Editor's note: This story first appeared in the fall 2019 issue of the Concordian, the official magazine of Concordia University Wisconsin.
One of the first things Rev. Darrel Bergelin (’70) told Evan Veen (’17) when he began his vicarage this summer at Trinity Lutheran Church in Howards Grove, Wisconsin, was that “you’ve got to write your sermons with the congregant in mind. If the mother with small children goes home with something, then other people certainly will, as well.”
It’s a lesson that Bergelin has imparted to exactly 20 other men over the years who were assigned to his charge during their final year of seminary. Since 1999, Bergelin has annually supervised a burgeoning pastor from Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, during their yearlong vicarage, placing him among the longest-running vicar supervisors within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.
Because Bergelin has had plenty of opportunity to hone his mentorship strategy, it’s no accident that he opens each vicarage experience with an urging to keep sermons focused.
“Sermons are one of the most fundamental parts of a pastor’s job, but they’re also something that can be easily messed up,” Bergelin said. “I tell my vicars, ‘If you don’t have it clear in your own mind after writing it and working with it for hours, there is no way the hearer in the pew—hearing it one time, cold—is ever going to get anything out of it.”
The decision to begin supervising vicars came 19 years into Bergelin’s time at Trinity, an approximately 600-member congregation located in rural Sheboygan County.
“Our congregation, we’re at that size where we’re not large enough for two pastors, and yet it’s more than what one pastor can deal with properly,” Bergelin said. “We talked about different solutions and we settled on the vicarage route.”
While the vicars certainly help to lighten Bergelin’s workload, the supervisor role is not without its share of extra responsibilities. Bergelin meets formally once a week with the vicars, and with his office next to theirs he regularly accommodates the organic conversations and queries that arise throughout the week. Bergelin has learned to manage life’s minor interruptions with ease, however; he and his wife, Dee Dee, raised 10 children—eight whom also graduated from CUW and two whom became pastors themselves.
Through his non-anxious demeanor and patient approach, Bergelin has eased what could otherwise be a stressful experience. The congregants of Trinity have played a vital role in encouraging dozens of the Church’s leaders, as well, said Bergelin.
“Nobody wants to be the first vicar at a church,” Bergelin said. “They come nervous enough, and they all want to do what’s right. They appreciate a congregation that’s loving and gracious to them.
“I can confidently say that’s been a big reason I’ve remained at Trinity all these years—because the congregation has been so loving and forgiving,” Bergelin continued. “I always say this is the top congregation in the LCMS. When I make that statement, I think that’s how every pastor should feel about his church.”
1999-00 Eric Goodwin
2000-01 Warren Jow
2001-02 Timothy Llewellyn
2002-03 Herbert Mueller III
2003-04 Dana Loney
2004-05 Mark Williamson
2005-06 H. Douglas Minton, Jr.
2006-07 Nathan Hausch
2007-08 Curtis Dorsey
2008-09 Samuel Powell
2010-2011 Jason Duley
2011-12 Joshua Scheil
2012-13 Joshua Reinke
2013-14 Kyle Kuehl
2014-15 Adam Archer
2015-16 Daniel Maske
2016-17 Andrew Coop
2017-18 Kevin Koester
2018-19 Jonathan Rusche
2019-20 Evan Veen
The fall 2019 Concordian hit mailboxes the end of September. View a PDF version of the magazine here. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, call 262-243-4333.
— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 262-243-2149.
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