St. John’s Lutheran Church welcomes Rev. Ellen Stelzle | Community


Pastor Ellen Stelzle grew up in Green Bay, with the Lutheran Church as the constant backdrop of her teenage years. As a young person, she decided to work and attend a religious camp as an extension of her worship. It was then that she knew she would pursue a position in the ministry.

An undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in marketing and business management also uniquely prepared her for the roles most needed in church administration. This uniqueness set her apart from other candidates evaluated by the appeal board of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Oregon, and she was chosen to serve the community as its new pastor.

“St. John’s has always been a place where we’d like to think we’re very open to the community. And we’d like people to come and work with the community, and we haven’t been very good at making that happen” , said council member Jon Fishwild. [Stelzle] seemed to have a skill set of how we can embrace this and make this happen.


She further honed her skills with experience. His first call was to Aurora, Illinois. Then her husband found a job that took them to Nebraska. She served in a church in Omaha for 18 years until her path took her back to Wisconsin, where she will lead worship for the first time September 17-18.

Both Stelzle and his future Wisconsin congregation have experienced the effects of COVID-19 on worship in community spaces. Fishwild recalled how when the former St. John’s pastor retired amid the pandemic, they struggled to find a cohesive way to worship — and search together for a new pastor in the meantime. They tried streaming and recording, like Stelzle did in Omaha, but churches and other institutions across the country resoundingly agreed that it wasn’t the same thing.

“There’s really no substitute for being together, with each other, in person,” Stelzle said. And I think we realized… how badly we wanted to. We have to be careful and sane about it. But we are excited to meet again, to see each other again and to see what new things are going to happen.

As Fishwild pointed out, the church and its members wanted to bring in someone who could help create engaging and intimate ministry programming. Both mentioned plans to focus on improving sessions and small group activities that encourage building strong relationships between new and returning members.

“Pastor Ellen talked about how you could have a ministry where people share their faith through storytelling…like what are their stories of how they found and nurtured their relationship with God? So that’s his goal, and that’s where we think we need to go,” Fishwild said on behalf of his colleagues and himself.

He explained that while they will continue to offer online services to people who may not be able to attend in person for a number of reasons, they also hope to expand things like Bible studies for children and the adults. St. John’s already hosts a number of other activities, such as a cooking group, which Stelzle plans to expand and support in addition to the typical responsibilities demanded of a pastor.

St. John’s members ultimately want people to know their space is welcome for everyone, Fishwild said. It helps that the physical place of worship itself was recently renovated to accommodate the growing congregation that Stelzle will support. Fishwild noted that it was also appropriate for the board and appeals committee to hold the position of pastor when construction is complete.

“Pastor Ellen will essentially inherit a new sanctuary space that was completed during COVID,” he said.

The renovations aimed to open up the space surrounding the altar. It has become slightly rounded to ensure no one feels left out around the edges. The reused stained glass windows have been moved to provide more light. At a time when churches across the country are being bought out for development, St. John’s counts itself lucky. Stelzle recounted seeing smaller churches across Nebraska facing this fate.

“I hope and pray that…people can continue to be a community, can continue to minister even though they don’t have…this physical place,” Stelzle said when asked about the future of St. John’s relative to others. “Because the church is not really about the building. It’s about people.


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