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New Hope welcomes parish builders

Parish builders Bryce Timmerman, seated left, and Josiah Fagerstrom are welcomed by members of New Hope Free Lutheran Church with a picnic at the Jamestown Reservoir on Sunday. Standing behind them is the Rev. Steve Berntson, pastor of New Hope Free Lutheran. Tom LaVenture / The Sun

Two young men will spend the next year working as volunteer parish builders at New Hope Free Lutheran Church in Jamestown

Bryce Timmerman and Josiah Fagerstrom are recent graduates of the Association Free Lutheran Bible School and Seminary in Plymouth, Minn. The graduates chose to pursue another year with an optional second year of service at New Hope before moving on to college or other vocations. They were welcomed by the parish at a picnic Sunday at Jamestown Reservoir.

"We feel so blessed," said the Rev. Steve Berntson, pastor of New Hope.

Only eight AFLBS graduates became parish builders this year and New Hope got two of them, Berntson said. The parish builders are sent out to home mission churches within the Association of Free Lutheran churches, and New Hope provides a rented apartment during their year of service and fellowship at the church, he said.

"We just feel really blessed that they were sent to us and we welcome their life and the energy and the service that they give," Berntson said.

Timmerman, of Dickinson, N.D., said he visited New Hope in Jamestown previously as a member of the AFLBS Proclaim choir. He said as parish builders he and Fagerstrom are here in servanthood to help the congregation wherever needed.

"This is a completely new experience where we get to meet everyone and develop those relationships and it's truly an opportunity to be servants," Timmerman said. "We don't know anyone and can get into these roles and so it's just a good time to be able to fellowship with new people and embrace the body of Christ in a new way."

Fagerstrom, of Dekalb, Ill., said AFLBS helped him to rediscover the definition of Christianity, discipleship and the importance of going out, being the light and spreading the word. He took youth ministry classes that prepared him for just this situation, he said.

"When I was there (at the Bible school) I felt a calling to this kind of work," Fagerstrom said.

This is an opportunity to keep growing every day in the word and in the Lord, he said. To grow as a Christian means not becoming complacent in the relationship with God, daily devotions and surrounding himself with believers as a lifestyle, he said.

"It definitely helps in the aspect of making new relationships with people you don't know," Fagerstrom said.

As a kid, Fagerstrom said he was not confident in his faith because he didn't read his Bible enough and his core group of friends were not Christians. Bible school changed him and the Bible is his daily source of encouragement, he said.

Shannon McNear, a New Hope worship team member and parish builder coordinator, said a lot has been learned since the first parish builder came in 2014. The first two parish builders came by themselves and did well, but it seemed to be difficult for them to be alone, she said.

Two young men came together as parish builders in 2017 and it was clear that having someone familiar to share a common experience provided its own level of support, she said.

"As a church we're kind of a work in process and we're getting better at having the parish builders," McNear said.

As people just out of Bible school the parish builders bring a lot knowledge and energy to the youth ministry and the teens seem very receptive, she said. Each parish builder also brings unique skills and talents that are matched with parish needs, she said.

"We've already talked to Mrs. McNear about doing some of the youth stuff and we'll help with the Sunday school," Timmerman said. "They've tried to recruit us to sing but we don't want to scare everyone away."