New co-pastors work to connect with community

Photo by Debbie Griffin, Union-Times
Mike and Kari Pancoast of Becker are new co-pastors at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Princeton.

Husband-and-wife team Mike and Kari Pancoast of Becker began their jobs as co-pastors of Trinity Lutheran Church in Princeton June 4 and Aug. 13, respectively. They said this assignment makes the third time they have worked together in a congregation but the first time they have been the only two pastors at a church.
Mike said, “We’ve been pastors for 21 years.”
The two met during their first year at Luther Seminary in St. Paul and married during their senior year at the school. They said their first call was to the Hayward-Rice Lake Wisconsin area, where together they served small congregations. Later, they spent years serving a large congregation in Minot, North Dakota.
Most recently Mike was pastor in Santiago and Kari had been working as an interim pastor, often traveling far distances. Both said the opportunity in Princeton presented a chance to improve their family life.
Kari said, “We have four kids.”
Their oldest child and only boy, Olsen, just started his second year of college in Moorhead. Their three daughters attend Becker schools, Laura is a junior, Anna is a freshman and Eleanor is in the 7th grade. Collectively, the three girls are into cross-country running, tennis, diving, drama, music and more, which keeps everyone busy.
Mike and Kari said they’re excited about starting in Princeton and are still feeling a bit disorganized as they settle in, get to know people and wrap their minds around the new responsibilities. Mike said the first few weeks have felt a little like trying to drink from a fire hose.
The two name the same top priority at the moment: Getting to know people and learning names. The Pancoasts said Mike is more the generalist pastor, while Kari serves in more of a chaplaincy role.
In Wisconsin, they worked with some “very small” churches and their congregations were packed with dairy farmers. In North Dakota, they served in a congregation twice the size of Trinity Lutheran during a time when the state was in an oil boom and when it had catastrophic flooding.
They see the job as connecting God and life with real people. They recognize how worship is connected to people and unity and how change is always a constant.
Mike said change is something that drives him, “One of the things I’m excited about in general is learning how to negotiate change.”
Despite religions historically being slow to change, the couple has seen a difference in how people do and perceive church during their two decades of pastoring. It used to be a weekly, central gathering place for nearly everyone, but now the options for gathering are numerous at community events, festivals, sports games, the grocery store and more.
Mike and Kari said they’re trying to figure out the best ways to reinforce the faith and values traditionally embraced as a group on Sunday morning and reach people where they are. They’ll strive to know what people are experiencing, to share their joys and pains and to make that sense of a worship community portable and tangible.
Kari said they’re asking, “How do we be the church for that changing world?”
They acknowledge that faith commitments aren’t always delivered just on Sunday morning. They’ve practiced in their own family of how to implement it other places such as at a table, hotel, sporting event, family gatherings and during travel or vacation.
While the new pastors are no strangers to Princeton, they’re getting to know the city better and discovering things such as the monthly, free, Community Table meal hosted by their church and the Christ Our Light Catholic Church. They think they’re way too new to have formed any impressions but have been hearing good things about the community.
Mike, a Midwest transplant from Texas, said being a pastor somewhat runs in the family. His father, maternal grandfather, brother and sister-in-law are all pastors.
He jokes, “We couldn’t find any honest work so we went into the family business.”
Mike said he went to college to earn an English degree and hadn’t even been thinking of ministry. He tried hospitality, teaching and writing and still wasn’t totally convinced about ministry during his first year of seminary school.
Kari, a native Minnesotan, didn’t grow up with pastors but said her family members were active lay people at church. She went to school for elementary education and art and “wasn’t thinking of this at all.” She had a job teaching for a year and then worked as a youth pastor and was intrigued to learn more.
When they have spare time, Mike likes to home-brew and sample beer, read when possible and get outside. Kari’s parents have a lake cabin where they all enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and camping. Kari is a runner, and Mike said he’s “kind of” a runner.
“I’m an avid white-tail hunter in the fall,” he said.
She also likes to knit, crochet and make things. Both said they just try to balance life and its needs and are looking forward to getting to know everyone at Trinity Lutheran.
Kari said, “We’re always just open to what comes next.”