Flandreau Methodists said goodbye to their two pastors and will greet their new spiritual leader, all this week.
The Pastors Don Vanderlip and Justin Jenness preached at their last service for the congregation on Sunday at the park bandshell. Jenness and his wife, Sarah, also baptized the youngest of their three children, Judah James, at the service. Also celebrating his baptism on Sunday was Ranger Amdahl, son of Chase and Kortney Amdahl.
Amber Laffey, who is working as a minister through the Kairos program at Sioux Falls Seminary where Jenness also studies, starts today, July 1, at Flandreau United Methodist Church. Her first service to lead worship will be July 12.
The congregation has been meeting at the school parking lot after sharing a weekly message online when COVID-19 concerns prevented most churches from meeting in person in March. Worship switched to online services, which continue for now as well as the band shell service.
For Vanderlip and Jenness, saying goodbye is hard. Vanderlip will be the lone pastor at Sioux Falls Southern Hills Church in Sioux Falls, where both have also worked while serving Flandreau. Jenness will be the pastor at Hilltop Methodist in Sioux Falls.
“They’ll be my first church and will always have a spot in my heart,” Vanderlip said of Flandreau. Parishioners have become like family. “Goodbyes are tough, I tell you that. My time in Flandreau has always been about them and bringing people closer to Jesus.”
Vanderlip had been working with Southern Hills and started serving Flandreau as a sister church in 2016. When the Methodist conference asked him to do both, he said he would need an associate to help, and Jenness joined the staff in 2017. They knew each other after having attended college together at the University of Sioux Falls.
“It’s just been a blessing serving alongside Justin at these churches. God’s done some amazing things there,” Vanderlip said.
The church attendance has doubled to between 80 and 120 at a Sunday service during the school year. And along the way, the pastors have made good memories. “They’ve been so encouraging, so welcoming, friendly, just an amazing congregation,” he said.
Vanderlip has especially enjoyed the weddings, confirmations, baptisms, Christmas Eve services and other special events that are part of the church life. His family includes his wife, Kristi, and children Madisyn, Hudsen and Cahlen, who all have attended church in Flandreau, too.
Jenness said the Flandreau church and its people remind him of his home church when he was growing up in Iowa. They’ve been there to support him, especially in a tough time recently when his sister died.
He sees the church member’s Christianity shining. “They say the right things, and their actions are there.”
The connection with the congregation is one reason his family decided to baptize his son on the last Sunday of their service in Flandreau.
“It’s a gift for us, and we’re praying it’s kind of a gift for them,” he said of the event that he hopes lets Flandreau members know how special they are to his family. “Knowing they will be praying continually to lift up, not only Judah, but or family in their prayers (is special).” In addition to his wife and baby son, he has two other children, Simon and Siri.
Jenness has seen members get involved in leadership positions and join an intense Bible study, showing him a faith that he knows will continue at the church. When church services were forced online, it extended the congregation’s reach. “This is a way we can reach out and share and show who Christ is,” he said.
The goodbyes of the pastors makes room for members to welcome Laffey, who is moving to town from Mitchell with her husband, Tyler, and their children Ava, Corwin, Adeline and Rose, ages 12 to 2 years old.
A native of Delmont, she graduated with a marketing degree from Belview University in Nebraska, and spent 10 years staying home with her children. She started volunteering and in 2019, worked as a support minister to other pastors’ spiritual needs through the conference with the Methodist church.
“I just love walking along side and encouraging people in their faith, caring and connecting with people,” she said. She looks forward to that roll in Flandreau. “Everyone I’ve talked to so far is so kind. (I’m) super excited to come and be part of the church family.”
The departing pastors hope the congregation continue to grow in faith.
“If I could just say something to the church, it would be ‘keep coming to church,’” Vanderlip said. “Sunday morning is one of the only things left … where we can be encouraged and not torn down.”