The Northwestern Minnesota Synod is proud to announce the start of The Jeremiah 29 Project.

The Jeremiah 29 Project is a three-year immersive program to promote community vitality through congregational investment and pastoral leadership.  Leaders will participate in cohorts with other leaders from across the synod, each engaged in their own community project.  Projects will be discerned over a time of learning and conversations in the community.   

The Jeremiah 29 Project is led by Mary Frances of Frances Consulting & Coaching based near Chicago, IL.  An experienced coach and consultant, Mary facilitates many groups across the NW MN synod as well as other synods and denominations around the country.   

Ten leaders from across the synod have been selected for the pilot of this exciting project.  Leaders are:  

Amber Kalina joyfully serves in her first call as pastor of Our Savior's and Melo Lutheran Churches in Warren, MN. Her passions include music, God's word, learning, and encouraging the Body of Christ. One of her favorite guiding Bible passages is, “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith; be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).  

Taylor Wilson serves as an Associate Pastor at Good Shepherd in Moorhead for six years- focusing on faith formation, outreach, church planting, and curating various styles of worship for a vibrant and growing congregation.  

Andy Graves is the pastor of Sion Lutheran Church located in Lancaster, Minnesota. Outside of the normal pastor and father activities, he collects English Bulldog memorabilia, for a lack of a better term. He’s never owned an English Bulldog but owns a lot of things that feature them--figurines, puzzles, toys, etc. It creates fun conversations with his wife and friends!  

Ben Durbin has been pastor of Eagle Lake Lutheran Church of rural Battle Lake since 2020. He began serving in professional ministry roles as a youth minister in Gladstone, MI in 2005 and has since served congregations in Duluth, MN, Rutland/Havana/Fargo, ND, and Fergus Falls, MN. He enjoys reading, writing, and playing guitar. He lives in Fergus Falls with his wife, Sarah, and their four children.   

Kayla Billings is privileged to serve as an Associate Pastor at First Lutheran Church in Bemidji. Finding passion in the opportunity to visit with people, hear their stories and grow in relationships is one of her greatest joys. She also loves getting to witness her family both experience and share a mutual love with the people and community in which they live. As one who loves to learn and seeks to learn something new each day, she is excited for what opportunities may be found in helping her community continue to grow in relationship while seeking ways to better share the light of Christ.  

Rachel Johnson serves as solo pastor to the two-point Williams-Roosevelt Lutheran Parish in Lake of the Woods and Roseau counties. Before ordination, Pr. Rachel's experience was in the field of advocacy and social services, particularly for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, people experiencing homelessness, and immigrants & refugees from Central America. Then and now, Pr. Rachel strives to foster communities where all people might experience "life and life abundantly."  

“Badger girl pastoring in Gopher country” describes René Mehlberg since this Wisconsin gal accepted her first call in Northwestern Minnesota in September 2018. In January 2023 she began as mission developer/pastor for A New Journey Lutheran Parish in the McIntosh, Bejou, Gary area of Minnesota, taking her further from her Wisconsin roots. God is funny that way! “Learning, Leading, and Loving” is her motto, especially while being out and about in the various communities she now finds herself. She is a big college hockey fan (Go Badgers!) and hopes to find a new place to curl.  

Erin Bovendam serves as Lead Pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church in Perham, MN.  She’s been there since October 2020.  Erin is married to Chris Mathiason, who is a pastor in Staples and Cushing, and they have two boys ages 15 and almost 13.  Erin enjoys being involved in her kids’ activities, walking, being outside, and being a part of a faith community.  

For the past four years, Scott Hoecker has served Esther Lutheran Church as their pastor in Parkers Prairie, Minnesota. It is a rural congregation of Swedish descent that has a history of partnering with nearby congregations for serving the community over the past 128 years.”

Rich Fitzer has primarily served single-point solo calls in NW & NE Minnesota. He also served as senior pastor in Jamestown, ND, and as an ELCA mission developer in Indiana. Inner city mission trips to Chicago and Habitat for Humanity projects have been important highlights in past years. Holden Village has been a destination for congregational trips, continuing education, and sabbatical time.