Local pastor says his goodbyes this weekend

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald file photo

The Rev. John Knutson of Christ the King Lutheran Church created Pub Chat as an informal worship and discussion group, which is held at the Irish Embassy Pub. He often joins the group on his guitar for songs such as “Let it be” by The Beatles.

By Ann Butler
Herald Staff Writer

One hundred and sixty-two baptisms. One hundred and seventeen weddings. Eighty-seven funerals. Seven hundred new members.

“It’s a privilege being a part of that many different families,” said the Rev. John Knutson, who is leaving Christ the King Lutheran Church after 18 years to move to his next posting at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Greeley. “I was just on a hospital visit with a woman who had just given birth to her fourth child. She said I’d been there for all four.”

He’s also happy to have performed the church’s first fourth-generation baptism, with great-grandmother Dottie Johnson, grandparents David and Sandy Peterson, and parents Gabe and Nicole Neutelings all on hand to welcome Ella Jade.

Sunday will be his last day, and the congregation is holding a farewell party for him and his wife, Diane, after he preaches about the last decade at the church.

“A lot of pastors dream of serving at a place like this,” Knutson said. “There’s a lot of grace, a lot of generosity. This congregation continues to be a gift to the community.”

A presence in the community has been a priority for “Pastor John” during his posting here. He has been pivotal in creating ecumenical worship, most visible through joint Advent and Lent services with four other churches.

“Being able to reach out, that’s a blessing,” he said. “We like people sharing their gifts outside the walls of the church.”

Among the innovations at Christ the King during Knutson’s tenure has been taping his sermons, which are now available online. About 100 people from up to 25 countries log on each week.

Pub Chat, an informal worship and discussion group that meets Wednesday evenings at the Irish Embassy Pub, has become a popular outreach. Between 10 and 20 people, many in their 20s, gather each week.

He has served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician, first with Animas Fire Protection District, and then with Durango Fire & Rescue Authority after they merged, as well as DFRA’s volunteer chaplain. He has gone on more than 100 calls a year during his time here.

“The ability to be with the fire department was a great way to be involved in the community,” he said. “It’s a way to be aware of things a lot of pastors are not privy to.”

The financial numbers, another indicator of the health of a church, have also increased significantly under Knutson’s leadership. The budget has quadrupled to around $400,000, and giving to causes in the community has increased more than tenfold, from $9,000 annually to more than $112,000. The church provides meeting space to community groups 365 days a year.

“At least a quarter of the people I work with are not members of the congregation,” Knutson said. “One time, two people had crises at the same time. One was a member of the congregation, and the other was not. The member of the congregation told me to help the other person. ‘We’ve got each other,’ he said.”

Knutson said he believes he’s been at Christ the King long enough. Plus, the move will allow John and Diane Knutson to be closer to their son, Patrick, a student at the University of Colorado at Denver, and Diane Knutson’s parents, Ed and Rosemary Krass, who moved to Louisville from Durango last fall.

Diane Knutson will continue living in Durango to serve as a municipal judge in Ignacio and Durango as well as maintaining her law practice here.

“She already has her plane tickets for visits,” her husband said.

While Knutson treasures all his pastoral acts, there is one that will always be his favorite.

“The greatest highlight was when Diane and I got married 13 years ago on a Sunday afternoon,” he said. “The whole congregation, 350 people, came, and it was such a celebration. This congregation has always been there for me.”


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