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Onward to the next call; Lutheran pastor will preach her last sermon today at St. Mark’s

Pastor LaVonne Johnson-Holt’s call with St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church ends today. She has served as the church’s pastor since October 2014. (Timothy P. Howsare Photo)

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While cleaning a shower enclosure in the rectory of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, the largest Catholic church in Boulder, Colorado, LaVonne Johnson-Holt said she heard a second calling to enter the ministry.

“The voice said, ‘You, now,’” Johnson-Holt recalled. “I told one of the priests and he asked, ‘Did you think to open the windows?’” thinking that Johnson-Holt may have inhaled a few too many fumes from the cleaning products.

Johnson-Holt worked at the church for 10 years as rectory manager, which she said is a “fancy word for housekeeper/cook.”

Johnson-Holt said her first calling came when she was 16, while she was growing up on a farm in Minnesota. The voice said, “You, but not yet.”

She said that calling came right around the time Lutheran churches were beginning to ordain women.

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For the past three years, Johnson-Holt has served as pastor of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on North Main Street. Today at 10:15 a.m. will be her last service. She plans to stay in Roswell while she waits for a new pastoral call.

She said she will go anywhere except Alaska, because, as a transplanted northerner, she doesn’t want to live in a place that has “20 hours of darkness and only four hours of light.”

Johnson-Holt moved to Roswell from Denver, where she had been working at an insurance call center to make ends meet until she got the job at St. Mark’s.

“Roswell is a fascinating place,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed it here and have met a lot of people. The people of St. Mark’s are faithful, caring and yearning to God’s will.”

The Lutheran pastor also worked at the Roswell Daily Record as a proofreader and wrote columns for the weekly “Pastor’s Musings” series.

Johnson-Holt started seminary school in 2002 and took five years to finish, receiving her master’s of divinity in 2007.

She then traveled to Europe for about three months and when she came back took care of one of her uncles until his death in 2008.

Johnson-Holt attended the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, which is a Methodist school. She said her experience at Iliff was much different than what one would expect at a divinity school.

“It had such a breath of experience,” Johnson-Holt said. “Only half the students were Methodist and my professor for the New Testament was Jewish. That adds a lot of background not found in traditional schools of divinity.”

She received her undergraduate degree from the Metropolitan State College in Denver, majoring in English literature and minoring in biology.

“I am not a disbeliever in science,” she pointed out.

Johnson-Holt was born and raised on a farm in Minnesota, which she quipped was “50 miles from Lake Wobegon,” the mythical Minnesota farm town that radio host Garrison Keillor bantered about in his weekly PBS radio series, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

In reality, the farm was about 40 miles due west from where the borders of both the Dakotas and Minnesota meet.

She is Norwegian, German and Luxembourgian descent.

“You probably don’t know many people whose descendants were from Luxembourg,” she said.

For several years, Johnson-Holt owned and operated a restaurant called Sportsman Cafe in Barrett, Minnesota.

She was married from 1984 to 2006 and has no children. “But I have plenty of nieces and nephews.”

She and her former husband left Minnesota in 1986 and settled in Denver.

When asked what accomplishments stand out in her mind during her call at St. Mark’s, Johnson-Holt said it is the ecumenical work she and several other pastors have done.

Every Thursday afternoon at Stellar Coffee, Johnson-Holt meets with other pastors in town where they discuss ways that faith can make Roswell a better community.

“We have fellowship together and all support each other in our ministries,” she said.

She mentioned the jazz service that was held at First United Methodist Church on the Sunday during the recent Roswell Jazz Festival. She said about 12 members from the service went to the jazz service and now plan to attend every year.

At the request of the congregation, Johnson-Holt has been sending out daily prayers in email blasts to everyone in the congregation.

Johnson-Holt said she will miss the congregation at St. Mark’s.

“They have had some struggles but have trusted God to see them through it. I have great hope and faith that they will continue to be God’s agents of mercy in Roswell.”

Community News reporter Timothy P. Howsare can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or vistas@rdrnews.com.

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