John Anderson and his wife, Andrea, and his children (from left) Henry, Jonnie and Owen. Anderson will be ordained Sunday and will be serving as pastor at Vernon Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mukwonago.

Ordination will be Sunday in Kenosha

The Vernon/Mukwonago area welcomes Kenosha-native John Anderson, who is about to be ordained and has been called to serve as pastor at Vernon Evangelical Lutheran Church, S90 W27550 National Ave., Mukwonago.

Since Anderson was little, the Rev. Cindy Aasen, pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, remembers him as one of the most gifted and talented individuals she ever knew.

As one of her confirmation students at St. Mary Lutheran, she remembered that he had no interest in attending confirmation camp, preferring to be anywhere else than there. In lieu of camp, she gave Anderson a large packet of work to do over the summer. However, when fall rolled around, he turned in the packet with only a quarter of the work completed.

“He was so sure that I was going to send it home with him and make him finish everything up and he was dreading it,” Aasen said. “Instead, I talked to him about life and faith and grace. That made such an impression on him. I could see he was so gifted and talented in dealing with people as well as talented musically. While he wasn’t thinking he was going into the ministry, I think the Lord had ahold of him.”

After high school, Anderson, who is the grandson of the late Ralph Houghton (director of music for Kenosha Unified School District), formed the Lonely Ninjas band with his college roommate, Ryan Gerlach, when he was attending undergraduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The duo performed for 10 years throughout Wisconsin.

Anderson graduated college with a Bachelor of Arts in music and served as the long-term substitute music teacher at Grewenow Elementary School for his former music teacher, Carol Hodges. According to Aasen, who also worked at Grewenow when her son was growing up, Anderson carried on some of Hodges traditions and started some of his own.

“He was like the Pied Piper with the kids,” she said. “The kids as well as the staff loved having John around. He was so much fun, made people feel right at home and was so talented musically. But he was feeling called to ministry. We had many long discussions about his call, which by that time was evident that he needed to be a pastor.”

It was no surprise to Aasen when in 2015, Anderson entered Luther Seminary with plans of becoming a pastor.

The 37-year-old was ordained Sept. 13, at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Kenosha.

Entering the seminary

It was no surprise to Aasen when in 2015, Anderson entered Luther Seminary with plans of becoming a pastor.

The 37-year-old was ordained on Thursday, but the event was postponed. It will now take place on Sunday, Sept. 13, at St. Mary’s Lutheran Church in Kenosha.

“John has a heart for ministry and sharing the Gospel with all ages. His heart and love for others is so evident in whatever he does,” Aasen said. “John is a gifted preacher, engaging and real and not afraid to confront the tough situations that arise in life. A gift not just to the church where he will be a pastor, but also the community and the larger Church.”

After being laid off as a music teacher in 2011, Anderson took a position at St. Mary’s as the youth minister. He was encouraged by his former pastor, the Rev. David Rabin, to consider seeking pastoral ministry and attending seminary.

“David Rabin was so supportive,” Anderson said. “I wanted a bigger voice in the church and as a youth and family minister, I was locked into what I was allowed to say and without hubris, I have an ability to effectively communicate parts of the gospel, such as unconditional love. It is one thing to preach and another to live it.”

Rabin, who is now retired and living in Sturgeon Bay with his wife, said Anderson will make an excellent pastor at his first assignment at Vernon Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“He has a lot of creativity and has the ability to engage others and make them want to become involved in things,” he said. “I think John went to school thinking he has important questions and had all this experience with the youth. He is so gifted and has no trouble bringing in new people who want to help. He is great with everyone and if he were a pastor around here, I would go to his church.”

Ministering to residents

While in seminary, Anderson’s ministry was at a long-term care facility in Wauwatosa where he ministered to residents, especially those in the memory loss wing.

“I also served the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Racine and then I had a one-year pastoral internship,” he said. “They kept me on staff as a ministry associated until I got the call for my first church. I also helped out with the ELCA Outreach Center – they have an incredible ministry and I enjoyed working with the youth. If we pay attention to them, they can teach us so much – we don’t need to tell them a lot of stuff. In most cases, they just need us to listen.”

As the ELCA Outreach Executive Director Karl Erickson has worked closely with Anderson; he has appreciated his support and partnership these past seven years.

“His dedication to the youth and people who are living in poverty here in Kenosha has been inspiring. John is generous with his time and talents as well. As a gifted musician, he is always willing to bring his guitar and lead songs during Bible studies,” Erickson said. “On a personal side, I have learned much about the Bible and faith from my conversations with John. I always learn something during our conversation and am always struck at how kind and generous he is. John is a wonderful friend, father and husband and will be a great pastor. The congregation is blessed to have him.”

As the former interim pastor, the Rev. John Holm, worked with Anderson at St. Mary Lutheran for two years and appreciated his energy with ministering to the youth in the congregation.

“He was an energetic visionary who really brought excitement and creativity to the church,” said Holm. “He has a wonderful presence in front of people and to be honest, I am so excited he decided to enter ordained ministry,” he said. “It was a joy to work with him as his supervisor and colleague and I appreciated his passion and work for the church.”

A new position

Anderson will miss his hometown but is excited to begin his new position in Vernon with his wife of 13 years, Andrea, and his children, twin 7-year-old boys, Johnny and Oscar, and Henry, 5.

“I am hoping to get ingratiated into the area and pay close attention to the congregation, ask questions and learn about the community,” Anderson said. “My other goal is to find out why the Vernon church is existing and what role we serve to the members and to the community.”

He is grateful to everyone at St. Mary’s who offered him their love, support and encouragement in his journey to becoming a Lutheran pastor.

“They encouraged me all along the way and I cannot thank them enough,” he said. “I am also grateful for my friend and band partner, Ryan Gerlach, who is now a pastor in Florida. They supported me financially as well as in prayer and encouragement throughout these years.”


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