By Pete Wurdock
Rev. Melinda VanderSys is pastor of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Newberry.
Rev. Melinda VanderSys is also pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Newberry.
A native of Palmyra, Mich., VanderSys had always wanted to live in the Upper Peninsula. While serving a congregation in Wisconsin for 15 years, she bought a house in Curtis in 2013. She was determined to retire in this beautiful area.
That dream was heard, and VanderSys got a call to pastor the Lutheran church in Newberry. She began in 2016.
Not long afterwards, through a shared ministry agreement, she also became the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Newberry, located two blocks east of the Lutheran church, on the same side of the same street.
The two churches alternate every other week in interdenominational faith, and a consolidation is under consideration.
Many congregations in the U.P. can’t afford full-time pastor, so the arrangement these churches have is a win/win for both churches. Blending Lutheran and Presbyterian doctrines is working out well for them. They are similar with enough common ground to make it work, VanderSys said. They also have a joint Sunday school and youth group and the churches regularly do things together.
“Pre-COVID, we averaged 35 members each week at the Lutheran church and 45 at the Presbyterian,” VanderSys said.
Like every other church in the U.P., COVID put a halt to some of the outreach and community events. They eventually were able to start worshiping in person in March of 2021.
“One blessing for both my congregations, and I don’t know why, but the members of each congregation were very generous through the pandemic, with some members giving the money from their government stimulus to the church,” she said. “This showed how important the church has been to them.”
VanderSys and her congregations are anxious for things to return to pre-pandemic normal. The Lutheran church hosted a once-a-month pancake breakfast free to community, and the Presbyterian church hosted a free community dinner, also open to the community.
But perhaps the activity that is missed the most is the women’s crafting group. This was open to members of the churches and community. They met and made crafts throughout the year and held a fundraiser each November. The “Extravaganza,” as it was known, raised money for the Newberry Area Ministerial Association to support the Luce County heating fund. Their average contribution each year has been about a $3,000.
The Lutheran church began relaxing their mask mandates in March, so Melinda is hopeful more people will return to in person worship. Meanwhile, both churches stream their services live on Facebook every Sunday and Melinda can also be heard Sunday mornings on the Lutheran hour on WNBY, 1450AM.
“I tell people I’m living my dream because I am living and serving here,” she said. “It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.”