On Saturday, Vicar Shari Schwedhelm will realize a longtime dream.
She will become an ordained minister.
For months, Schwedhelm has been serving Salem and St. Timothy Lutheran churches in Fremont. Salem members voted to call her to become their pastor in February. St. Timothy members — delayed by a snowstorm — didn’t get to vote her in until March.
But she was called to serve as pastor of both congregations.
“There aren’t words for how happy that made me,” she said.
Now that she has been called, Schwedhelm, who has completed her master of divinity degree, can be ordained.
The event will begin with a dinner from 5-7 p.m. and the ordination service is at 7 p.m., both in Salem Lutheran Church, 401 E. Military Ave.
After the service, a celebration is set from 9-11 p.m. in the 1881 Pint Room at Milady Coffeehouse, 105 E. Sixth St., downtown Fremont.
The public is invited to the events celebrating Schwedhelm’s ordination.
St. Timothy’s Special Classes Choir will sing during the Saturday night service. Bishop Brian Mass of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will preside at the service.
One special moment during the service will be when Schwedhelm’s family will gather around her and place on her shoulders a stole (a liturgical vestment), which represents the weight she carries as a pastor. Schwedhelm’s stole was hand-made by her mother-in-law Loretta Schwedhelm.
When the ceremony ends, Shari Schwedhelm officially will have the title of “The Rev.”
“That’s the new title I carry out of that service,” she said.
Schwedhelm smiles about the title given to her by a little boy in the Salem Little Saints preschool.
“There is one little boy who is completely sure my name is Victor Shari,” she said.
Now, congregants and preschoolers alike will have a new title for Schwedhelm.
“That’s one of the things the congregations have started talking about — they will make that transition. They’ve gotten used to calling me ‘Vicar’ and now they get used to calling me ‘Pastor Shari,’” she said.
Schwedhelm is excited about the ministry that lies ahead.
“This is the beginning of my call to ministry,” Schwedhelm said. “This is a day I have truly been dreaming about for 28 years. It was back in 1990 when I was first considering my gifts for ministry that I dreamed of the day I’d be ordained as a pastor and called to serve a congregation.”
Schwedhelm was 19 years old when she sensed God’s call to ministry. Having grown up south of Lincoln, Schwedhelm came to Midland University in 1989.
During the summer, she was a staffer at Camp Carol Joy Holling. While there, she sensed God’s call to ministry.
After spending the summer as a staffer at Camp Carol Joy Holling, she returned to Midland that fall.
She met her first husband and married at the end of her sophomore year. She graduated with a major in human services in 1992.
She’d have three children in three years and “continue to plant seeds of faith where I could.”
Schwedhelm opened and operated Little Angels Childcare Center in Fremont, which she sold in 2007. She worked for Omaha Public Schools and her jobs included serving as an accountant for the nutrition services program.
She later became director of faith formation at Bethany Lutheran Church in Elkhorn.
Schwedhelm then went to seminary. She completed her program with a full-year internship, where she served two rural Iowa congregations: Faith Lutheran in Onawa and Soldier Lutheran in Soldier, Iowa.
After that, the bishop of the Western Iowa Synod appointed her to stay on as transitional leader of those churches while they sought their permanent pastor. Her time was divided between serving the Iowa congregations and her Nebraska home.
She served in that capacity until the Nebraska bishop appointed her to serve as a transitional leader, while the Salem and St. Timothy congregations worked out a shared ministry agreement. The congregations worked to determine which ministries they can do jointly, while maintaining their own identities and worship services at their own locations.
The arrangement offers an opportunity for the churches to do more together than they could alone.
In a previous Tribune story, Schwedhelm explained the role of vicar. In most cases, vicars are students who haven’t completed their degrees and are serving under another pastor. They’ve not yet been called or ordained.
Schwedhelm, however, graduated from seminary in December 2017. She was eligible to be ordained, but until a church extended a call she couldn’t go through ordination.
In the meantime, Schwedhelm was able to serve the congregations for communion, baptisms, funerals and leading worship. She taught confirmation and led Wednesday evening programming.
Schwedhelm has been enjoying her service at the Fremont churches.
“I have loved getting to know the unique parts of both of the congregations,” she said.
With Schwedhelm’s ordination comes opportunities for the two churches.
“This is a point of comfort for the two congregations,” she said. “They’ve been in a period of transition for a very long time. This is a time when we can now settle in, because they know I am here for the long haul. I’m settling in and I’m not going anywhere.”
She looks forward to the days ahead.
“We are truly considering what our long term goals and plans for the future of both congregations and how we can best serve Fremont and grow together,” she said.
Salem has an average Sunday attendance of about 100 people and St. Timothy’s has an average of about 60 worshipers.
The worship service time at Salem starts at 8:30 a.m. and the inter-generational education time is at 9:40 a.m.
At St. Timothy, special classes and adult Sunday school classes both start at 9 a.m. The classes for students from preschool through high school start at 9:30 a.m. with the worship service at 10:30 a.m.
Every time there is a fifth Sunday, the two congregations have a joint service at 9 a.m. with locations alternated. On Sunday, the joint service will take place at St. Timothy.
“We bring our two congregations together,” Schwedhelm said. “We always do something special. This time, Midland’s university campus ministry is coming and they will be sharing the stories from their spring mission trips.”
Schwedhelm said the best part of her ministry is working with its people.
“It is a wonderful group of people that I get to work with,” she said. “Each congregation has a unique ministry — or more than one — that they are involved in. The hearts the people have for service makes it not a job to come to, but a joy.”
Schwedhelm and her congregations are eager for the future.
“We are excited to see what God has in store for us,” she said.
Schwedhelm believes many great things lie in the future.
“We are really just getting started,” she said. “There are wonderful things that the congregations are excited about doing. St. Timothy is planning their 50th anniversary celebration in May. Salem is considering what opportunities they have to serve the community around them, especially in light of recent events.”
Salem became a shelter for evacuees displaced by recent flooding. The church sheltered evacuees from March 15 until they transitioned to the shelter in the former JC Penney’s building on March 23. At the church’s highest capacity night, it sheltered 137 people.
“There were beautiful things that happened throughout that process,” she said.
Schwedhelm and her churches and family now are looking forward to her ordination. Schwedhelm and her husband, Alan, a registered nurse, have been married for five years and have a blended family of eight children and a grandson. They live on an acreage outside Kennard.