A 'happy pastor' bids farewellPastor John Peshek of Alexandria admitted he would not have been voted “most likely to become a pastor.” And he knew he didn’t want to milk cows for a career. Peshek grew up on a small dairy farm in Fairfield, Nebraska. “That probably influenced who I am,” he said. The John Deere replicas displayed in his parish office indicate that he hasn’t forgotten his farming roots.
By: Stacie Kimball, Alexandria Echo Press
Pastor John Peshek of Alexandria admitted he would not have been voted “most likely to become a pastor.” And he knew he didn’t want to milk cows for a career.
Peshek grew up on a small dairy farm in Fairfield, Nebraska.
“That probably influenced who I am,” he said. The John Deere replicas displayed in his parish office indicate that he hasn’t forgotten his farming roots.
Not knowing what the future had in store for him, he attended Kearney State College in Nebraska and attained a bachelor of science degree in sociology and psychology in 1972.
While in college he joined a fraternity and, as a new pledge, was told he would be a singer in a worship service.
Peshek explained, “From that humble beginning started what would become a folk rock group that exploded in the next three years.”
That is where he met Pastor Roger Sasse, who had the vision of using folk rock music in a college setting.
Peshek had been taught about “grace” in confirmation, but not until regular involvement in worship, along with his relationship with Pastor Sasse, did he really come to know and experience God's grace.
“I began thinking about ministry late in my junior year of college,” Peshek shared. “Thinking about being a minister grew to become what I believed was my thankful response to what God had given to me in Jesus.”
He was introduced to Minnesota through a fraternity brother from Princeton. With his love of Minnesota grew Peshek’s decision to attend Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
“Other options for seminary just didn't seem to be appealing at all,” he said.
He had to complete three years of parish ministry before he could graduate from the seminary. His 1974 internship was in New Brighton. Graduating with a master’s degree in divinity followed in 1976.
Peshek’s first call was to Faith Lutheran Church in Staples. He is a self-admitted “rebel” and wasn’t sure if a church would tolerate him. He soon realized that the support of a congregation was meaningful to him.
“I didn’t anticipate how meaningful that support would be – to be immersed in congregational life,” he admitted.
Peshek remained at Faith Lutheran until 1982 when he was called to be the pastor at Zion Lutheran, a small church between Pelican Rapids and Detroit Lakes. The congregation had never had its own pastor.
In a modest tone, the pastor shared, “I related well with the congregation. I was a good match for what they needed there.”
When he began at Zion Lutheran the average worship attendance was 15 people. Nineteen years later, when he left for his third calling, the church had an average of 200 worshipers per service.
Peshek was content at Zion and was not looking to leave, but he was receiving five to six requests per year for interviews elsewhere.
Peshek’s wife, Dee, worked for Lutheran Brotherhood and the office was being moved from Fergus Falls to Alexandria. Ironically, during this same time frame, three different people from First Lutheran Church in Alexandria requested Peshek be interviewed for a position there.
“It was a good match between what First Lutheran was looking for and what I perceived I could offer,” he said.
At age 51, Peshek became the senior pastor of First Lutheran. However, it was not easy to leave Zion.
“I left a chunk of my heart on that altar,” he said.
First Lutheran presented its own set of challenges and new experiences. It was the first time Peshek had been a senior pastor of a large staff.
“The learning curve was steep. This congregation has challenged me and made me a better pastor. Especially administratively and in the governance system,” he observed.
He will readily admit that he has enjoyed the ministry and is at a good place in his career.
“I have always thought, I don’t want to be a pastor that in retirement is angry. And, I am not. I am a happy pastor who has experienced a rich, meaningful, purposeful, rewarding experience.”
And with a smile, Peshek said, “Life has been fun – I’m a happy camper.”
The soon-to-be-retired pastor is proud of the growth First Lutheran has experienced. When he started, the average worship attendance was 520 per weekend and now it is 755. And the 52 children actively participating in Sunday school has grown to 268 today.
He feels fortunate and acknowledges that not all pastors get to experience the rewards that have been bestowed upon him.
“I have been blessed in the three calls I have had. All three were great marriages and that’s a lot to be thankful for,” he declared.
Another marriage he can be thankful for is the one to his wife, Dee. The couple has been married for almost 42 years. Together, they have two grown children, Joshua and Jessica, and two grandchildren.
Peshek feels the future is bright not only for himself, but for First Lutheran under the leadership of Greg Billberg.
“I believe Pastor Greg is a good match for the needs of First Lutheran today,” he said without hesitation.
Meanwhile, Peshek has no intention of leaving the Alexandria area.
Most likely, the farm boy from Nebraska will be found on his 10 acres near Garfield.
His hobbies include golfing, fishing, hunting, motorcycling, snowmobiling, four-wheeling and being on a John Deere lawn mower.
“I am a lawn farmer. I love Minnesota and this is a community of agriculture, woods and water…it’s the best of all worlds and I get to live where people vacation,” he sincerely stated.
“It’s just this side of heaven.”
Open house farewell for Pastor John Peshek
Pastor John Peshek of First Lutheran Church in Alexandria is retiring after 35 years of ministry.
Peshek will preach at all worship services for the last time on Saturday, February 4 and Sunday, February 5.
An open house farewell will be held on Sunday, February 12 from 8:30 a.m. to noon at First Lutheran in Alexandria in the church family room. Punch, coffee and bars will be served.
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