Bethel Lutheran Church welcomes new senior pastorFor the past 22 years, the Rev. John Lestock served the large Trinity Lutheran congregation in Owatonna, Minn., first as youth and family pastor, and then as senior pastor for more than 15 years.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The Rev. John Lestock is new to the pulpit at Bethel Lutheran Church, but he knows the terrain.
For the past 22 years, Lestock served the large Trinity Lutheran congregation in Owatonna, Minn., first as youth and family pastor, and then as senior pastor for more than 15 years.
Both Bethel and Trinity are growing Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations in vibrant communities, with strong music ministries and a multitude of Christian education and other programs. Each has undergone a major building program in recent years.
And both place significant emphasis on outreach missions -- in the community and beyond.
“I see ministry taking place often outside the walls of the church,” Lestock said in a mid-August interview in his new office at Bethel, then still cluttered with boxes of books waiting to be put on the shelves.
Two weeks earlier, the Owatonna People’s Press had run an editorial saying Lestock would be remembered for his support of the Steele County Food Shelf.
“Beyond just contributing money or food, beyond just sitting on the board of the food shelf, John Lestock helped contribute to the county’s consciousness about the reality of hunger here,” the newspaper said.
The editorial lauded Lestock for starting a benefit concert series called the Hometown Sampler that over the years has raised more than $200,000 for the food shelf.
“He will be greatly missed, not only by the members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, but by the entire community, the county and others whose lives he has touched,” the newspaper said of Lestock.
In his youth, the 58-year-old Lestock considered pursuing a career as a professional musician. He sings and plays guitar. A band he put together entertained at the first Hometown Sampler, and he returned for every succeeding concert.
Trinity Lutheran also is known for its missions work on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, with a healthcare program in Concepcion, Chile, and a sister congregation in Ethiopia.
“The outreach to Pine Ridge was life-changing for a lot of people,” Lestock said.
Bethel Lutheran hosts the twice-monthly HOME Meals (Hudson Outreach Meals for Everyone) and is a supporter of shelters and programs for the homeless. The church also has been involved in disaster recovery missions to the Gulf Coast, building Habitat for Humanity houses in Jamaica and supporting a sister congregation in Iringa, Tanzania.
In recent years, Lestock was contacted by other congregations seeking a new pastor. The Owatonna church was still in the process of adding ministry space and renovating its existing building, so he declined the offers.
But when Bethel Lutheran invited him to be the church’s senior pastor, he accepted.
“I really felt the call by God to come to Hudson,” he said.
Leaving Trinity wasn’t easy, he added. After serving the church for so long, it felt like saying goodbye to family members.
Lestock grew up in Lakewood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. He was the oldest of three boys in the family. His dad, the main breadwinner, was an accountant. The family attended St. Peter and Paul Lutheran, a Missouri Synod church.
Lestock participated in church activities as a youth, but it didn’t mean much to him until he had what he calls a “faith experience” at a Young Life camp as a teenager. Young Life is a non-denominational Christian youth ministry.
The experience changed the direction of his life, Lestock said. “It got me fired up about my faith.”
His involvement with Young Life continued through four years at Cleveland State University, where he majored in communications and religion.
Then in 1976 he came to St. Paul to attend Luther Seminary and work with a Young Life ministry in the Forest Lake, Minn., area.
He studied for a Master of Arts degree in youth and family ministry at Luther with plans of continuing in youth ministry. But he then returned to Luther and completed work for a Master of Divinity degree, a prerequisite for Lutheran pastors.
He first went to Trinity Lutheran in 1984 as a pastoral intern.
“It was a real eye-opener for me,” he said of the experience. He discovered that he enjoyed parish ministry -- experiencing the “rhythm of life” through everything from baptisms and confirmations to weddings and funerals.
When the yearlong internship ended, he accepted a call to First Lutheran Church of Sioux Falls, S.D., where he served as the youth and family pastor for five years.
He returned to Owatonna in 1990, and was there until his recent move to Hudson.
Lestock and his wife, Janet, have purchased a house in Hudson. She is an admissions counselor for the graduate nursing program at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. The move has shortened her commute by 40 miles.
The Lestocks have two sons. Marty is a recent graduate of Augsburg and a substitute music teacher. Jake is beginning his senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is studying political science. He interned for a Wisconsin state senator from Milwaukee this summer.
“We’re excited to be in Hudson. We’re excited to be at Bethel,” Lestock said. “We’re looking forward to getting involved in both the church and the community.”
He was active in the ecumenical Owatonna Ministerial Association and plans to join the Hudson Ministerial Association, too.
“I would like to add to what has been a rich history of ministry here at Bethel -- to continue to be a church that reaches out into the community and the world.” Lestock said. “I would like to build a team of people here -- clergy, staff and laity -- that does ministry together.”
His final sermon at Trinity Lutheran was on the subject of teamwork.
Lestock took over leadership of the Bethel congregation from the Rev. Dennis Nelson in an Aug. 12 installation service at the church’s Bethel Highlands location in the town of Hudson. Nelson served as Bethels’ senior pastor for 23 years before his recent retirement.
You can learn more about Bethel Lutheran’s ministries and find a schedule of its services on the church’s website, www.bethelhudson.org.