Faith brings Pastor to Blue Earth
The past two years have been a long, soul-searching journey for two Blue Earth Lutheran congregations in their quest to find a full-time pastor.
It has also been a long journey for Rev. Wesley Hafner.
After serving South Dakota churches for the past 16 years, Rev. Hafner answered the Blue Earth church call in late 2009.
He and his family packed up their belongings, beginning not only a new year, but also their faith journey to Blue Earth.
On Jan. 3, he was formally installed at St. Paul Lutheran Church by Rev. Dr. Lane Seitz, President of Minnesota South District. He will now lead the approximate 800 members who comprise St. Paul and Immanuel Lutheran Churches.
Born July 5, 1955 to Hubert and Lenora Hafner of Hazen, N.D., Rev. Hafner says his father, at one time a farmer, eventually would retire as a coal miner from the Beulah mines.
Rev. Hafner was baptized at St. Matthews Church in Hazen. He says he attended grade school then graduated from Beulah High School in 1973.
For the next four years, he was stationed with the Navy in Lemoore, Calif. where he served as a dental prosthetic technician. He says he made bridges, dentures, partials and “basically anything that could be put in a person’s mouth.”
After his discharge from the service, he owned and operated a dental prosthetic laboratory in Minot, N.D., for about 10 years.
In 1987, he attended Concordia College in St. Paul graduating in 1990 with a degree in sociology and numerous minors including art and Biblical languages.
Shortly after earning his degree in St. Paul, Hafner was united in marriage to his wife, Cami Krueger, on May 26, 1990.
“While at Concordia in St. Paul, I was a pre-seminary student,” says Hafner. “At the time, it was a prerequisite by Missouri Synod seminaries to study the Hebrew and Greek languages. So I studied them at this time.”
Hafner entered Concordia Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Ind., graduating in 1994.
His first call was to Marion and Parker, S.D., which is about 35 miles from Sioux Falls. He served there until 2000. In June 2000, he accepted a call at Trinity Lutheran in rural Mansfield, S.D., (about 25 miles from Aberdeen) and St. Paul Lutheran in Stratford, S.D. Shortly before accepting the call to Blue Earth, he was also ministering to a third congregation.
“South Dakota is so spread out,” says Hafner. “A normal day of driving for me was anywhere from 50-100 miles. In a month, I would put on over 2,000 miles just to perform my pastoral duties.”
He says it is very time-consuming for South Dakota pastors to do all this traveling. And winter travel was not easy. As a result, he believes there are a lot of pastoral vacancies in the state because of the driving required.
After 16 years in the South Dakota district, Hafner says it feels more like he is in a metropolitan setting in Blue Earth than a rural one.
“There is a big difference between rural here and rural in South Dakota,” he says. Farms there are often 10,000-40,000 acres in size, so there aren’t as many people living in the area.
“Before moving here, the driving issue was involved in everything,” says Hafner. ” I used to drive 25 miles just to get to a grocery store. People are closer together here and so are the businesses.”
Hafner admits it was a hard move for his family, but he feels a call is a divine thing.
“I felt these people (in Blue Earth) had a pastoral vacancy for two years and perhaps I could help them get going in a faith-based direction,” he says. “I reviewed what I had done and what I could do for others. I finally cast a lot to see which way I’d go.”
Making the decision on more than just emotions, he and his family accepted the ‘divine call’ and journeyed to Blue Earth.
“My goal is to be a witness to the Gospel,” he says. “I want to use the Saints in the church to be active and to serve together.”
He says there are already a lot of good programs in place at the two churches. Among these are release time and the choir.
“The people are excited to get things going again,” he says. “So, it is a good time to implement things because people are eager to get involved.”
He is familiar with radio ministry, since he says he had a ‘live’ radio ministry at his previous churches. Here, St. Paul’s service is taped.
Hafner speaks excitedly about starting Bible studies for men, women and the youth.
“I want them to become knowledgeable about their faith through the Bible,” he says.
He also speaks of a Bible study after the church service on Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran and hopes to revitalize the youth program.
“Pastor Dale Kohrs will continue with the confirmation classes this year,” Hafner adds.
He also praises the staff who have served the two churches for the past years. These include: Rev. Ronald Jobe, Rev. Robert Bailey and Rev. Kohrs.
“Kathy Frank, the church secretary, has made things a lot easier for me,” confesses Hafner. “She is a good resource person for me and for the church. I think she was kind of the glue that kept things together here while there was no full-time pastor.”
Prior to coming to Blue Earth, Hafner says he had to do everything…from turning on the heat in the sanctuary, preparing for communion to performing many of the secretarial duties.
“Kathy makes a pastor’s life much easier,” he adds with a grin.
To read more of this story, see this week’s Register.