Faith had always been there for Deb Bergstrand, but it had not always been an all-encompassing thing.
Bergstrand is the new pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Mound, having started there just after Easter this year, and her secular background (Bergstrand’s first career was in corporate marketing) has a unique advantage: relatability.
Bergstrand is already making connections between people and between people and God, said Jeff Heiderscheit, head pastor at St. John’s, and she has distinguished herself by what he called her “great bedside manner” and conversational preaching style.
That ease in handling a sermon – she doesn’t read from a manuscript, only notes, Heiderscheit observed – might come from an earnest background coupled with a duet of midlife challenges that first brought her to the ministry.
Bergstrand said that her faith while growing up was just something that her family did and that it was more of a social outlet than it was a connection with God. It’s a background that might look familiar to many churchgoers: faith present, but never more than one part to a whole.
But two events in as many years altered Bergstrand’s relationship with God and strengthened that connection enough to prompt a change of career.
While still living in Eden Prairie, Bergstrand lost her sister-in-law to a boating accident and two years later, after a 6-month battle with kidney cancer, Bergstrand’s father passed away.
“I was thinking about what was going to make me happy and I all of a sudden flipped it around and said, well, how does God want me to respond to all these things that were happening in my life?”
At the time, Bergstrand was working a successful corporate career in marketing, but the two family losses and the response by the pastors and congregation at St. Andrews Lutheran gave her pause, Bergstrand said.
“I was just like, I need whatever I do in my occupation and my day-to-day life to be more connected to faith,” she said.
Bergstrand has now worked in ministry for the past 16 years. Her most recent post was a six-year stint as senior pastor for Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm. Bergstrand has also worked as associate pastor for two metro area churches.
St. John’s has had two other female pastors in its history, one of whom, Kaitlyn Forster, was Bergstrand’s predecessor at the church before she left last April for the ministry at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Maple Grove.
St. John’s has historically employed two full-time pastors, but Heiderscheit has been preaching solo during the year-long interregnum since Forster left.
Since then, the church has switched to a different model: Bergstrand will be part-time at St. John’s and complement the recently added role of youth director. Previously, Forster had filled this role as well, said Heiderscheit.
Bergstrand said that one of her goals at St. John’s is one of amplifying God’s message in the noise of the modern age, which for the congregation means a goal of helping its members to “feel a sense of peace and a sense of being understood in the world amidst all the busy, busy stuff that’s going on and all the different messages,” Bergstrand said.
Bergstrand said, too, that she wants to simplify things and break down what she said were barriers and misconceptions about organized religion. “As the world changes, churches are changing, too,” she said, talking at length about today’s era of divided, separate spheres for social life and faith life and how many people are pulled in many different directions.
“I think we need to find meaningful things in our lives because it’s so easy to get pulled into things that don’t last,” she said.
Bergstrand graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul in 2003, and the Minnetonka High School and St. Olaf alum traded her French and German for Latin and Hebrew, studying the biblical texts with the real interest of a born linguist, saying she enjoyed most the layers of meaning found in texts from two millennia ago.
Drawing inspiration from the Bible and other preachers, Bergstrand said a good sermon to her is one that prompts her to think about God in new ways or that impels her to act in new ways.
Bergstrand will give two sermons each month at St. John’s in addition to visitations.