New pastor answers ‘call’ at Harris church

Pastor Therese Helker standing in the sanctuary at First Lutheran Church of Harris.
Pastor Therese Helker standing in the sanctuary at First Lutheran Church of Harris.

Pastor Therese Helker is enjoying the differences so far from serving a congregation of 2,000 in Apple Valley to the 189 members who make up the First Lutheran Church of Harris family.

Accepting First Lutheran’s call for a new pastor earlier this year,  Helker began her call in the middle of Lent  March 4. “My arrival with Lent was good timing; it allowed me to meet more people at services throughout the week,” she said. “They are wonderful people.”

And the feeling is mutual, as offered by church council president Brian Lofgren:

“I would like to thank the call committee members for their hard work and commitment, and their excellent choice in recommending Pastor Therese,” Lofgren noted. “Thanks also for the congregation’s overwhelming support with their vote to ‘call’ Pastor Therese. She is an excellent fit for our congregation, and I am looking forward to working with her during her tenure at First Lutheran Church of Harris.”

For the past nine years, Helker served at Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley. She’s been a pastor for 13 years, while her husband, Bill Helker, also serves. He’s been a pastor for five years at All Saints Lutheran in Cottage Grove.

Helker loves her blended family, with daughters Olivia, 21, and Natalie, 19, along with Bill’s daughter, Kirsten, who also is 19 years old. And the family has only grown closer, she smiled.

First Lutheran Church of Harris
First Lutheran Church of Harris

As Pastor Richard Mork did in his five years before retiring from First Lutheran, Helker also serves as a chaplain at the Ecumen senior living facility in North Branch. Spending Mondays and Wednesdays there, she is back at the church on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the week, with time spent on writing sermons on Saturday before worship and Sunday school starts at 9:30 a.m. Sundays.

“It was challenging to figure out the scheduling at first,” she said of managing both positions. She’s learning, too, that both she and the congregation need to be flexible in their relationship.

Whether at church or at Ecumen, Helker calls herself a relationship person, which makes her calling at First Lutheran a “good fit,” she explained. She looks forward to having closer relationships with people through a smaller church family.

Calling her time at Grace Lutheran in Apple Valley a “great call” and wonderful experience, the congregation there numbered 2,000 members with only two pastors on duty. Short a half to a full-time pastor, the imbalance made it difficult for her to form the close relationships that she’s envisioning in Harris.

On her new roles as pastor and chaplain at First Lutheran: “I get to do both of my passions more closely in this smaller setting,” Helker noted. “You like to know what’s going on with people. You get to know the confirmation kids better, too.”

In her first year at First Lutheran, she hopes to build relationships and trust with those she’s already met and those she has yet to meet. She wants to learn who the people are and the church’s current direction.

“I like to observe and empower people to do what they’re already good at,” she said. “I’m more of an encourager than a change-maker. I like to help people find and develop their passions.”


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