Celebrating the Life and Ministry of a Fellow Pastor

“Ordination into the Lutheran Word and Sacrament ministry occurred May 29, 1960 at his home congregation, St. Luke Lutheran, Wishek, ND.”

These words come from the obituary of Pastor Russell Rudolf, longtime pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Owatonna, who died in Mankato on March 25.

Although I did not know Pastor Rudolf well, I respected him as a faith leader in our community. I never heard him preach a sermon or teach a Bible class. We never talked theology. But there is a certain connection between all those who, by God’s grace, have been ordained into the Lutheran Word and Sacrament ministry.

We both enjoyed writing on a variety of topics, not just theology. His series of “I Invite You to Think About” articles, that appeared recently in this newspaper, were a very creative “fleshing out” of the Biblical stories surrounding the Holy Family.

We both enjoyed history. On Facebook Pastor Rudolf would often post about the various lesser festivals that are sprinkled throughout the Christian calendar. He would give a short summary of the festival along with a prayer that coincided with the occasion.

Ironically, Pastor Rudolf died on one of those lesser festivals that he posted about so often. March 25 is the Feast of the Annunciation, which commemorates the day the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus, which is why it is celebrated exactly nine months before Christmas Day.

Maybe he had the same recurring nightmare that almost all pastors have; it’s Sunday morning, church is about to start, and I don’t have my sermon done!

So what does it mean to be ordained into the Lutheran Word and Sacrament ministry? Ordination is the solemn recognition by the church of a person’s readiness to serve as the pastor of a congregation. It does not impart to the person any special “inside track” to God but is simply the Lutheran way of saying publicly that this person has the training and qualifications to care for the souls of believers as an under-shepherd of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

A Lutheran service of ordination is about as impressive as it gets. The Word of God is read and preached. Songs are sung and prayers are offered. Then the focus turns to the candidate for ordination. As the candidate stands alone before the congregation, Scripture passages related to the office of the ministry are read. Through a series of questions pertaining to the ministry and teachings of the church, the candidate vows to uphold the office of the ministry and adorn it with a holy life. Then the other pastors who are present, gather around and bless the candidate with words of encouragement from Scripture. (And since we are Lutherans, there is always something to eat after the service!)

According to their website, St. Luke Lutheran Church of Wishek, North Dakota, the place where Pastor Rudolf was ordained, is still providing Word and Sacrament ministry to its community: “We are rooted in the stories of the Bible and believe worship is something that can be expressed in everything we do. Our philosophy is founded on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.”

As Pastor Rudolf’s obituary notes, Lutherans call on their pastors to be ministers of Word and Sacrament. The Word is the Word of God as contained in the Bible and our two sacraments are Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, both of which were instituted by Jesus himself in the Bible.

We use Word and Sacrament in virtually all we do whether it is leading worship, teaching the faith, visiting the sick or presiding at baptisms, confirmations, weddings or funerals. These “means of grace” as we call them truly bring us the forgiveness, life and salvation that Jesus, the Son of God, won for us by his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

Our members don’t always see us as Word and Sacrament specialists. Someone was in my office recently urging me to take on a project that is about as far from the Lutheran Word and Sacrament ministry as it could possibly be. I encouraged him to take up his concerns with the church leader whose job it was to take care of concerns such as his. As a longtime pastor, I’m sure Pastor Rudolf had many similar encounters.

And tomorrow, Pastor Russell Rudolf will celebrate his first Easter in heaven. For someone who was a music lover I suspect he is especially enjoying the angelic choirs and symphonies of our eternal home. Over the years he spoke of the resurrection to eternal life in heaven to his parishioners countless times. Now Pastor Rudolf has joined the celebration himself. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

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