Motorists driving by Salem Lutheran Church of Oxford might gaze at the quaint country church and think to themselves, “Nice paint job.”
The 130-year-old church, located on the corner of county roads 9 and 18 in Isanti County, about five miles southwest of North Branch, was in need of a new, white façade this fall.
Jerry Youngquist, a worshiper at the church and a member of the church council, was tapped with the task of finding a contractor to perform the work.
He found one, and a new pastor for Salem, too.
Youngquist first asked a contractor he had worked with before to paint the church and that contractor accepted, but the work didn’t come to fruition.
“He gave us a bid, and a few days later he calls me up and says, “Sorry, I can’t do the job, I’m moving to Albuquerque,”’ Youngquist said.
Youngquist was back to square one, so he visited the website Angie’s List, which offers a directory of area contractors who submit their contact information to the site.
On the site he found Rob Krajewski, a seven-year Stacy resident with his own contracting business.
Krajewski, 40, agreed to come look at the church in August.
On the day Krajewski first came to the church, he met with Youngquist and the two started a slow walk around the building.
They talked about the work that needed to be done, but the conversation also delved into another area: faith.
Krajewski was particularly interested in the church’s “LCMC” designation.
He was familiar with other synods of the Lutheran faith, such as Missouri, WELS and ELCA, but he didn’t know about the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ synod.
Youngquist said Krajewski’s discussion with him was “way too pointed” for Krajewski to be just a contractor.
Krajewski studied at St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1998, and worked full time as a priest until 2002 when he took a leave of absence.
He had not been involved in active ministry since that time.
He had instead married his wife Joyellyn, and the two raised a family.
They’re parents to 9-year-old Ava, 8-year-old Eden and 21-year-old Scott, Krajewski’s stepson.
From worshiper to pastor
Krajewski agreed to paint the church, and he also accepted an invitation offered to him by numerous parishioners to come worship at the church.
He and his family started coming Sundays, and found they felt comfortable and enjoyed the sense of community the church exudes.
During the conversation when Youngquist found out about Krajewski’s religious background, he informed Krajewski the church’s pastor, Slim Seel, was retiring in November.
Off the cuff, he asked Krajewski, “You wouldn’t be interested, would you?”
Krajewski was interested.
He’d actually been tossing around the idea of getting involved in ministry again, but hadn’t found the right situation.
Seel retired, and Salem contracted with St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stacy for the services of intern pastor Ben Hollingsead.
The church council thought Hollingsead might be with them until April, but he recently became pastor at a church in Wisconsin.
The door opened for Krajewski.
He said the church council was welcoming to him, as were parishioners.
Krajewski became the church’s pastor Feb. 3 by a unanimous vote of its parishioners.
“When we step back from the whole process, it’s pretty amazing,” Krajewski said. “Most people don’t go to Angie’s List to find their next pastor.”
As a Catholic, Krajewski said he appreciates the congregation allowing him to preside over services at the church and offer spiritual guidance to its members.
He said he has not renounced his Catholic faith and does not intend to do so, and the members of the church are very accepting of his religious background.
“They’re just in awe of him,” Diane Youngquist, Jerry’s wife, said. “We love him so much and we’ve learned so much from him.”
She noted Krajewski is good at offering sermons that are “news you can use,” meaning they’re applicable to lives of the parishioners.
Krajewski mentioned how he became pastor at Salem might just look like a series of coincidences to some, but he believes there was a divine aspect.
“I don’t think any of us think God is out here manipulating us like a chess player,” he said. “But if we’re connected in with grace, which is really given all the time and available to us, then things are going to fall into place. With grace, things fall into place.”