Highview Christiania Lutheran Church has changed quite a bit in its 154 years. And now the parish is embarking on yet another new set of changes.
But change is good, especially for Highview Christiania’s congregation. After more than a year of searching, Rev. Michael Mandsager has stepped in as the parish’s new, permanent pastor.
Mandsager was installed at Highview Christiania on Feb. 16, and has spent his first six weeks getting to know his new parish home and its members. In his first weeks, he’s had three funerals, and started the Lenten season.
“It’s kind of been like I’m plunging right in. I kind of feel like I’m getting into the rhythm of things now,” he said.
Mandsager replaces pastor Chris Beckman, who left Highview Christiania more than a year ago. In the months between, the congregation was guided by interim pastors Phil Walen and Arne Jessen.
The congregation has been very welcoming to Mandsager and his family.
“This congregation is very warm and friendly and relaxed and welcoming,” he said. “Every congregation thinks it is, but this one really, really is. As newcomers coming in, we’ve found people are very gracious and friendly and happy to show you around and get you acquainted.”
The son of a Lutheran pastor and a devoted Lutheran mother, Mandsager has been a pastor for going on 22 years. He is a graduate of St. Olaf College and Luther Seminary.
“I grew up in an atmosphere where faith and the church were very important. I didn’t see myself being a pastor growing up, but when I attended St. Olaf and took religion classes, I found myself very interested in theology and how faith guides our life, our personal and public life. I guess that led me to seminary,” Mandsager said.
He’s served in Faribault, Northfield, Harmony, and in Lacrosse, Wis. He is married to April Fitzlaff, a physician’s assistant at Family Medical Health Clinic in Farmington. The couple has four children.
Though there is a parsonage on the Highview Christiania property, Mandsager and his family will not relocate from their present home.
“We have a nice little house for rent here,” he said. “It’s in a good neighborhood.”
Mandsager isn’t the only new person at Highview Christiania Lutheran Church. During the same time the congregation was led by interim pastors, four new staff members were called to the parish. Katie Collins became the choir director, Kara Behrendt was hired as administrator, Betsy Messner became the new youth coordinator and David Tupy became the custodian.
“Everybody is a member of the parish, but we are all new working here,” Mandsager said. “We’re kind of figuring it out together as we go along.”
Mandsager plans to take his first year and settle in to the congregation. He’s hoping to get a jump on the church’s annual stewardship drive, and eventually he will want to try some new things to promote the church and drive up membership. But for now, he’s simply going to take it one step at a time.