The Reverend George Gehant’s trips to Flandreau are more frequent these days.
The retired Brookings pastor serves St. Mary’s and Our Blessed Redeemer Episcopal Church on the first three Sundays of the month, an increase from last year and a chance to better serve the small congregation.
For members, that means more worship services with communion, an important sacrament to Episcopalians.
“The Episcopal church is centered on worship. The Sunday celebration of Holy Communion is the center of everything. If we’re just going to do one thing, that’s what it’s going to be,” says Gehant. “That’s why it’s important to have this church.”
But Gehant, a supply minister, brings more to the church with his love for people and his talent for listening, says Margo Zephier, a lay leader at the church. He began serving the church once or twice a month in 2016.
“He is just really embracing our small little diverse congregation and helping us to meet God’s calling for us in our community,” she says.
On a typical Sunday, the congregation is about 16 strong, a number that swelled to nearly 90 at Christmas when families were home to worship together. The congregation would like to have more people attend regularly, has room to grow and has a committed older group of people, Zephier says. The church has special services with hymns in Dakota, including one planned for 6 p.m. today, March 7.
Having a pastor at services nearly every Sunday helps bring new people to church, she says.
“His love for mankind just comes out so strong. He is a very loving, kind person. He’s an excellent listener,” she says. “He takes time to visit with every person, and he knows their names right away.”
Gehant, 72, spent most of his career as a chaplain, most recently at United Living Community in Brookings. After graduating from St. Olaf College and Harvard Divinity School, he served as a hospital and hospice chaplain, provided mental health care in Missouri during the farm crisis of the 1970s and 1980s and served traditional church congregations.
“I learned that people really like and benefit from someone that can really listen and hear them as they are,” he says. It doesn’t both him that he is working in an Episcopal church as a Lutheran because the two faiths have had an agreement “Called to Common Mission” since 2001 that says that clergy may move freely between the two churches and share communion.
“My job is to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ in this setting and offer pastoral care,” he says. Despite the small numbers, the church had several baptisms last year. The church also has a good group of lay leaders, he says. “The congregation, they’re pretty thoughtful people.”
Gehant was born in Brookings, graduated from high school in Madison, Minn., spent a great deal of his career in the St. Louis area and has returned to his roots. His great, great grandparents helped start Lake Campbell Lutheran where they homesteaded, two miles down the road from a 102-year-old cabin, called Viking Camp, that his grandparents later helped build. He, his wife, Mavis, and their two daughters and families still use the cabin, which has been upgraded to include electricity. But they try and keep life simple at the cabin.
“We’ve tried to hang onto a lot of the things that were there,” he says. “When we go out there, we don’t use any computers and TVs. We try to stick to swimming and hiking and playing volleyball.