Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Ramsey has been searching for a new lead pastor since its former pastor started a new church in the same community three years ago, and it finally found the right fit.
The Rev. David Lechelt comes to Lord of Life from St. James Lutheran Church in Crystal, where he spent the past five years.
Lechelt comes in as Lord of Life approaches a 40th anniversary milestone in early September. Hiring someone who would be good at community outreach was important, said Joe Fisher, president of the Lord of Life Lutheran Church Council.
“We’re looking at reaching out in the community because we feel that’s our mission,” said Fisher, who has been a member of the church for just over four years and been on the church’s council for three years.
At St. James Lutheran Church, Lechelt helped form a partnership with the Robbinsdale School District to provide weekend snack packs to students who would otherwise go hungry.
A three-church partnership formed, including a church from Brooklyn Park and another from New Hope, and they ultimately began packing 2,580 food bags every other weekend.
The three churches subsequently formed a nonprofit organization called Bonfire Ministry to start numerous programs such as a parish nurse program, respite care and a food clinic. Its annual budget to help people in the community is now about $60,000.
Lechelt believes strongly about getting out into the community and collaborating with other churches, organizations, businesses and residents on service projects.
“That’s what I believe God is calling us to do is to listen to the community, hear the needs and be there for people,” he said.
He was strongly connected in the community of Crystal and surrounding area because of this outreach, and he served as dean of the Northwest Hennepin Conference for The Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
After five years at St. James Lutheran, he got his call to come to Lord of Life in Ramsey.
“I came for the people here,” he said. “I’m just really taken with the Lord of Life community as to their high level of commitment to each other, to this church and to this community.”
Lechelt is the eighth pastor that Lord of Life has had in 40 years, including three who served on an interim basis. Most recently, Steve Perkins left three years ago to form the new Northgate Church in Ramsey. Stephen Ganzkow-Wold was the interim pastor until earlier this year. Jim Nelson briefly bridged the gap between Ganzkow-Wold and Lechelt.
Heeding the call to ministry
Lechelt’s family was at church every Sunday when he was growing up in small towns near Rochester.
He was a person of faith from a young age and loved discussing what he calls “the deeper questions of life” with everyone, including his music teacher, Lechelt said. They would talk about who God is, why did he create us and what is the meaning of life, he said.
Lechelt was an accomplished violin player who played with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra when he was in high school, so he first considered a major in music when he enrolled at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, but switched his major to philosophy.
Lechelt met Mary Cherwien in the orchestra at Augsburg. They got married while in college just before Christmas 1980 and they have two daughters who are University of Minnesota alumnae. Christine, 31, is finishing her doctoral degree in Latin. Katie, 28, majored in landscape architecture.
Mary played with the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra and continues to play the violin and teaches at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church Music Academy in Excelsior.
The Cherwien family are strong leaders in the church community, Lechelt said. Mary’s brother David Cherwien directs the National Lutheran Choir. Her father was also a church choir director. There are many pastors on his mother-in-law’s side of the family.
Lechelt’s father was a school teacher and his mother worked in the restaurant business. He had the intention of becoming a teacher when he was getting his bachelor’s degree in philosophy, but he started working at the first Perkins restaurant in the metro area at 60th and Nicollet in Minneapolis while in college and climbed the ladder to the general manager position.
After a brief career at Perkins, Lechelt decided to go back to school to become either an American literature or theology teacher and enrolled at the St. Paul Seminary. It was here where his calling to ministry came. After finishing his education at the seminary, he interned at a church in Seattle, Wash., before getting his first pastor job in Dell Rapids, S.D.
Lechelt spent most of his ministry career to date at the East Union Lutheran Church in rural Carver County. He was there from 1996 through 2008 before accepting the job at St. James Lutheran in Crystal.
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