New pastor embraces Bethel Lutheran’s heritage, missionIf heritage is the key factor, it’s hard to imagine a better person to serve as Bethel Lutheran Church’s associate pastor of congregational life and growth than the Rev. Kari Burke-Romarheim.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
If heritage is the key factor, it’s hard to imagine a better person to serve as Bethel Lutheran Church’s associate pastor of congregational life and growth than the Rev. Kari Burke-Romarheim.
The large Hudson church was founded 135 years ago by Norwegian immigrants. And the congregation still has a healthy percentage of people of Norwegian heritage.
The 29-year-old Burke-Romarheim knows something about Norwegians and Norway.
“I grew up in a very Norwegian home, so I was always fascinated by Norway,” she says.
Her maternal grandfather came to Iowa from Norway in 1925 at the age of 16. He dreamed of being a cowboy but ended up a Lutheran pastor, she says with a laugh.
Her other grandfather, a Swede, was a Lutheran pastor, too. And her father, the Rev. Ron Burke, is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor.
Burke-Romarheim began taking Norwegian language classes at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. She spent the second semester of her sophomore year at the University of Oslo in Norway, and returned to finish out her undergraduate studies at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
She graduated with a double major in Norwegian and youth and family ministries.
After college, she jumped at the opportunity to introduce a youth and family ministries program to the Church of Norway congregation in Bergen.
Bergen is where she also met her husband, Vidar Romarheim, as well as Hudson native Karin Holt.
Holt, the daughter of Dave and Barb Holt, was studying in Bergen at the time. She would later play a role in bringing Burke-Romarheim to Bethel.
After three years in Norway, Burke-Romarheim returned to the United States with her new husband. They settled in Baldwin, which was between Vidar’s place of employment in Menomonie and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, which Burke-Romarheim had entered.
Vidar, a petroleum engineer, worked for Cedar Corp. in Menomonie his first year in the U.S. He now has his own firm – Romarheim Consulting – that operates out of their home.
The Romarheims attended Bethel Lutheran periodically while Kari was in seminary at the invitation of Karin Holt, who is now back in the area.
Burke-Romarheim remembers her introduction to Bethel through a Scandinavian Food Festival, where she saw the plans for the new Bethel Highlands in the town of Hudson.
“I said to myself, this is the kind of place where I would like to be - a place that is reaching out and following the Spirit. There’s obviously life and growth here,” she recalls.
When the Rev. Joanne Sorenson left Bethel Lutheran for a new congregation a year and a half ago, Burke-Romarheim inquired about the possibility of taking her place when she completed seminary.
Burke-Romarheim still had a year of seminary to complete, however, and the bishop said Bethel couldn’t wait to fill the position.
She also wanted to spend some time at home with her first child when he arrived. Andreas is now five and a half months old.
When graduation from Luther Seminary grew closer, Burke-Romarheim again had a conversation with the church hierarchy about her future ministry.
An assistant to the bishop asked her to describe the ideal congregation for her to serve.
“I said, a place like Bethel in Hudson,” she remembers.
“Well, you know, they haven’t called a pastor yet,” he related.
Within a couple of days she was being interviewed by Bethel senior pastor Dennis Nelson and associate pastor Van Bredeson.
“I knew right away that the Spirit had called me here,” Burke-Romarheim says. “There was no question in my mind that this is where I was to be. And I think they felt the same way, too.”
Bethel interim pastor Bob Bipes is staying on as a 25 percent time visitation pastor. Burke-Romarheim’s position is 75 percent so she has more time for parenting Andreas.
Burke-Romarheim says she sees her role as helping equip people to live out their faith in the home, workplace and world.
She adds that she wants to be sensitive to God’s leading and his plans for Bethel Lutheran.
“It’s very exciting because I think it’s clear that the Spirit is active in this congregation,” she says. “Things are happening and God is working.”