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Being content, serving with joy

By Melanie Ave

When Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Huron, S.D., prepared to call an associate pastor last spring, church leaders knew they and their community needed a certain kind of person in that role.

Someone who was kind, patient, flexible. Someone who could show compassion to the sick and elderly. Someone who wasn’t afraid to try new things or to reach beyond cultural boundaries and across language barriers.

Mount Calvary sits in one of the most diverse cities in the state as people from all over the world — Puerto Rico, Mexico, Myanmar, Asian Pacific islands — move there to work and to be near other family members. “It’s definitely a unique setting,” said Rev. Christopher Navurskis, the church’s senior pastor.

“He’s 6-foot-4 with a heart to match.”
–Rev. Christopher Navurskis

About 300 people worship at Mount Calvary on any given weekend. Its preschool is at capacity. Expectations were high for just the right seminarian to fill the associate pastor role as Call Day 2019 approached.

Concordia Seminary’s Director of Placement Dr. Glenn Nielsen shared the name of a concluding seminarian he thought would serve the church’s needs with Pastor Chris, who remembers one of the comments from the student’s vicarage congregation from a year earlier: “You won’t meet a nicer guy.”

And so as the first calls to ministry were announced in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus on Call Day, Kevin Koester was sent to … Mount Calvary.

Koester, center, assists with Communion at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church. Photo: Donell Mayfield
Now, almost a year since the pairing, the reviews from both sides are glowing. “He’s got a great heart,” Pastor Chris says of his team ministry counterpart, Pastor Kevin. “He’s 6-foot-4 with a heart to match. From day one, he has had a kindness and approachability about him that is so encouraging. He’s been a wonderful blessing to us.”

Pastor Kevin is equally enthusiastic about his own time in Huron. He has a special fondness for visiting the homebound and the hospitalized. He thrives in one-on-one ministry settings and is not afraid to tackle new challenges. He preached his first funeral when Pastor Chris was out of town. His first Baptism was the father of one of the church’s confirmands.

“It’s been really, really great so far,” Pastor Kevin says. “It’s wonderful how the Lord has blessed our ministry.”

A Minnesota native, Pastor Kevin attended Lutheran schools from kindergarten through college, eventually enrolling and graduating from the pre-seminary program at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn. It was his fourth grade teacher who first noticed in Kevin gifts for the ministry and told him so. From then on, “It was always in the back of my mind,” he says.

As the first minister in his family, Pastor Kevin describes himself as unique in the world of pastors because of a disability. At age 2, he was diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT), a hereditary neurological disorder. He wears leg braces to help with foot drop and balance, and walks with a high gait. He struggles with fine motor skills in his hands. Stairs are a challenge and he gets fatigued at times. As a result, he is cautious and reserved.

Regardless, Pastor Chris has only praise for his young associate. “He never complains, shows great initiative and works every minute of the day to overcome obstacles that others don’t think twice about,” he says. “His ministry honors God.”

“Being content in all circumstances is my motto.”
–Rev. Kevin Koester

Pastor Kevin, the eldest of two children, is thankful for the upbringing that helped propel him to this point. His mother is a retired insurance agent, and his father, who retired from Cargill Corp., has been the head elder of his home congregation for years.

“I always had a great example of what it means to be in church, to hear God’s Word and to serve,” he says. “My dad was always very selfless and always willing to give of himself.

“I’ve taken that and hope to incorporate it into my ministry.”

When he’s not serving in ministry, Pastor Kevin enjoys rooting for Minnesota in most any sport and learning about history and fishing. He also enjoys playing fantasy baseball — his team is the Piranhas — and is in a league with Nielsen.

Pastor Kevin is thankful to his senior pastor, to the Mount Calvary elders, to the entire congregation and to Nielsen for helping bring him to Mount Calvary. “It’s the exact right fit that I needed,” he says.

“I may need to do things differently here and there,” Pastor Kevin says. “I don’t see it as anything that holds me back or prevents me from doing what God wants me to do in ministry. Everyone has his own cross to bear, his own issues. God works through all kinds of people. I learned from God’s Word about being content. Being content in all circumstances is my motto.”

Pastor Chris says Pastor Kevin has helped raise awareness about people with disabilities. One parishioner even told Pastor Chris that he now chooses to come to church when his back hurts because Pastor Kevin has inspired him by how he pushes through each day despite having CMT.

Pastor Kevin’s enthusiasm for being on the front lines of ministry has even helped reinvigorate his senior pastor, who has been in ministry for
15 years.

“Kevin loves people,” Pastor Chris says. “He is one of those guys who hasn’t met too many strangers. They are just friends he hasn’t met yet. He enjoys ministry and has such a high regard for the Office of the Holy Ministry. It’s such a joy to see.”

Melanie Ave is communications manager at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.