Looking to the past gives sharper vision for future
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
It was in 1888, that a large group of Upsala residents heard with “triumph” an affirmative vote to form the new Swedish Evangelical Mission Church. Five acres of land were purchased from Thure Petterson, and plans were made for a building to worship in, described in the congregation’s centennial celebration history by Ralph Holman.
To celebrate 125 years as a vital force in the community of Upsala, members and guests of the now-named Community Covenant Church gathered for a variety show with pie and coffee on July 20. The next day after worship, a large group photo was taken outside the church, followed by a meal and fellowship.
To top off the weekend, a bonfire was held at the church’s new firepit that evening, complete with campfire music and singing of worship songs.
The variety show included a segment by Senior Pastor Craig Johnson and Bill Abeler, using old items from the church as props for telling its history.
“I was energized by the stories of the movement of the Holy Spirit throughout the 125 years,” he said. “The early revival and the constant faithfulness of God in his people made me want to get up and shout to the Lord.”
“It was truly a celebration of all God has done in 125 years and what he is going to do,” said Youth Pastor Nathan Hillman. “The weekend was just fun, as people connected with old friends.”
Former pastor Rudy King and his family entertained at the variety show with puppets. King spoke at the Sunday morning worship service.
Johnson and Hillman count themselves blessed to be on the list of pastors to the congregation.
“I am humbled that God has put Pastor Nathan and me on the list of 28 pastors who have served this congregation,” Johnson said.
He and his wife, Susan and their three daughters (now married) came to Upsala in 1997.
“We felt the vision and mission of the church and wanted to be part of that, to offer leadership for that,” said Johnson.
Hillman heads the youth and family ministry for the church, something that Community Covenant has made a priority.
“The second full-time position was added in about 2000,” Johnson said. “With a vision for youth and children, we as a church made the commitment to that. It was hard to find housing for that family, so the church bought a second parsonage.”
The people of Community Covenant want it to be a significant place of ministry, Johnson said.
“The question is asked, ‘How can we impact the community; how can we make a difference,’” he said. “We have a big youth partnership with both Camp Lebanon and Lake Beauty Bible Camp. They help give us a real ministry mindset.”
“When we visited, we saw ‘life’ here, a church that wants to reach out. We saw energy and a church that is committed,” Hillman said. “We were excited.”
Hillman and his wife, Rebecca, served as English teachers in China for one year just before coming to Upsala. They taught sophomores at Sias University in Xin Zheng, a city of 1 million people.
Part of the church’s ministry to the community is the Wednesday night community meal. Everyone is welcome.
“This church also has a heart for ministry in other parts of the world,” Johnson said. “About one-fourth of the membership has participated in some way with that ministry.”
Current missionaries supported by the church include Dennis and Rose Bergstrazer, in Indonesia with Mission Aviation Fellowship; Gary and Pauline Carlson, in Japan through Covenant World Mission; Ben and Jeannette Gerth, in Tanzania with Wycliffe Bible Translators; Galen Johnson, in Francophone, Africa through The Seed Company; Tim and Andrea Johnson, in Japan through Covenant World Mission; Dale and Sara Lusk, in Texas with Covenant Merge Ministries; Adam and Jenny Roub, in St. Cloud with CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ); Dave and Cathrin Osterhus, in Austria with ReachGlobal and Pat and Tricia Schleper, in St. Cloud with CRU.
The five churches in Upsala work really strong together, Johnson said. The other four are Gethsemane Lutheran, Mount Olive Lutheran, St. Mary’s Catholic and Word of Life Free Lutheran.
“We have done vacation Bible school together, and always work on the Heritage Days community service,” he said. “It’s a significant part of ministry in the community.”
Looking at the past through the celebration is a part of looking to the future.
“An anniversary is really a springboard into the future,” Hillman said. “Remembering what God has done is important – it’s important for what we do now and in the future.”
In his message, King issued a challenge to the congregation using as an illustration, the carob tree.
“The carob tree takes generations to bear fruit,” Johnson said. “Someone has to plant it, knowing they will not see the fruits of their labor. As our forefathers started this mission and realized that they would not see much of the fruit, so we too must continue to plant with a vision for the future.”
“But we are really still at the beginning of the journey. One hundred years is just enough to get started, to know we are on the right track,” Holman said in the centennial history. “We (looked) back briefly to see where we have been, to gain perspective for the journey ahead. But the journey of life leads us forward and upward.”