Rochester pastor named interim at First Congregational

Published 6:08 am Friday, July 18, 2008

The Rev. Lev Reynolds preaches his first sermon Sunday as the new interim pastor at First Congregational Church (UCC), Austin.

Already he has uncovered a “diamond in the rough” with “hidden assets” to explore.

Reynolds replaces the Rev. Jim Peck, who left the minister’s post to accept a clergy assignment in California.

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He brings to the Austin clergy post a wealth of experience as a called pastor, who has spent the last several years of his career in multiple interim posts.

Also, he is the son of a United Church of Christ pastor, who provided Reynolds with the practical experience of a pastor at work.

Reynolds and his second wife, Linda (his first wife is deceased), moved to Rochester from St. Charles, Mo. near St. Louis five years ago in November.

His wife, Linda, an ordained minister, is the associate pastor at Peace United Church of Christ, Rochester.

“Linda and I moved here for her work,” he said. “What I have done for the last 23 years is work as an interim minister.”

Before that, Reynolds was a called pastor for 17 years.

“My first wife, whom I met in seminary, wanted to finish up and be ordained. She wanted a church of her own and I had a wonderful mid-life crisis just about then.”

“I decided to get out of called pastorate work,” he said.

Reynolds is the son of a Congregational minister, who held three degrees from Harvard University.

Reynolds grew up in New England as only child in his family.

After finishing his sophomore year in high school in Massachusetts, the family moved to Oregon, where he finished high school. He went to Stanford University.

“I always knew I was going to be a minister,” he said. “So much so that I almost didn’t take college seriously.”

Going to seminary to study becoming a Congregational minister was part calling and part something else.

“The best way to describe it is my dad did it and he was real happy with it,” he recalled.

“I probably learned as much about practical ministry from him as I did from seminary,” he said.

Religion was the topic around the Reynolds family’s dinner table.

“When I was growing up, not only was he an active minister, but he was an active student,” Reynolds said. “He was working on a doctorate degree in theology at the time.”

His father, the scholar, was grooming his son to be a scholar and a pastor; so much so that when Reynolds came home from his freshman year in college his father told him “I know a church that needs someone to baby-sit them for the summer.”

That was Reynolds’ first interim assignment and he was only 19 years old.

When Reynolds completed his seminary studies and became an ordained minister, his first assignment was at an 1,800-bed mental hospital in Connecticut as the assistant chaplain.

Then, he was called to a church in Connecticut, then two churches in Maine and then a church in New Hampshire.

When his first wife became an ordained pastor, she took a called pastoral position in Hollywood, Fla.

The couple moved to Austin, Texas, where he wife worked as an associate conference minister.

Next, she was called to a home for the developmentally disabled at St. Charles, Mo.

The couple had three sons — none in clergy work.

Eleven years ago, his first wife died and he met a woman through the church and they started dating.

“She was working in a grocery store, but what she really wanted to do was become a minister,” he said.

The woman (Linda) quit her job in the grocery store and went to work full-time in a church while attending seminary.

The woman was ordained and offered a job at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester as an associate pastor.

“It was one of those positions that was too good to pass up,” Reynolds said.

“She’s doing exactly what she loves to do.”

In all, Reynolds has served 14 different interim positions and a couple of chaplaincy positions.

At the time the Austin post opened, he was serving a UCC church at Eyota.

It took some convincing, but the need was well-known throughout the conference: pulpits were vacant at Winona, Wabasha and Austin, where all three pastors had resigned in March and April.

When Reynolds was invited to come to Austin, he said he only wanted a part-time position and First Congregational agreed.

“What I have found here is — I’m thinking of the appropriate metaphor — a diamond in the rough with hidden assets,” he said.

The first asset he mentioned was the facilities, a “beautifully thought-out, well-planned church,” he said.

“The other thing is the people here want to see the church grow and flourish,” he said. “My contention is the United Church of Christ has a particular message and is in a particular position and there are people in Austin who are looking for a church like ours,” Reynolds said.

“There are certain things this congregation has and our denomination stands for that is different from other congregations and people are looking for what we have,” he said.

Reynolds will take the pulpit Sunday morning to demonstrate just what more of those hidden assets hold for worshipers.

Sunday morning worship servies at the church begin at 10 a.m.

First Congregational Church (UCC) is located at 1910 Third Ave. N.W.

Call 433-2301 for more information.