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Pastor John Fick retires after 37 years with Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks

John Fick is retiring as associate pastor at Sharon Lutheran Church after serving the congregation since 1981. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
As part of his final service at Sharon Lutheran Church on Sunday, Pastor John Fick will play his guitar while singing "It Is Well With My Soul" with the congregation. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

For his last sermon at Sharon Lutheran Church, Pastor John Fick plans to talk about mustard seeds.

“I’ll be preaching on the gospel that is suggested for the day. It’s from the Book of Mark and it’s about planting mustard seeds,” he said.

It’s “the perfect gospel” for this moment in his ministry, he said. “What could be more fitting for a pastor who’s been spreading seeds for years?”   

The biblical passage is listed in a “lectionary,” a three-year plan that pastors in several denominations use as inspiration for their weekly message.

“This is the ‘Mark year,’ ” he said.

Fick is retiring this week after 41 years as a pastor -- the last 37 of them at Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks. His last workday is Wednesday when he’ll conduct a service at 6:30 p.m.

At his final Sunday service at Sharon -- at 10 a.m., the only service that day -- he intends to play guitar and sing “It Is Well With My Soul” with the congregation.

“It’s a song I use with senior citizens,” he said.

Fick is among pastors who lead services on a rotating basis at Parkwood Place and Good Samaritan retirement homes.  

A celebration of his ministry was held May 20, with more than 500 in attendance.   

“If the dictionary had a picture for the word, ‘shepherd,’ it would be Pastor John,” said Carol Geiszler, a church member. “He has been a shepherd to his flock.”

Another longtime member, Cheryl Nyhlen, said, “He’s been a faithful servant to Sharon.

He’s loved by quite a few. He will be sorely missed.”

Path to ministry  

Raised on a dairy farm near Boyden in northwest Iowa, Fick attended Waldorf College and Luther Colleges, both in Iowa. He earned an undergraduate degree in history.

He never seriously considered a vocation other than the ministry, he said.

“I’m sometimes asked how I received my ‘calling,’ ” he said. “I can’t point to something in particular, but I had a desire early on” to enter the clergy.   

If there were seeds sown in his life that moved him towards the ministry, “it was my home congregation and the influence of local pastors,” he said.

After completing studies at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa, he was called to a small rural congregation in Fredonia, N.D., southwest of Jamestown, N.D.

His job description at Martin Luther Lutheran Church was much broader than preaching.

“As solo pastor, I did everything,” he said. “Mowing the lawn, printing the church bulletin and the newsletter.”

He recalled printing each page of the bulletin by hand on a duplicating machine. The paper “had to be laid out to dry” to prevent ink smudges, he said.

In February 1981, he was called to serve as youth pastor at Sharon Lutheran, joining the Reverend Ray Siegle, full-time pastor, and the Reverend A.B. Solberg, part-time pastor.

“Pastor Solberg’s first name was Alvin, but he was called, ‘Atom Bomb.’ That should tell you something,” Fick said with a laugh.

Change of all kinds      

In nearly four decades at Sharon, Fick has seen a lot of changes, he said.

Church membership has grown from a little under 2,000 to about 4,000.

Facilities have improved with building addition, parking lot and remodeling projects.  

In 1997, construction was completed on the Celebration Hall addition.  

The staff has grown to three full-time pastors, a part-time visitation pastor, and more members of the education, music and office staffs.

Fick, who serves as associate pastor, said his position “has been evolving over the years,” he said.

He’s had a hand in starting contemporary worship and creating the Board of Church and Society which focuses “on outreach in the community and beyond,” he said.

In addition to leading confirmation classes and Bible studies and teaching Vacation Bible School, ministry to senior citizens “has been a big part of my role here in recent years,” he said.   

He’s seen growing numbers of female clergy, increased interest in contemporary worship, and expansion of the church’s mission of outreach, community service, mission trips and global giving.

“We want Sharon to be a place of support in the community,” he said. Support groups -- at least one every day and sometimes several -- meet at the church. There are always cars here.”

The church is striving for diversity, he said.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to which Sharon belongs, is committed to being “an inclusive church, to be welcoming of all people, and to be open to all ethnicities, minorities, and people of all colors and races.”

The ELCA has also adopted a strong ecumenical stance, sharing “pulpit and altar fellowship with six other denominations,” he said. “That is unique to the ELCA.”    

Technology has led to “dramatic changes,” Fick said. “We project our services on screens. We maintain a website and use email” to communicate with congregants.   

While church attendance in recent decades has declined in all denominations, “that doesn’t mean people are less caring,” he said. “It means we have to be mindful of how to involve people.”

What does not change, however, are spiritual needs, he said. “That’s a constant. I don’t think that has ever changed or will change.

“Spiritual needs might surface in different ways.”

Lengthy tenure

It’s unusual for a pastor to serve one church as long as he has, he said.

“When people ask how could I be here for 37 years, I say, ‘Because I haven’t moved or died.’ ”      

What he’ll miss most is “obviously the people,” he said quickly. “People at the church are not only parishioners, but good friends.

“I’ve baptized, confirmed, married and, in some cases, buried people in the same families.”

He’ll be looking for another place of worship, he said.  

“I will not be able to stay in the same congregation after I retire -- that’s ELCA policy. I won’t have contact with people at Sharon. Not to see them on a regular basis will be difficult.”

But he agrees with the policy, he said.  

He’ll probably join Christus Rex Lutheran Center where his wife, Kathy Fick, is director of campus ministry, he said.

But nothing will top the experience he’s had with his soon-to-end assignment.  

“There have been so many positives,” he said. “Sharon has been a wonderful congregation.”