Baptist minister preached his first sermon at age 17
Posted 12/28/10 (Tue)
Camille and Pastor John Fetterhoff
By Caroline Downs
For Dr. John and Camille Fetterhoff, the decision to move to Kenmare for the minister’s position at Faith Baptist Church occurred in a whirlwind of activity.
The family was living in upstate New York when Pastor John was invited to Kenmare as a candidate on October 3rd. “I taught Sunday School that day, preached Sunday morning, Sunday night, and did services at the Baptist Home and hospital,” he said.
“We went to a wedding,” added Camille, “and checked the school out.”
“We traveled 1800 miles, so they wanted to get everything in,” said Pastor John. “We got to meet everybody and were in four or five different homes. We hit the ground running, and then went home and waited. It was one of the longest weeks of my life.”
The congregation voted in Pastor John’s favor the following week, and he and his family arrived November 2nd, delighted with the outcome. “I knew when my foot touched the driveway of the parsonage, this was where I belonged,” he said.
Pastor John grew up on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the town of Munising. He graduated among a class of two students from a school run by a church because the community was too small to host its own public school.
“This is similar,” he said as he referred to Kenmare’s two grocery stores and other local small businesses. “It was a neat place to live, and what attracted us were the values of the folks, which are the same values we have.”
He stopped and shook his head, then talked about how schools in North Dakota reserve Wednesday nights for church activities instead of sports events. He also mentioned officiating a basketball game at a nearby school where a book vendor included religious titles and Bible study aids with the display set up in the teachers’ lounge. “Those things would never happen where we came from,” he said.
Another pleasant surprise in Kenmare has been the cooperation among the churches in town. “Where we were in New York, churches didn’t mingle much,” said Pastor John. “Here, it’s neat to see churches working together to do something in the community for Christ.”
For Pastor John, serving Christ in a minister’s role has been a lifelong walk. “I preached my first sermon at age 17 and had my first church at age 18,” he said, referring to Community Baptist Church in Grand Marais, Michigan. “I wouldn’t step down to become President. What I’m doing right now is God’s will for my life, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
After he graduated from high school in 1983, Pastor John attended a Bible college for two years where he also played basketball for the college team until injuries and related financial issues prevented him from continuing. He worked a variety of jobs, but was employed by a Winn-Dixie grocery store in Florida when he met his future wife.
“I drew her name out of a hat at Christmas for a Secret Santa exchange at work,” he said, adding that he would devise ways to stock shelves near the store’s deli counter where he could watch Camille during her shifts. “We went on our first date in January and were married in February.”
He laughed and continued, “I don’t recommend that for everybody.”
Camille grew up in Ozone Park, New York, and graduated with a class of 729 students in Brooklyn. “To most people, that’s the city,” she said, “but to me, the city is Manhattan.” She served in the U.S. Air Force after graduation and joined her then-retired parents in Florida where she met John.
The couple has four children, with Tim as a freshman at Northland International University in Wisconsin where he majors in sports ministry and management, and John as a senior, Sammi as a junior and Rebekah as an eighth grader at Kenmare High School. John was inducted into the U.S. Marine Corps last summer and will be reporting for basic training in South Carolina shortly after graduation next May.
After marrying Camille, Pastor John returned to college and earned a degree in Biblical studies from Liberty University in Virginia, then finished his first doctorate in theology at Andersonville Theological Seminary in Camilla, Georgia. He’s currently at work on a second doctorate from the same institution, completing his coursework online.
“I read a lot,” he said, “and what I read depends on what I’m preaching on and what I’m preaching through. My favorite is end times prophecy.”
Camille laughed and described her husband’s library as extensive, saying that he built extra shelves already in the office at Faith Baptist Church. “Every nook and cranny has a book,” she said.
“And I still have another 18 small U-Haul boxes filled with books to unpack,” Pastor John added.
He has served churches in northern Wisconsin, Iowa, Delaware and Florida, and worked for a Bible radio broadcasting network in Florida, North Carolina and Louisiana. His most recent parish was First Baptist in Oswegatchie, New York. “That town is actually smaller than this one,” said Camille. “The area there is declining because of the economy.”
The couple was seeking a new position when Faith Baptist Church became available. Camille’s sister and brother-in-law live in Minot, and the family attended a reunion there two years ago, when Pastor John and Camille were impressed by several aspects.
“There’s the beauty of this place,” said Pastor John. “Even when it snows and blows, it looks like you’re driving on clouds or waves. I know it’s dangerous, but there’s an incredible beauty in that.”
He continued by talking about the agricultural-based economy. “This area helps feed the nation,” he said. “You have to have a tremendous amount of faith to be a farmer, and I find a lot of people here with great faith in God, a great trust in Him. That makes it easy to be a pastor here.”
The nature of the churches also appealed to him. “The churches want people to come, they want to grow spiritually,” he said, adding he had served in churches that behaved differently. “That’s like saying Sic ‘em to a dog, for a pastor!”
In scouting online for open churches, Pastor John stumbled upon a website operated by Sioux Falls College. “The first thing that pops up is the ad for this church, looking for a pastor,” he said. “I sent my resume and four days later I had a call from [church member] Morris Erickson.”
Pastor John is just as impressed with Faith Baptist as the congregation seems to be with him. “The church is phenomenal,” he said. “All the ministries the church has. MOPS is huge. AWANA is huge. We hope to return to broadcasting [the Sunday night services] on the public access channel. Faith is poised to do something great here in town!”
With a philosophy of “preach the word, love the people,” Pastor John has settled in to work. “It doesn’t matter how many we have in attendance,” he said, “I want everybody to be a servant. As the Bible says, ‘Be conformed to the image of Christ.’ ”
He quoted one of his mentors from the World of Life Bible Institute in New York, “Live every moment for Jesus, and the days and weeks and months will take care of themselves.”
He laughed as he said he doesn’t need to have the biggest church on the block, but he does intend to create a place where the scriptures are taught, lived and shared with mission as a focus. “This is all within the confines of being a servant,” he said. “The best thing I can do is teach the Word and let the Spirit work. If I do my part, if Jesus Christ has your heart, everything else will take care of itself.”
For Pastor John, being a servant extends beyond the church walls into the community, and he lives out that vision. Congregation members and other residents will see him as an official for basketball, baseball and softball games. He intends to visit the Baptist Home of Kenmare and Kenmare Community Hospital on a regular basis, and he also wants to volunteer with the Kenmare Ambulance Service as a First Responder, having just re-certified in New York state.
“You’ll see us out at things like Light Up Night,” he said as he praised the parade and evening events in the community. “And it’s fun serving the Lord. There’s never a dull moment at the Fetterhoff house!”
Given the welcoming response from the congregation, the community and the school, Pastor John is looking forward to a long stay in Kenmare. “For not knowing us, [people] have shown us a tremendous amount of love and care,” he said. “Lord willing, I figure I’ve got about 30 years of good preaching left!”
Pastor John generally spends a few hours each day in his church office, while the church secretary is available 1 to 4 pm Monday through Friday. The pastor can also be reached by calling 701-385-4466 or 701-385-4426.
“I’m always on call,” he said. “There’s not a day when I’ll be plain old ‘John.’ ”
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.