In August, the Rev. Samuel Thole started serving congregations in Flandreau and Brookings. Ultimately, his goal is to serve the men and women of the U.S. Army.
Thole serves as assistant pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Brookings and Reedemer Lutheran Church in Flandreau. He’s a recent graduate of the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., moving to South Dakota with his wife, Meagan, and 6-month-old daughter Elaina.
“We’re very happy with the churches and the communities,” Thole said. As assistant pastor, Thole handles all types of ministerial duties: preaching, baptizing and visiting shut-ins.
“My long-term plan is to return to the Army as a chaplain,” Thole said. “In order to do that, I am required to have two years in a parish before the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod will endorse me for military service.”
It was while he was serving in the military that Thole felt the call to the ministry. He served four years in the regular Army and four years in the Illinois National Guard.
During a tour at a hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Thole served as a mental health specialist working with post traumatic stress disorder counseling, traumatic brain injuries and screenings, sleep studies and any type of combat stress.
“I was working in a hospital in Afghanistan and I would have people who would come in needing to talk,” Thole recalled. “I realized that a lot of them needed forgiveness instead of sleeping pills or therapy. I could do more for them as a chaplain than I could working in a hospital.”
Like congregations across the country, the military is also struggling to find ministers.
“The seminary I graduated from had more congregations seeking pastors than they were able to provide graduates for,” Thole said. “That shortage would also extend from the greater population to the military as well.”
In his role as assistant pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Flandreau, Thole is in town Tuesdays to serve in the chapel of the day school as well as taking a turn preaching on Sundays.
Long-time Redeemer minister Rev. Timothy Rynearson still preaches at Redeemer. Services are Sundays at 9 a.m.
With a weekly congregation of about 30, Thole hopes that all who come to Redeemer Lutheran are made to feel welcome.
“If a visitor comes to a church or if a new person comes to a church and somebody doesn’t go up to them and shake their hand and say hello, I think that’s a little bit of a failure on the congregation’s part and on my part as well,” Thole said.
“Hopefully that doesn’t happen.”
The Rev. Samuel Thole delivers sermons from the pulpit about every other week at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Flandreau.