Petersburg Lutheran Church marked 100 years with the reunion of several former pastors and several days of special events.
The festivities began on Wednesday, July 3, with a “Meet and Greet” dinner at the home of Grant and Lila Trask. This was just the beginning of several days of events, some of which coincided with Fourth of July celebrations.
The visiting bishops included: Bishop Don Parsons, who was the first Bishop in the state of Alaska and Bishop Ron Martinson, retired. Bishop Martinson served in Alaska from 2000 to 2006.
The visiting pastors included: Pastor Carroll Marohl, who served in Petersburg from 1990 to 1999; Pastor Al Solmonson, who served in Petersburg from 2006 to 2008. Solmonson walked in the parade in drag, (and in a red bunad to boot); Pastor DeWayne Bey, who is now in his 90s; and Pastor Dave Fulton, who served in Petersburg from 1977 to 1980.
Pastor Stan Bernston, the skipper of the M/V Christian, and his wife, were also in town. Bernston served in Ketchikan for 17 years and plans to retire this year.
On Friday night, contemporary Christian artists Dave Anderson and Roger Walck performed a range of gospel songs, and raised funds for the Shepherd's Canyon Retreat in Arizona, at a concert at the church.
An Open House was held on Saturday morning at the Holy Cross House, to honor new and returning guests. The Pilot sat down with Schwarte and several of the visiting pastors and bishops to hear their thoughts and memories of the iconic Petersburg church.
“It’s a wonderful institution. They’ve been really supportive of my wife and I,” Schwarte said of the Petersburg congregation.
“I think it’s been a legacy of great pastors. But for me, six words: ‘The best is yet to come’,” Schwarte said. “I like to look forward to the future, it’s great to look back. We are very grateful for it all. But, it’s about acknowledging that everything we have comes from God, and through God’s grace.”
“When you think about it, when you look back to the original Pastor [T.K. Torvilsen] and just a handful of people, it’s just like sowing seeds. And it’s grown into this,” Schwarte said gesturing toward the congregates who had gathered together.
“Our mission statement is really great; it’s ‘To know Christ, to grow in Christ and to show the love of Christ.’ It’s very simple,” he said.
Schwarte began his tenure at the Lutheran church about five years ago, after being a long-time Catholic priest. “It’s an honor for me to be a pastor here,” said the Illinois native and father of two daughters.
Schwarte said his first assignment as a priest in Alaska was in Ketchikan and that’s where he met Bernston, who he referred to as a mentor. Schwarte said they worked together a lot with the community’s youth.
“That’s when I first started learning about the Lutheran faith, was through the kids. When you really start working together like that, denominational boundaries don’t matter.” he said.
“When my wife and I were married in 2005, and I resigned as a Catholic priest, we just started worshiping here. Everyone was just so welcoming,” he said. “It’s great just to be here in Petersburg, I get to work with all the ministries here,” he adding that all the ministries come together for certain events such as the Annual Blessing of the Fleet and Baccalaureate at the High School each spring.
For Pastor Solmonson, who travels back to Petersburg every year, this was an event not to be missed. “The thing I remember about Petersburg is the people,” said Pastor Solmonson, who now lives in Olympia, Wash. “Being a fisherman, my time here was just a good fit,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have missed being here this summer. This is a congregation that loves to have fun, loves to celebrate and loves the Lord,” he said.
Pastor Marohl recalls when Joy Janssen told him that the committee who appointed him wasn’t sure they were going to call him. “My ancestry is German, and they said ‘Oh, no, he might drink beer’,” Marohl said jokingly. “But we had a great time here,” he said.
“We did a bit of sprucing up. We remodeled the parsonage. We built [the Holy Cross House]. But it’s not about buildings, it’s about the people here who really love the Lord. They trusted me and I trusted them. It was a really good partnership between the congregation and the pastor,” he said.
“The children that I baptized are now adults, those who were in High School and Middle School have families of their own. I feel that this is a homecoming for me. Everyone is just as warm and loving as ever,” Marohl said.
Marohl, 65, now resides in Sioux Falls, S.D. He said he feels the “independent spirit of the people, and the beautiful setting” is what makes Petersburg so special.
The festivities continued throughout the weekend with a dinner on Saturday night. And on Sunday, the church held a special service featuring the visiting bishops and pastors, followed by a portrait of the entire congregation and a luncheon.