Retiring Durango minister ready to ‘enjoy life’

Gusewelle is retiring after 39 years in the ministry and more than nine years at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Here, he’s speaking to his parish during a recent Sunday morning service. Enlarge photo

ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald

Gusewelle is retiring after 39 years in the ministry and more than nine years at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Here, he’s speaking to his parish during a recent Sunday morning service.

After almost four decades of preaching, counseling and presiding over weddings and funerals, the Rev. Monte Gusewelle is retiring from St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. His career has taken him from remote rural communities to a hospital chaplaincy and an inner city church before his last 9½ years at St. Paul’s.

Gusewelle’s retirement plans are simple.

“I’m going to serve as an interim minister, and enjoy life,” the 65-year-old said.

Gusewelle’s path to the ministry started on a dairy farm in Illinois near St. Louis.

“My mom and dad, Clarence and Evelyn, were devout Christians,” he said. “I grew up in a wonderful nurturing home.”

Gusewelle graduated from the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He began his ministry in July 1973 in Salina, Kan., with a bivocational ministry – one not associated with a parish.

It wasn’t long before he was assigned to rural South Dakota, at various times serving in Yale, Iroquois and Huron.

“It was like stepping back to the Reformation,” he said, “I went into a building in Huron, and all of a sudden, I was surrounded by about 70 or 80 men and boys wearing the (old-fashioned) hats and everything. They were such a reflection of what had gone on in the 1680s that was transported to the U.S.”

The men were Hutterites, a sect similar to the Amish and Mennonites.

Life was not easy for Gusewelle’s congregations there.

“There were so many hardships in terms of what was happening around there,” he said. “Auto accidents, droughts, crop failures, one thing after another. Their faith was tested all the time.”

After a year as a chaplain at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, Ill., Gusewelle became the pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Oakland, Calif, where he would spend the next 19-plus years.

“It was in the no-man’s zone,” he said. “Just above us was all secure wealthy homes, and on the flatlands around us, a welfare, drug culture and burgeoning undocumented immigrant population. I went into the neighborhoods, but it wasn’t easy. I tried to establish relationships.”

And then he came Durango. He heard from his brother, Mark Gusewelle, that St. Paul’s was seeking a new minister and applied.

“No nepotism was involved,” he said with a laugh.

During his time at the church, St. Paul’s has added a 1,200-foot addition courtesy of parishioner Gertrude Brown, celebrated its 125th anniversary and continued its flourishing preschool ministry.

But Gusewelle’s favorite memories are more simple.

“One of the things I’ve most enjoyed doing is the Christmas Eve candlelight service,” he said. “And I’ve been surrounded by love here.”

Parishioners are glad he’s going to continue to call Durango home.

“He absolutely walks the talk,” said June Dunn, one of the regular organists for the church. “He lives what he preaches from the pulpit and truly loves people.”

abutler@durangoherald.com

The Rev. Monte Gusewell in his early years in the ministry. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of the Rev. Monte Gusewelle

The Rev. Monte Gusewell in his early years in the ministry.