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Harvey and Donna Hoiberg. Photo by Naomi Dunavan.

IN THE SPIRIT: Joy in the journey

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RURAL OSLO, Minn. — Pastor Harvey Hoiberg has his message ready to go. “The Joy of Being a Christian,” is what he will expound on from the pulpit in Kongsvinger Lutheran Church.

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“I want to leave with the people that first of all it’s the joy of our salvation,” the pastor said, citing John 3:16. Then it’s “the joy of being heirs of God and His Kingdom,” he added, referencing Romans 8. And he’ll include, “the joy of sins forgiven,” from Psalm 32.

Listening to her husband of 67 years, Donna Hoiberg chimes in: “Those preachers and their verses, they never get done.”

Pastor Hoiberg doubts he’ll become emotional as he preaches for the last time at the 10 a.m. service today. “It’s been joyful to share with these people all these years,” he said. “I knew I’d eventually have to leave. Life must go on.”

In August 1997, Kongsvinger, located on Polk County Road 22 between East Grand Forks and Oslo, was without a minister. Pastor Hoiberg, who had served there as a pulpit supply pastor, was called to “try it” regularly for a few months.

He was 74 then and a retired railroad man turned minister.

Now 91, Pastor Hoiberg looks back on the past 16 years, eight months and four days, “I’ve been blessed,” he said. “There are so many friends. You get to know everyone well. We’re like one big family. We’ve accomplished a lot.”

Rene and Billy Newland have been members for 23 years. Rene will never forget the day she heard Pastor Hoiberg would serve Kongsvinger.

“I was so overjoyed I started to cry,” she said. “He’s always been such a man of prayer for everybody. You always knew with all your heart that if you were dealing with something Pastor Harvey would pray believing those prayers would be answered. He has a heart of gold. He’s a dear dear man.”

Along with services, confirmation classes, weddings, baptisms and funerals, Pastor Harvey stood with members in 2002 when an expansion and remodeling project added 5,000 square feet to the church and the 1930s sanctuary was remodeled.

Council President Roger Mathsen says both Pastor Hoiberg and Donna, who is 85, have “served us well. They need retirement. He’s been our full time pastor and there have only been two or three times he’s missed because of illness. You could count on one hand the times he’s missed a morning service.”

Don Mathsen added, “Pastor Hoiberg blessed the congregation by his sincere concern for every member. He became a part of everyone’s extended family as both pastor and friend.”

From Pekin

Pastor Hoiberg grew up on a farm near Pekin, N.D. Donna hailed from Binford, N.D. “The girls in Pekin weren’t good enough,” he jokes. They knew each other as youngsters because “he rode horse back with my cousin when we had to herd cattle,” Donna said.

As a child, Pastor Hoiberg learned to play the guitar and as a young man he played in a dance band. One night, “I came dancing by and I winked at him because he looked so sober,” Donna said. “At intermission he came to talk to me then asked me to supper.”

Pastor Hoiberg was drafted by the U.S. Army serving in Germany during World War II. He was involved in the Battle of the Bulge. He and Donna married in 1946, choosing Dec. 7 as their wedding date.

“We are patriotic,” Donna said, “and Pearl Harbor was such a tragedy.”

The Hoibergs adopted four children: Bob, Vancouver, Wash.; Julie Jones, South Elgin, Ill.; Angela Stewart, Grand Forks, and Melissa Jones, East Grand Forks. They have nine grandchildren, three great grandchildren and over the years have welcomed more than 30 foster children into their home.

After Pastor Hoiberg’s military service, the couple moved to Minneapolis where he spent seven months at Gale Institute learning to be a depot agent and telegraph operator. Thus began a 35-year railroad career. The Hoibergs lived in Kansas and various towns in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Another calling

“While still working for the railroad, I started preparing myself for ministry,” Pastor Hoiberg said. “I got involved with Gospel Crusade, a missionary group that has missionaries all over the world. Through them I became a licensed pastor and then was ordained.”

After hearing an evangelist in Moorhead, the Hoibergs began hosting Bible studies in their home and with two other couples started Open Door Fellowship. While with the railroad in Steele, N.D., they started Holy Spirit Fellowship, which became a church.

The board of the American Association of Lutheran Churches, Kongsvinger’s affiliation, accepted Pastor Hoiberg and he has been the longest serving pastor Kongsvinger has had in its 134-year history. 

After today’s 10 a.m. service, a community dinner will be served from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by a 1:30 p.m. program honoring the Hoibergs.

Pastor Chris Rosebrough, Indianapolis, Ind., will succeed Pastor Hoiberg. His installation is June 15.

“It’s been quite a life,” Pastor Hoiberg said. “I never expected that this much could be done. We could tell you story after story about the power of the Word of God that can set people free. I enjoy doing counseling and praying with people because I know it’s necessary.”

There’s one more “joy,” Pastor Hoiberg will talk about this morning. It’s “the joy of living a prosperous life,” he said. “This doesn’t mean money. It’s your family, your marriage, your job, your health. The Bible covers all these things.”

And that, he adds, is right out of Psalm 1. “I study daily and will until the day I die.”

Reach Dunavan at naomiinthespirit@aol.com.  Read her blog at inthespirit.areavoices.com.

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