‘Late-in-Life’ Call to Ministry – Quite a Trip!

Post a Comment » Written on September 22nd, 2009     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

ESSEX, IA (September 22, 2009) – Jim Ressegieu says there’s a reason he retired from his job at a multi-state energy company rather than just quit.

Karen and Jim Ressegieu

“When you quit, they give you 10 minutes to clear out your desk, and the security guard escorts you to the door. When you retire, they throw you a party.”

The real reason Jim, who is 66, retired from the company in 2001 was because he sensed the call to ministry. It didn’t take him long to respond.

He served part-time from 2001-2003 at Community Covenant Church in Omaha, where he was a charter member. He has served at Faith Evangelical Covenant Church in Essex since 2004.

Every week he drives more than 60 miles to Essex from his home in La Vista, Nebraska, just south of Omaha. He will spend up to several nights in the parsonage.

Little of his road to ministry has been traditional.

Although Jim has been a lifelong member of Covenant churches, his wife, Karen, was “shocked” when he told her he felt the call to pastoral ministry, he recalls. Jim was equally surprised about the turn his life was taking.

“I liked my job, and I was making good money,” he says. “All of the sudden there was something in me that said, ‘Jim you’re done here, and you need to go to seminary.’ ”

It wasn’t the first time he had considered pastoral ministry, however. When Jim was in high school, William Freeman, his pastor at First Covenant Church in Omaha, encouraged him to attend North Park College and then North Park Theological Seminary.

“He absolutely wanted me to do that,” Jim recalls.

Jim visited the school and sites in Chicago with several classmates on a weekend. “I went to Chicago – and I hated it. I hated North Park. And I came back and told Reverend Freeman, I’m not going to Chicago, and I’m not going to North Park.”

He went on to get bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication and spent his professional career at the utility company.

But in 2001 – almost 40 years to the date that he had traveled to Chicago and hated it – the call to ministry came. At the time, Jim was attending Community Covenant Church in Omaha.

His pastor was Martha Freeman – William Freeman’s granddaughter-in-law.

She suggested he and Karen visit North Park. He wasn’t sure whether this was going to be a déjà vu experience.

As the couple pulled into the parking lot across the street from the school, Jim thought, “I’m afraid someone is going to come up to me and say, ‘What are you doing here at your age?’ ”

He adds, “We walked across the street to Nyvall Hall, and we weren’t 10 feet inside the door, and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Dave Trosper, and I’m a retired highway patrol officer.’ ” (Trosper has since pastored two Covenant churches). Within minutes, Jim met several others who had retired from their careers and were considering pastoral ministry.

Jim’s report to Martha Freeman was different than the one he gave to her grandfather-in-law 40 years earlier. “By Saturday afternoon, I called my pastor and said this is where I’m supposed to be.”

Being at the seminary was not easy, however, because Karen remained in Omaha, where she works at the University of Nebraska. Roughly every third weekend, she would travel to Chicago.

Jim’s schedule his final year of seminary – when he served Faith Covenant part-time – would be daunting to most people. Every Saturday, he took the El train to Midway Airport – which could easily be an hour and a half commute – and flew to Omaha. On Sunday, he preached and did visitation. On Monday mornings, he flew back to Chicago, rode the El back to the school, and then attended class that night.

These days, he is passionate about serving the small congregation, which has an average attendance of 40. Most of the members are older than Jim and Karen.

“When we walk into a room, we lower the average age by 10 years,” he quips.

Spending time with congregation members is the best part of serving the church, he says.

“I love to teach and I love to preach, but what I absolutely love to do even more than those is visit with my parishioners.”

He visits each of the shut-ins at least once a month. “When I took Clinical Pastoral Education, I vowed that if I ever have a church, none of my shut-ins would ever feel estranged from the church,” he says.

Ressegieu says the parishioners always look forward to his visits. He is not being prideful, however.

Every time he visits a member, Ressegieu brings cookies baked by Karen, who views her time in the kitchen as a way of sharing in the daily ministry. She makes hundreds each month.

“My congregation likes me, but they love her,” Jim deadpans.

“They have been so loving to us,” Jim says. “They just keep giving. Sometimes, I’m almost embarrassed and sometimes it brings tears to my eyes.”

Jim has no plans to retire from the church. “There is nothing else I could see doing. Why should I do anything different?”

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