The Rev. Tim Gierke thought he had a little more time.
It was his first Sunday as vacancy pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Hooper. Gierke taught a 9 a.m. Bible class, which he concluded at 9:55 a.m.
Thinking the church service didn’t start until 10:30 a.m., the Fremont man figured he had a half hour to spare.
“I was taking my time to get vested (putting on garments clergy wear) for the service, when an elder came in to make sure everything was OK,” Gierke recalled.
As parishioners sat in the pews, Gierke figured members must like to come to church early. But when he walked out into the sanctuary, Gierke found he’d made a mistake.
“What time does church start here?” he asked, realizing he was about 10 minutes late.
The service was supposed to start at 10 a.m.
“They laughed and I laughed and we went on from there and they forgave me,” Gierke said. “They’re a very forgiving group.”
The congregation also is a welcoming one, said Gierke who was installed as the church’s pastor in February. Today, Gierke is shepherding the church of about 230 members as they look to the future.
It’s another step on a pastoral journey that began years ago for Gierke.
Born in Butte, Montana, Gierke grew up in Belvedere, Illinois, where his dad was a pastor.
His grandfather was a pastor, too. So were his brothers, Charles and Gene.
Tim Gierke graduated from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Mo., in 1976 and served a dual parish in Wisconsin before coming to Fremont in 1979.
He was pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fremont for 35 years before retiring in 2015.
Gierke said he spent his first year in retirement just regrouping and relaxing. He did a lot of reading. He and his wife, Barb, did some traveling.
“After almost a year, I was so restless, because I did miss the parish ministry so much,” he said.
He served pastoral vacancies at a church in Pleasantdale and then Pacific Hills Lutheran Church in Omaha.
He liked the part-time positions.
“That was perfect for me,” said Gierke, who didn’t have to return to full-time work, but could still preach, teach, lead worship and visit parishioners.
Next, Gierke was asked to be a part-time associate pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Omaha.
At the same time that church called a full-time associate minister, the Rev. Jonathan Ripke — then pastor at Immanuel in rural Hooper — accepted a call to Illinois.
So Immanuel needed a vacancy pastor.
Gierke became that vacancy minister in September 2017.
“In those months, we worked it out that they would call me as pastor in a three-quarter position and I was installed in February,” Gierke said. “The Lord had it all timed out — one step at a time.
“And here I am.”
Gierke likes the opportunity to work part time.
“I haven’t worked full time since I retired,” he said. “They’ve all been part-time positions, which makes for a great retirement situation. I still am in the action in the parish, but it’s not the full-time, seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day, on-call situation — and it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
His work involves preaching, teaching, visitation, some administrative work and preparing for worship. He handles pastoral emergencies when they arise.
He appreciates the parishioners.
Gierke said parishioners at Immanuel have been so warm, accepting and gracious to him and his wife.
“It really has been a bit like coming home,” he said.
Barb Gierke plays the organ for worship about twice a month. She also the assistant organist on staff at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Omaha.
Gierke also noted the connection between Immanuel and his past ministry experiences.
“I knew a lot of the people here, because Immanuel-Hooper and Good Shepherd-Fremont have a lot of family members who are related and so I had a lot of association with people here through my years at Good Shepherd,” he said. “I never felt like a stranger here. It is just a really good fit.”
So what’s in the future?
“I’m letting the Lord be in charge of that,” he said. “Right now, I’m learning the lay of the land, putting names and faces together, starting to get to know people a little bit more.”
Gierke wants to have what he calls “Pastor Tim’s Table Talks,” where he meets with individuals and small groups.
“I just want to hear their stories, about themselves and this congregation — how they see themselves as part of God’s people here, the history of the place, its strengths, weakness, needs — and then out of them what I hope to develop with them is a focus for ministry,” he said.
Gierke points out many positive aspects of the church.
“They’ve got some great things going on here,” he said. “And they have a wonderful history and wonderful depth of tradition and so many strengths in their background.”
Gierke said the church had a school here for many years that closed, but which has been replaced with a preschool, now in its second year.
“They have a wonderful director who’s doing a great job with these kids,” he said.
The church also hosts a food pantry that brings 150 people in each month for the distribution. He calls the endeavor, “a great way to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the community.”
Gierke smiles a lot as he talks about the church.
“They are a wonderful group of people,” he said. “I’m so thoroughly enjoying what I’m doing here.”