Finding hope, even in the wait: St. John’s new Lutheran pastor strives to stay ahead
By Carrina Stanton / For the Chronicle
There is perhaps no better description of when Reverend Jim Odden came to St. John’s Lutheran, or of his attitude towards him, than what is inked directly on his skin.
Pastor Jim, as he prefers to be called, has a tattoo on his knuckles spelling out the Hebrew word Yakhal. In simple terms, it means hope. In a broader sense, it is the type of hope that drives us both to wait and to seek the object of our hope.
“He’s hoping for the best, waiting for it to come and, also, we’re going to work on some calluses,” Odden said of the sign’s significance.
Odden took over pastoral duties at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Chehalis about six months ago. Before coming to Chehalis, he pastored the Mountain View Ministry parish in rural North Dakota for four years. Prior to that, he worked as a chaplain at St. Cloud Veterans Hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota. An avid outdoorsman, Odden said he had been aiming to find a church in the Pacific Northwest for a while before coming to Chehalis.
“Between the mountains, the trees or the water, I say if I have two of the three, I’m happy,” Odden said.
When he was young, Odden’s parents often moved their family to keep up with available work opportunities. Her religious upbringing was ecumenical: her father was a Lutheran, her mother was a Catholic, and her stepfather was a Baptist. Pastor was not a career goal for Odden when he was very young. He started working in carpentry with his father and brother as a teenager and continued in this field for about 25 years. As an adult, he began to feel called to ministry and, as he recounts, “he ignored the pat on my shoulder for too long.”
Eventually he attended Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. With a focus on chaplaincy and multicultural ministry. He said he chose the Lutheran church with his 28-year-old wife, Kristal. He explained that the couple were mostly ‘church shopping’ and that they both felt drawn to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), one of the four main branches of the Church. Lutheran. Odden said they both feel the ELCA best aligns with their personal values, though Odden noted that doesn’t mean he always agrees with every decision the denomination makes.
“I always tell people they should ask questions, even if the questions are tough,” he said.
In the Lutheran church, the relocation of a pastor to a different location is a matter handled with input from the pastor, bishop, church, and a governing body called a synod. While serving in North Dakota, Odden said he had a conversation with a member of his synod that led him to watch the opening at St. John’s Lutheran. Odden said St. John’s had a similar number of worshipers at its last congregation, just at one church, instead of three different churches.
“So I have my office in one or two places rather than four or five, which is really good,” Odden said.
Coming with him when he moved to Washington, Odden’s wife, Kristal, is a social worker at Panorama in Lacey. The couple have five children and the two youngest still live at home and attend Chehalis schools. Odden said their family received a warm welcome from St. John’s congregants, including members who helped them move into their new home and even stocked their pantry as gifts.
“As warm and friendly as possible without overdoing it,” Odden said.
Odden said some of the things he enjoys most about being a congregation pastor are gatherings such as confirmation and Bible study groups. He explained that he feels most energized in environments where he can interact with people and hear what they have to say.
“Preaching is good, but it’s one-sided,” Odden said.
Continuing to navigate worship amid the COVID pandemic, as well as envisioning post-COVID worship is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing churches today and St. John’s is no exception. , Odden noted. For one thing, pastors and church leaders have had to become more tech savvy. Early in the pandemic, St. John’s began offering live church services instead of in-person worship. Now that most restrictions have been lifted, the church is offering on-site worship once a week which is also live streamed for those who wish to continue joining in this manner.
Now that streaming is part of the worship landscape, Odden said he could never have predicted the reach that virtual church services might have. In St. John’s, there are children and grandchildren of parishioners who don’t live in the area who virtually join their families for worship, as well as former parishioners who continue to join other church services. States. Church leadership considers steam to be such a part of St. John’s future that they recently added a permanent booth to house audio and visual equipment at the back of their sanctuary.
Odden said the ability to stream had been available in one form or another for more than 20 years, but had been largely ignored until it was needed. This is just one example of how churches must be prepared to innovate and constantly challenge themselves to determine if the status quo is still the best way to do things.
“Most people have no idea what’s coming,” Odden said. “Things have changed and will continue to change and we have to stay ahead of the curve.”
When not at church, Odden said he enjoys spending time with his family, especially hiking. He also plays the violin and has been doing amateur genealogical research for about 27 years. When he gets the chance, he rides a Harley Davidson. The bike, along with his beard and tattoos cut him a different profile from the pastors many people have encountered. He said that can often be a bonus for some people. For example, at the VA hospital, some veterans were not comfortable talking to him over a more traditional-looking chaplain, while others were more eager to talk to him because they felt comfortable with him.
“No one person is more or less qualified, it’s just that some people are happier talking with someone who looks like me,” Odden said.