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New pastor settles in at Farmington Lutheran

Kevin Westhoff has been spending a lot of time getting to know people since starting last week as senior pastor at Farmington Lutheran Church.

When Kevin Westhoff was a junior in high school, his pastor pulled him aside and suggested he consider a career in the ministry. "I think you have a gift for this," Westhoff remembers him saying.

The conversation made such an impression that when Westhoff graduated the following year he enrolled at the University of Minnesota to study engineering.

It wasn't that Westhoff had a particular passion for engineering, but math and science came easily to him, and having grown up on a farm, agricultural engineering seemed like a sensible career path.

That path didn't lead anywhere Westhoff wanted to go, though. By his sophomore year, he realized engineering didn't interest him enough to make it a career. He started taking communication classes and classes that helped develop organizational skills. He also started talking to all of the pastors he could find, including the pastor from his home church near Henderson, about what went into the job.

On Sunday, Westhoff was installed as senior pastor at Farmington Lutheran Church.

Westhoff has made a career of building communities, even before he attended seminary at Luther College. After graduating from the University of Minnesota he took a short-term job recruiting for a chapter of his fraternity at the University of Maine.

"They were in a spot where it was ready to be shut down," he said.

The fraternity got some alumni support, though, and things turned around. Westhoff called it "a million dollar experience that you wouldn't pay a dime for."

Westhoff's first pastoral position, while he was still a student at Luther, was in Rapid City, S.D. That's where he came across the ministry style he still uses today, a process that emphasizes identifying a congregation's vision and using that to shape everything a church does. He said it's his job to help a congregation understand the gifts it has.

"I'm at my best working with a lot of great folks who can say, 'Here's how it's done,'" Westhoff said.

In 2000, after graduating with a Master of Divinity, Westhoff took a position as an associate pastor in Spring Valley. He was there for 3 1/2 years before he was called to a church in Plainview.

Like that old fraternity chapter, the Plainview church was in rough shape when Westhoff arrived. Over seven years, the congregation had shrunk by half. The church had unpaid bills and its future was uncertain.

Things turned around under Westhoff's leadership. Attendance picked up from a little more than 100 to 200 or more. Giving doubled.

"I'm really proud of those folks, because in seven years they really took off," Westhoff said.

Westhoff was happy in Plainview, but earlier this year he got a visit from the Bishop of his synod. The message he got during that visit that Westhoff's skills could be useful as a senior pastor. In March, Westhoff let the Synod know he was open to another call.

There were a few interviews right away, but Westhoff knew quickly that none of them was right. He had seen the posting at Farmington Lutheran and been intrigued by the church's focus on youth and family ministries and on mission work, but it was an old posting. Westhoff figured it had been filled.

Then he got a call about interviewing in Farmington.

Westhoff's first interview at Farmington Lutheran lasted three hours and was encouraging for both sides.

"I remember going home that night and thinking, 'Hey, there's really something to this,'" Westhoff said.

After a second interview, the church's search committee voted unanimously to call Westhoff. There were more steps after that, but nothing happened along the way to change the results of that vote.

Westhoff came to work in Farmington at the beginning of last week. Since that day he has been doing a lot of listening, getting to know as many people as he can in the church. So far, things have gone well.

"Every day has been affirming," he said. "There's no buyer's remorse.

Westhoff hopes to move to Farmington soon with his wife and their three children.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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