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Pastor Michon Weingartner at Nazareth Lutheran Church, Kenmare
By Caroline Downs
The new pastor for Nazareth Lutheran Church in Kenmare and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bowbells can shingle, plumb or wire a house for electricity, thanks to her grandfather’s instruction through the years.
“What Grandpa was doing, I was doing,” said Pastor Michon Weingartner, “so I was shingling at eight years old. But don’t leave out Grandma. She had me quilting.”
She paused and laughed about her many interests, which include teaching woodcarving classes. “I always get to be that original one,” she said. “It’s a gift of ministry. It’s something to embrace.”
Pastor Michon followed several paths before she arrived at the pulpit. She grew up on a farm near the small community of Westphalia, Kansas, in the southeast corner of the state. “It’s not really near anything,” she said, “and it’s about two and a half hours south of Kansas City.”
A lifelong learner motivated by her own curiosity and her grandmother’s belief that “If you stop learning, you die,” Pastor Michon earned her first degrees in recreation administration and elementary education at Kansas State University.
She taught middle school science, math and technology classes for seven years in Wichita, Kansas. While she enjoyed her students, she felt the need to change careers. “There was always something missing,” she said.
She continued her education at Friends University in Wichita and earned a master’s degree in information systems before taking a position with the Cessna Aircraft Company. “I was on the help desk and taught database and Microsoft classes,” she said, describing how the new job was interesting but not necessarily fulfilling. “These were good tools to have, but the passion was missing.”
The September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001 caused turmoil for the airplane industry, and Pastor Michon was caught in a series of layoffs by Cessna. She started working in a church office, which led a youth education director job at another church.
The idea of serving as a full-time minister took a firm hold when she attended a month-long workshop led by Dr. Paul Hill. At the time, Hill served as director of the Center for Youth Ministries at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and at the end of his session he asked Pastor Michon why she wasn’t attending seminary.
“He was the third person who had asked me that,” she said.
She began seminary classes in 2005 and finished with a master in divinity degree in 2009, accepting a call at Augustana Lutheran Church in Minot.
“Seminary brought me to western North Dakota,” she said, adding she also wanted to move closer to her sister living at Wahpeton.
For Pastor Michon, entering the Christian ministry provided the passion she had missed in her other occupations, a discovery she makes again and again as she preaches and shares stories with her congregations. “Seeing the spark in someone’s eye when they learn something new, I call that the Holy Spirit,” she said. “All those times I was looking for that ‘lost piece,’ and for me it was ministry.”
She spent nearly four years at Augustana, which included a campus ministry at Minot State University, but the Mouse River flood in 2011 heavily damaged the church building and took a toll on the congregation’s ability to serve in the community.
“I told the folks at Augustana, give me a tornado any day over a flood,” joked Pastor Michon. The congregation there voted to merge with Christ Lutheran Church in Minot, which will officially take place on June 9th.
Because Christ Lutheran already had a pastor, Pastor Michon started seeking another parish in the region. She had interviews scheduled with a congregation in Minnesota as well as the Kenmare-Bowbells parish. “You have to discern through prayer were you are best called by God to be,” she said.
She met with both church councils earlier in the spring and led worship services in the respective churches. “It felt wonderful here when I preached,” she said about her visit to Kenmare and Bowbells.
Now, she is focused on the challenge of serving two churches and two congregations in one parish, but the concept isn’t new to her. In fact, Pastor Michon spent her childhood as a member of the Roman Catholic Church and lived in a parish where five churches were served by a single priest. “Of course, actually being in charge of it is different,” she said, “but it’s a new opportunity.”
She enjoys the return to her small-town roots, and she wants to focus on the idea of community in her ministry. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘How are we Kenmare [or Bowbells], and how are we...helping other communities around us?” she said. “I know in the past history here, the Kenmare church was connected with other churches. How are these communities holding one another up?”
She appreciates the community connections she already sees within the churches. “There are the women’s quilting groups in both churches,” she said, “and I look forward to continuing the ecumenical partnerships in both churches.”
Pastor Michon has taken to heart the question posed by the Western North Dakota Synod for the local churches: Who is your neighbor?
“The body of Christ is all of us,” said Pastor Michon. “In light of our growing neighbors to the west, with the oil, we should ask, ‘What is your need? How can we be your neighbor?’ The Kenmare and Bowbells style of neighboring might be just what they need.”
She hopes to begin addressing those needs through a renewed emphasis on women’s groups and Bible study groups at the two churches, along with a vacation Bible school planned with Metigoshe Ministries later this summer. That program will include preschool children along with first through sixth grade students.
“We need to see where the needs are and pull in the gifts that are out there,” said Pastor Michon, “and excite those [church members] again.”
Hobbies fill rare
Although she believes she is always in ministry, she does take time occasionally to serve her calling through several hobbies, which include sewing, quilting, oil painting and winemaking, along with woodcarving.
“I don’t know what ‘down time’ is,” she said, laughing again. “It’s a matter of just being present in whatever you’re doing, wherever you are. There are a lot of things I think I’d like to do.”
Pastor Michon has been carving wood since learning from her grandfather for a 4-H project. She has taken lessons from several other sources as well, and now teaches, including for the Sons of Norway, Camp of the Cross at Lake Sakakawea, and the Spring Fling retreat held at Metigoshe Ministries in May.
“I hope to teach woodcarving classes here, too,” she said, adding that kids and adults alike could participate. “If they’re passionate about learning, age doesn’t matter.”
Even as she arranges her carving tools and organizes her quilting supplies in the Kenmare parsonage, Pastor Michon plans to spend the coming weeks meeting parishioners from the two churches and getting to know the communities and families living there. “If you see me out and about, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself,” she said. “I love conversation!”
She also intends to schedule an open house at the parsonage this summer, both to meet people in the area and to highlight improvements made to the home by parishioners. Details about the open house will be made available at a later date.
Pastor Michon can be reached by phone at 701-833-2228 or 701-385-4646, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Persons are also welcome to contact the Nazareth Lutheran Church office at 701-385-4645.
She noted specific office hours were under consideration at this point. However, she noted she could be easily found every Monday afternoon.
“I will be at either Bethlehem or Nazareth Lutheran for sure then,” she said. “That’s when their quilting groups meet.”