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Finnern retires after 38 years of ministry

The Reverend Terry Finnern will retire in May. He has been a pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod for 38 years and served Zion Lutheran Church in Alexandria for the last 12 years. (Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson)

For 38 years, the Reverend Terry Finnern has served God and his people. In May, the head pastor for Zion Lutheran Church in Alexandria will retire.

"I have seen the hand of God at work in the lives of the people He has called me to serve. I have cried with them and I have smiled with them. Through it all, I knew, and I still know, that God is with them," Finnern said.

The minister graciously agreed to a "Question and Answer" session with the Echo Press to reflect on his career.

Q: Where are you from?

A: I grew up on a farm in Sioux Valley Township in Jackson County. Our farm was one mile from the Iowa border. I have moved "north," but my memories of growing up on a farm have become more precious to me as I have gotten older.

Q: How long have you been a pastor?

A: I graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield, Illinois in May 1974. I was ordained at my home congregation, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Lakefield, on July 14, 1974.

Q: Where have you served?

A: My first call was to St. John Lutheran Church, Onarga, Illinois. I served St. John, along with Immanuel Lutheran Church in Loda from August 1974 to June 1979. I was installed as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Wadena on July 22, 1979. I served St. John for 21 years before I accepted the call to Zion Lutheran Church here in Alexandria in 2000. I was installed at Zion on July 9, 2000.

Q: Who was a critical influence in your decision to become a pastor?

A: 1) Dr. Henry Eggold, one of my professors at the seminary who made sure we understood that "Ministry is not about us, but about God's people." 2) Dr. August Mennicke, the former president of the Minnesota North District of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, whose leadership showed me that: "We are called to be servants to God's people." 3) The Reverend Toivo Esala, who reminded me, "To love God's people more." 4) The Reverend Elmer Linen, who taught me, "How to love God's people more." 5) My associate, the Reverend William Moeller, who shows me, "How to love God's people more." 6) My associate, the Reverend David Hinz, who encourages me as I strive, "To love God's people more."

Q: What path brought you to Zion Lutheran Church?

A: When a person looks back, it is easy to see God's hand has been involved in everything you have done. In reality, the Lord has brought me back to where my career started. I attended Concordia College in St. Paul from 1966-1968. I looked with awe at my classmates who were studying to be teachers. I saw their dedication, commitment, talent, etc. and many times I told myself, "I could never do that." In 1968 I transferred to Winona State College and received my degree in elementary education in 1970. Right after I graduated I entered the seminary so I never taught in an elementary school. Now, I am the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church and School and I have had the privilege to work with some of the individuals who were with me at Concordia. I am as impressed with the teachers that I work with now as I was with the students who were preparing to be teachers then! It is amazing how God brings us back to where it began!

Q: What have you learned about yourself serving as a pastor?

A: I am unworthy and privileged.

Q: What has been your greatest challenge?

A: Remembering that the message of God's love for us in Jesus is not just for my people but it is also for me.

Q: Describe your top two career highlights.

A: Every year I have the opportunity to share the good news of the Christmas and Easter angels who said, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." Luke 2: 10-11 and "The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples" Matthew 28: 5-7.

Q: What made you decide to retire?

A: When I was called to Zion in 2000, the Reverend William Moeller was serving as visitation pastor for the congregation. Six years ago the Lord brought the Reverend David Hinz to Zion, and he was installed as our associate pastor. Both of these men have been a great blessing to our congregation. Knowing that the congregation was in good hands with these two gentlemen, I felt it time for me to step aside. Also, my wife retired last year, so I felt it was time for me to join her.

Q: What are your plans for retirement?

A: Our daughter, Christa and her husband, Keegan, along with their two children, live in Starksboro, Vermont. Our son, Brady and his wife, Amy, along with their four children, live in Sartell. My wife and I would like to spend more time with them. My father is 92 years old and lives in Hartley, Iowa. My mother-in-law is 89 and lives near Appleton. We would like to spend more time with them, too.

Q: From the time you started your career to now, are people the same or different?

A: People haven't changed, but the influences in their lives have changed. The interpersonal relationships we have with one another are becoming more impersonal. Perhaps it is due to busy schedules and our communication with one another via modern technology.

Q: Tell me about the sermons taken from Heinz Ketchup bottles... I've been told they're a hit with children.

A: In 1970 I received a degree in elementary education. I learned to observe the things around me and see how I could use them in my teaching. A number of years ago I noticed that the Heinz Company had included special sayings on their ketchup bottle labels. I have been able to use these in my children's sermons. I use the messages on the ketchup bottles as "transitions" into the message of God's love for us in Jesus Christ. To date I must have almost 100 bottles, most of which I keep on the "Ketchup Bottle Shelf" in my office.

Q: I was told that you have a gift when it comes to remembering people's names, where they're from, who they're related to, etc. Describe this gift.

A: First of all it gives me an opportunity to show my people that they are important to me. Also, everyone has a history and I've always enjoyed finding out how their history may have been part of or close to mine. As they share their story with me, it also opens the door for me to see how I can share God's story with them.

Q: This is a tough question to ask a pastor, but here goes: What is the single most important life lesson you've learned while serving God?

A: ... that the unconditional love that God has given to us in Christ, enables and empowers us to share His unconditional love with one another.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you often give for people seeking your counsel?

A: The words of the prophet Jeremiah who writes, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." Jeremiah 29: 11-12

Q: What are you most proud of in your life?

A: My daughter continues to show me what it means to be patient and caring. My son daily teaches me to look at things from different perspectives, so I can see God at work in new and exciting ways. My grandchildren, who just love me as Grandpa. Finally, my wife, whose unconditional love enables me to better understand how much Jesus loves me.


The Reverend Terry Finnern will be honored on Sunday, May 6 at a special church service at 10:30 a.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, with a dinner and short program to follow at the church. Reservations are required for the dinner. For reservations or for more information, call (320) 763-4842.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Reporter and Osakis Review Managing Editor Amy Chaffins on Twitter at @TheOsakisReview.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

(320) 763-3133