Pastor Usgaard elected bishop

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 14, 2001

On Aug.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

On Aug. 1, Pastor Harold Usgaard of St. Olaf Lutheran Church begins a new position.

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Usgaard has been elected bishop of the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

"Huck" Usgaard, a Decorah, Iowa, native, first entered the Lutheran Church in 1973 at Zumbro Lutheran Church in Rochester, where he served until 1978.

He also spent 13 years in West Allis, Wis., and the last 10 years in Austin.

Usgaard explained he is not placed into the congregations he serves, rather he’s "called."

"Congregations ‘call’ a pastor," Usgaard said. "When I first became a pastor, many clergy had to wait."

While there was a large number of people joining the clergy nearly 30 years ago, Usgaard explained that its very different now.

"There’s a shortage of clergy," he said. "It’s difficult for placement. That’s one of the issues facing rural southeastern Minnesota; there are so many graduates from the seminary who are being placed in low-paying positions."

Congregations can’t always pay more, which is a challenge, especially in this area, he said.

Usgaard graduated from Luther College in Decorah and Luther Seminary.

At the time, he wasn’t sure whether the clergy was what he wanted.

His feelings changed, however.

"I discovered how interesting and enjoyable parish ministry is," Usgaard said. "It’s a privilege to be called a pastor; to be invited into people’s homes in times of happiness and sadness, to have people believe you are honest and trustworthy. A person of God."

Usgaard was nominated to become bishop of the ELCA. He explained that the election for bishop is done under an ecclesiastical ballot.

"Any pastor in the ELCA can be nominated," he said. "There were a great number of nominations prior to the election."

In the end, the ballot was narrowed down from seven candidates, to four, and finally Usgaard and another individual.

It was at this time when Usgaard wondered whether he could complete the journey.

"I wrestled back and forth when I was nominated," he said. "In today’s world, so many people think of promotion; in the Lutheran Church, it’s not like that. The question is, where do my gifts lie?"

Usgaard decided to continue with the process "to see if this is an area God’s calling me to."

When he begins his formal duties as bishop of the ELCA, Usgaard will be traveling quite a bit. He, along with a member of his staff, will spend two days in every congregation in the synod.

During this time, he will get to know the other pastors and the congregation.

While he’s looking forward to doing so, it was one of the things that he wondered about during the election process.

"I wondered if I would lose the personal relationship with the congregation," he said. "The synod includes 184 congregations and 132,000 people."

Usgaard said he needs to build trust in the congregations he’s about to enter. He plans to listen to the congregation, asking himself, "How can I serve them?"

This is one of the challenges Usgaard faces, as he’s come to know the congregation here pretty well.

"I’ll be preaching to people I don’t necessarily know," he said. "When you preach somewhere for 10 years, you get to know people. In ministry, wherever you are, there are challenges and blessings; I expect that now, too."