Trinity’s new pastor, family warmly welcomed–from the dashboard
In the “before times,” driving by the new family in town, with a wave from the window of your auto, would hardly constitute a “hearty welcome” to the neighborhood.
But this is a pandemic era.
As far as Trinity Lutheran Church’s new arrival, Pastor Eric Schwirian, and his family are concerned–their “drive-by” welcome was an overwhelming display of “Minnesota nice” hospitality.
“The welcoming attitude of the community and the congregation, from the moment we pulled in, has been wonderful,” said Rev. Schwirian, a Pennsylvania native. “We’re so impressed with the community, the church, and the school…we’re excited to be part of Pelican in every way we can.”
Vehicles streamed by Sunday afternoon at the parsonage, which is located across the lot from Trinity. Waving at a social distance, from the driveway, were his wife of ten years Marie, and children Maggie, 7, Abigail, 5, and Luke, 2.
A Pennsylvania native and a U.S. Army veteran who currently serves in the rank of Major as an Army Reserve chaplain, Schwirian comes to Pelican with a resume that includes eight years active duty as an infantry officer and Military Intelligence staff officer.
It was during his overseas deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he initially felt called to proclaim Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection and share how faith aided him through combat.
As Chaplain, his responsibilities include one Friday-Saturday a month and two weeks a year. A lifelong Lutheran, Schwirian provides religious support to soldiers and leaders by conducting worship services, pastoral counseling, and being a moral and ethical advisor to the commander.
Trinity congregation members really “stepped forward,” hardly being asked, to clean, paint and perform upkeep at the Schwirian parsonage home.
“They wanted to make sure everything was good…The neat part is that the congregation volunteered, and it wasn’t directed by committee,” said Alan Westby, a lay minister who has served as interim pastor; and will continue in an assistant capacity. “The outpouring of love and support has been unbelievable…It has just been heartwarming.”
Without a full-time pastor since Rev. Scott Block retired in September 2019, Trinity’s call committee has received a number of names of candidates.
When it came time for a congregation vote on calling Schwirian to Pelican Rapids, it was hands-down unanimous, said Westby.
Actually, filling a minister vacancy within a year was fairly quick—as some churches are without replacement for two years and more.
“When it was time to seek out calls, everything fell together,” said Westby. “If you allow the Holy Spirit to move, you’ll be taken care of.
The family will be wrapping up a “self-quarantine” next week, but for Pastor Schwirian, his congregation will likely continue to be “distant,” at least from proximity standpoint.
Sunday worship has been online and televised since the COVID-19 outbreak. Views on Facebook and the church website have been remarkably high, noted Westby. Interestingly, as much as 40 percent of Trinity’s viewership has been outside of Minnesota—not only “snowbirds” who traveled south before the pandemic, but also extended family and former Pelican area residents who may see the recordings as a way to re-connect, noted Westby.
“There hasn’t been a big push to get back to regular services, because this has worked well,” said Westby, who said that Trinity is closely following recommendations from the Central for Disease Control, the Minn. Dept. of Health and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. “We will probably continue until there is a level of comfort. We want to consider minimizing the risk.”
Especially attractive to Pastor Schwirian was Trinity’s “outward focus.”
“We were so impressed with Trinity’s history of proclaiming the gospel through both word and deed,” said Schwirian, who appreciated the church’s many charitable and civic initiatives.
Trinity has a long history of service beyond Sunday worship. The church has been a consistent supporter of the Pelican area Food Shelf; and has been instrumental in creating “The Welcome Place,” which offers a range of social services and referrals. It has also been the “host” facility for the local Boy Scout troop; among other civic involvements.
Schwirian’s passion for volunteering outside the church included serving at a bi-monthly food bank ministry and monthly free community breakfasts. During social ministry outreach events, it is common to find Eric praying or talking with those gathered and serving alongside others called to support those in need.
While attending United Lutheran Seminary, he served in both full-time and part-time leadership roles in several Lutheran congregations. His most recent full-time position was as the solo-intern pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Spokane, Washington.
The Schwirian family enjoys spending time together on local hiking trips, playing outside at the park, and taking long walks after dinner during the summer. The children are particularly excited to attend Sunday School and make new friends at church and in school.