More than 1,000 miles of distance separate La Porte City from western Montana. Yet the first time Pastor Nathan Clements looked at information about American Lutheran Church, something caught his eye. The pastor in Big Sky country and the La Porte City church were both at unique moments in their journeys of faith. After eight years of outdoor ministry work, the pastor was ready to make the transition to parish life. At the same time, the American Lutheran Church congregation was searching for a new pastor for the first time in 21 years.
As Nathan and his wife, Emily, considered opportunities that would take them closer to their families in northern Illinois, something about the church in La Porte City stood out. “There was just something about American Lutheran’s paperwork that was really compelling to me. The more I thought about it and prayed about it, I knew it was a congregation that I was very interested in,” he said.
In the Lutheran Church, the process of choosing a pastor is one that involves a lot of dialogue between the congregation’s search committee and prospective pastors. It’s a process that can take several months, one designed to help ensure a good fit for all parties involved. In the case of the Clements family, the initial interview and follow-up visit to the community in April only reaffirmed their sense of call to the community.
Born and raised in northern Illinois and the Lutheran Church (“It’s a wonderful place to call home”), Nathan Clements attended Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota with thoughts of becoming an eye doctor. Two years into his studies, his summer experiences working at a Bible camp made him rethink his major. “Being in the outdoors, learning to articulate my faith and walking alongside fellow young adults, youth and children as they learned more about their faith and what it means to be a Christian today, somehow it just clicked that it made sense to change my major to religion, and ultimately, to seminary,” Nathan recalled.
Ordained in 2014, outdoor ministry has provided Pastor Nathan with a variety of rich experiences working with people of all ages. The short duration of a summer camp experience or retreat, however, is quite a contrast from working in a traditional parish setting. “In [outdoor ministry], your relationships, your ministry, your work- everything is very intensive. You have one week to work with folks [at a Bible camp], to help them understand and grow with their faith.” The same challenges apply to the young people he hired to work as summer camp counselors. “In the case of summer staff, you only have 10-11 weeks to train and equip young adults to potentially do something they’ve never done before- to spend 23 hours a day with children and youth sharing their faith, to coach and mentor them through their understanding of discipleship,” he added. “That was your opportunity to walk alongside people in their journey of faith.”
The move to La Porte City, where he will have a congregation to call home, is a new challenge Nathan is eager to face. “The wider breadth of the Christian life is something that I look forward to being more fully immersed in here in the parish setting,” he said, expressing his joy to be living in an agricultural community again, ministering in a community where no two days are alike. “The invitation to be fully involved and fully present in the community,” be it a football game, cross country meet or other community events, “are experiences that are very special,” he said. And while the population of his congregation won’t change on a weekly basis like it did at a summer camp, he acknowledges that it will take time and patience to put names with the many new faces he will meet in the coming weeks.
In addition to being an ardent fan of the Chicago Cubs, Nathan enjoys the outdoors, including fly fishing, biking and walking his dog, Wrigley. His wife, Emily, will make the trip to La Porte City from Montana later this month after wrapping up her duties working as a ranger in Glacier National Park.
As he begins his ministry in La Porte City, excited to become an active member of the community, Pastor Nathan has an invitation of his own for his new friends and neighbors: “I want people to know all are welcome to come worship.”