New pastor named at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church

The Rev. Jonathan Williams poses Thursday in the sanctuary at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Big Rapids. Williams was called to become lead pastor of the church in July, succeeding the retired Rev. John Bookshaw. (Pioneer photo/Tim Rath)

BIG RAPIDS — Jonathan Williams’ journey through life has taken him from his hometown of Manhattan, Kansas, to Indiana, Illinois, Maine, and as far away as Australia.

But he believes he and his family have found a home in Mecosta County, where last month he was named senior pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church.

“I’ve been very strongly supported by the members of St. Peter’s. They have really welcomed me into this new role and have made this transition very easy for me. I really feel blessed to have such a wonderful group of people here,” Williams said Thursday.

Williams, 39, who lives in Rodney with his wife and three sons, has served as associate pastor at St. Peter’s for the past two years. He replaces the Rev. John Bookshaw, who retired earlier this year after 14 years of service.

“The intent, when I came on board, is that this was what would eventually happen,” Williams said. “It’s been a very smooth transition and I think part of that is because (the congregation) already knew me.”

Williams’ spiritual journey began as an undergraduate student at the University of Kansas, which is where he became a Lutheran after growing up in a non-denominational family. He went on to graduate school at Indiana University, where he majored in library science and met his wife Sarah shortly after receiving his degree.

From there, he became a computer systems librarian in Illinois and Maine. But he soon sought out a new path in life.

“Going to seminary had always been on the back of my mind,” Williams said. “My wife’s father was a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is where I ended up going. We realized after our second was born that the longer we waited, the harder it would be to do.”

Upon graduation from religious school, Williams received an interesting assignment. He would be a pastor in western Victoria, Australia — an area with plenty of broadacre barley fields, but few people.

“We loved it there. We were well-supported, but our kids couldn’t see their grandparents. It was an enormous investment in time and money just to see them. So, after a little more than two years, we requested a move back to the U.S.,” Williams said.

He ended up at St. Peter’s, where for the past two years he has served as an associate pastor, specializing in campus ministry and other forms of outreach. Gene Bongard, chairman of the board of elders at the church, said Williams has done extremely well in his time there.

“He has grown up a lot from the time he first started until now,” Bongard said. “He has his own ideas about things. He has a vision for where he wants us to go, and we discuss it … It’s a little different from what we’re used to, but he’s doing a good job of it.”

St. Peter’s is going through quite a bit of change. Along with Bookshaw’s departure, the principal of the Lutheran school next-door to the church recently left. An interim has been hired to replace the principal, Williams said, and a new outreach specialist is being hired.
In addition to the personnel changes, the church is undergoing a study of its long-term vision, and establishing a new program for youngsters to become acolytes. It’s a challenging process, Williams said, but a welcome one.

“There’s a lot of opportunities to rethink some ways we’ve worked in the past, and that’s exciting,” Williams said. “This congregation is like a large, extended family, and I think one of the challenges in every generation is, ‘How do we welcome new people into that family?’

“Relationships in this church have always been strong. But I’d like to help them become stronger.”

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