New clergy lead churches in county
Three new clergy are shepherding Moody County churches.
They replace pastors who had long served local flocks.
While their denominations differ, the pastors’ focus is the same – to lead worship and support the spiritual lives of those who attend services.
At Ss. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in Flandreau, St. Peter Church in Colman and Our Lady of Good Counsel in Elkton, the Rev. Melvin Kuhn has replaced the Rev. Doug Binsfeld. The two priests swapped parishes, with Binsfeld going to Christ the King in Webster and Immaculate Conception in Waubay.
At Flandreau United Methodist Church, Amber Laffey replaced the Revs. Don Vanderlip and Justin Jenness, who both moved to churches in Sioux Falls. This is Laffey’s first church to serve, and she is working as a minister through the Kairos program at Sioux Falls Seminary.
In Trent, the Rev. Randy Maas is working as the interim pastor after the Rev. Dave Knutson retired. He had served Trent Baptist Church for 30 years.
The Rev. Randy Maas
For most of his career, Randy Maas has worked to help people with self-improvement, public speaking and interpersonal skills through his work with the Dale Carnegie program.
Fifteen years ago, he went back to school to earn a divinity degree and begin a second career as a pastor.
“That’s how God works sometimes. We take a circuitous path,” he said.
After growing up in Yale and graduating with a degree in journalism with a minor in political science from South Dakota State University, Maas worked in marketing for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, as an administrator at a nursing home in Bridgewater and for the Dale Carnegie group.
In 2004, he had an opportunity to buy into that business but instead felt a call to seminary. After talking it over with his wife, Kathleen, he decided to follow his heart.
“I really came to the conclusion that at the end of my life if I looked back on things that I had done, if I did not go to seminary, I would look back and maybe have regrets,” he said.
He graduated from Sioux Falls Seminary in 2008, with the idea he would work in a large church but not as a lead pastor. Instead, he was called to the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren Church in rural Marion, where he served for 12 years until accepting an interim pastor’s job at Trent Baptist Church.
Maas, 61, was baptized in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church and attended his mother’s Mennonite church in his youth. When he and his wife had a family with the birth of their son, Zac, who is now grown and lives on the East coast., they attended a Baptist church.
Maas, who lives in Sioux Falls, likes to collaborate with others and said he is not a lone wolf personality. He brings that approach to the Trent church, where he has a contract that is for roughly a year, until the congregation hires a more permanent pastor.
That allows the people of the church to transition from having had a long-term pastor to hiring someone new, he said. It allows them to try new things.
“Specifically, as an interim, my calling is to walk alongside them,” he said. “When I come into a congregation, I’m here to collaborate with people. My philosophy of ministry is … preach the word and love the people. The rest is details.”
In his first sermon series since starting with the church this month, he is reminding those who attend that God doesn’t always do what is expected.
“Through most of our history, if you read the Bible, God works in unexpected ways,” he said. “Now is a perfect season at Trent Baptist to look for God to work in us in unexpected ways.”
Pastor Amber Laffey
Since July 12, when Amber Laffey started at Flandreau United Methodist, she has experienced some firsts.
It’s her first church to serve as a pastor. She’s presided at her first funeral here and preached at her first Sunday back inside the church after worshipping last summer in the park. It also has been her first chance to see how the people of her congregation work together and welcome each other as if they’re family.
“They’re just amazingly faithful, faithful to each other and faithful to the church and faithful to worshipping and following God,” she said. “They genuinely care about each other and help each grow spiritually. They’re friends in the church and outside the church. It’s a great family, and we feel very welcome to it.”
Laffey, 34, and her husband, Tyler, moved to Flandreau from Mitchell with their children Ava, Corwin, Adeline and Rose.
She is a native of Delmont, graduated with a marketing degree from Belview University in Nebraska and spent 10 years staying home with her children. During that time, she was a self-described, full-time volunteer. Beginning in 2019, she worked as a support minister to other pastors’ spiritual needs through the Methodist church conference.
While she is serving Flandreau, she also is earning her master’s in divinity through the Kairos program at Sioux Falls Seminary, taking classes online and using her work experiences as integrated learning.
“It’s crazy to take it all at once, but at the same time, I can see all of the things I’ve been through, the leadership positions, the volunteering, have led me to this,” she said. “I know I can only do this with God’s help in me.”
Laffey, who grew up Lutheran, started attending a Methodist church in Mitchell with her husband, where she got to know several Methodist pastors.
“It’s a newer church, and we didn’t really know it was Methodist when we started going,” she said. “They really had a focus on giving and serving the community.”
Laffey knows how to give. Through her previous work, she also knows the importance of nourishing her own self in order to able to serve.
“It’s challenging. Everybody has a different sized plate of what they can handle. I know my plate is rather large, but I also know I have to rest and take care of myself as well.”
She is thankful for the people in the community who have welcomed her family to town, and without a pandemic, she would be even more open to sharing with others.
“I would love to have people over to my house all the time and be hugging people. But I’ve still felt extremely welcome, and we’re very thankful for that.”
The Rev. Melvin Kuhn
Melvin Kuhn, 55, grew up on a farm in central Illinois, attended Catholic schools, earned a college degree in agriculture and worked for the Department of Agriculture before answering his call to the priesthood.
“I just started getting more engaged in the faith,” he said. “It started weighing on my mind more, and I knew I had to go give it a try,” he said.
After six years of study – two at Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Conn., and four at Saint Paul Seminary in St. Paul, he was ordained in 2014 and served at Sacred Heart in Aberdeen. He was called as a priest to serve the parishes in Webster and Watertown four years ago.
Kuhn, who started July 1 in Flandreau, still is getting settled and getting to know people in his parishes. He likes to visit with folks and considers that maybe his agriculture background makes him more relatable to people in a rural area like Moody County.
He is clearly focused on his duty.
“For me, people are people no matter where you go,” he said. “The role of the priest is to serve in the salvation of the soul.”
Kuhn said he has found what he was intended to do.
“I’m just thankful to be a priest. I started late. If there wasn’t a shortage of priests, I might not have gotten a second chance,” he said.
Being in the priesthood is not a separation from life that all people share, nor is it so sacrificial that it is without joy.
“It’s like every other walk of life. There’re times when there’s a cross. This is part of everybody’s life,” he said. “It’s not to say there’s a lack of happiness, but there’s this sacrifice.”