John and Karen made the decision for him to go to seminary, which is in Fort Wayne, Ind. They bought a house there and moved with daughters Elizabeth and Teresa. Their son, Matthew, was born in Fort Wayne.

During his third year of seminary, his vicar year, the Greins moved to Charlotte, N.C. “We wanted to go somewhere out of our comfort zone – somewhere we would probably never live,” said Karen. “It was a wonderful place.”

John’s first call upon completing seminary was to St. Peter’s. “We never expected to stay that long,” Karen said. “Two of our children don’t remember anything but Swanville.”

It has been very rewarding for John to have helped facilitate an addition to the church in 1994. Being part of the church’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1990 was very special.

“I’ve really enjoyed teaching confirmation,” John said. One former student became a missionary in Peru and thanked John for the solid foundation he had given in Lutheran Christian teaching.

“Perhaps surprisingly, I have been very gratified to pastor people who have lost loved ones,” John said. “At funerals is where Christianity’s central message is proclaimed: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

“I still remember how his first funeral showed him why he was here — to preach the Gospel, to assure people of salvation through Christ, the eternal life they inherit through Jesus,” said Karen.

Karen was able to be home with their children for several years, and began teaching part time at Swanville School in 1991. Until she retired in June, she had been teaching full-time since 1995.

For the church, Karen directed the choir and brass ensembles and did the music for Bible school. She also directed a community choir for a few years in the early 2000s.

“One of the most rewarding things has been the choirs, and just singing the Word of God,” she said.

When they began making retirement plans, the Greins took into consideration where their children and grandchildren live, and where Karen’s mother is living and drew a big circle on a map. Close to the center of that area was Hutchinson.

“It was pretty centrally located and we found houses there that appealed to us,” John said. “I’ll be able to do all the things Karen wants me to do around the house. Once we get settled in, I’ll likely be doing pulpit supply for churches in the area.”

The future is an open book for the Greins, but John does have an idea he’ll be more active politically. “We’ll be active and involved in life,” he said.

About once a week since the school year ended, Karen has taken a carload of household items down to the new house. “I’m looking forward to having my own house,” she said.

“We will miss particularly the faithful people of St. Peter’s,” John said.

“I’m sure we’ll be back many times,” said Karen.

The Greins describe their home in Hutchinson as very guest-friendly and very easy to get to and they hope they will have many visitors.

There will be an appreciation open house for the Greins at St. Peter’s Lutheran in Swanville Sunday, July 29 from 1:30 p.m. – 4 p.m.