The Rev. Craig Miller has great hopes for Christ Lutheran Church in Fort Dodge. Since he became pastor there in January, he and the church board have taken steps to make the church more welcoming, reach out to younger families, and try out new worship styles.
Moving to Fort Dodge means coming closer to home for Miller.
"We've lived in smaller communities, and after growing up in Des Moines, it's kind of nice to move back to larger community," he said. "We've really finding Fort Dodge to be very enjoyable."
Miller went to Grandview College in Des Moines, then attended Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque. In 1986 he was ordained and received his first call to Liberal, Kansas.
"Most of my family is from Iowa, and my wife grew up in Martinsdale, so we wanted to move back to Iowa," he said.
Miller pastored in Remsen (population 1,700) before taking his current congregation. He is now shared between Christ Lutheran at 2220 10th Ave N., and Washington Lutheran Church in Duncombe. Every Sunday he preaches a sermon at both churches.
"Some of the rural area churches (in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America conference) are a little on the small side so they share a pastor, not unlike a lot of Catholic churches," Miller said.
"We've made some changes to the outside, to make the building a little more inviting," he said. "I think sometimes churches look closed off. So it's designating where to come in the church, and where to come in the sanctuary. Pretty simple things."
The church also started a new ad campaign, developed a Facebook page, and started a website, christlutheranfd.org. Miller said he's been keeping the website up to date for now.
He also said they are looking at changes to their worship setting.
"I'm working very closely with the church council on long range planning. What we're trying to do is update or renew our public perception, that we're not an older person's church anymore."
Miller said he was inspired to the ministry by his high school pastor, the Rev. Gene Hermier of Zion Lutheran Church.
"We had a very active youth group," he said. "I felt a calling to do (ministry), but I really didn't want to go to college."
Miller went to Des Moines Area Community College and learned how to repair television sets.
"I did that for a while, then got laid off," he said. "I spent kind of a snowy winter thinking about things, as my wife was going off to work. That sense of call came back."
He went back to see Hermier, and was encouraged to pursue that call.
"It was mainly the influence of that pastor and the congregation. It was a culmination of things; it wasn't like the heavens opened. I had a lot of encouragement and support."
Church Secretary Marolyn Hill has been a member of the church for many years. She said the transition has been "nice and smooth," and the congregation gets along well with the pastor.
"I see people more upbeat," Hill said. "They're embracing some of the new things, like the Bible study. ... A few former members who left the church have come back."
Jan Hanrahan has been attending Christ Lutheran since it was just a group meeting in a pastor's basement.
"He's an excellent minister," Hanrahan said. "The confirmation kids love him. ... He gives a great sermon. He really relates to everybody; he's always got a smile on his face."
She said she enjoys the changes he's brought to the music at the church, and thinks it is moving in the right direction.
"I think he shows a lot of drive. He really wants to see the church grow."
Contact Joe Sutter at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org