Rev. Henkelmann to continue following God’s calling in retirement
The Rev. Fred Henkelmann, his wife and three adult children in the congregation, gave his farewell sermon at Peace Lutheran Church in Linton on Sun., May 19, 2013. He served the parish for 24 and a half years, and now he and his wife, Raylene, are retiring in the home once owned by his parents in Pigeon, Mich.
Just as with every other sermon he delivered since his ordination in 1974, it was fresh. He never gives the same sermon twice, and none has been saved unless they were taped by the church or happened to be in the memory of his computer.
“I don’t like left-over sermons,” Rev. Henkelmann said. “I’ve always tried not to be boring, but I’m afraid I was.”
For his children’s message, Rev. Henkelmann used a relay race as an example.
“God hands us the Gospel and tells us He loves us and to pass it on like a baton in a relay race,” he told the children. “It doesn’t matter which relay member crosses the finish line, the whole team gets the vistory.”
His sermon opened with recognition that the day was Pentecost Sunday.
“We celebrate that the Holy Spirit, sent by God the father and son and available to all people has led you, me and this congregation to know the truth, witness to the truth and live according to it. The truth is that all are invited to trust Jesus,” he said.
He pointed out that Evil tries to defeat God by getting people to mistrust Jesus.
“For the past 24 and a half years we have opposed that temptation together. Thank you for serving with me in this battle against self centeredness—against Satan—against evil here in this part of God’s kingdom,” Rev. Henkelmann said, emphasizing that the reward for faithfulness to Jesus is eternal life with God.
“Over our meals we discussed many things, and we discovered examples in sports that helped explain God’s actions in the Bible and in our lives,” Rev. Henkelmann recalled. “In basketball, the coach is in charge of who plays and who doesn’t. Parents and fans may not agree with the coach’s choices, but the coach wants what is best for the team, for each player and for the outcome of the game. So, some play, some sit and cheer, others get ready to go in, others get ready to come out as the coach decides what is needed to win.”
He continued with his analogy, “God is the coach. God has reassigned me in the struggle against Evil’s temptation. Through poor health, he has taken me out of the pulpit where everyone sees me and has assigned me to be less visible. Evil’s temptation to be self centered, proud, jealous, discontented because of God’s move is present. But I need to remember, I am not removed from the struggle, just repositioned. I am still on God’s side and will be part of the victory over Evil that God is working out.”
Rev. Henkelmann said “United we stand, divided we fall” applies to the kingdom of God and to the congregation as well. He pointed out that teams win games by playing as a team and obeying the coach.
“Players on a team go to a locker room. In the locker room as they put on their uniforms, the coach reminds them whom they represent and to do what they practiced, what they have been taught to do. The players wear the uniforms with pride and encourage each other to go out of the locker room and into the contest.
“That’s you,” he told the congregation. “This building is the locker room where you get ready to represent God in the struggle against self-centeredness. You wear with pride the love Christ uniformly has for us all. You encourage each other to do what God has taught you. You’ve practiced the love of God by being loving to me and our family. You know what God’s love is and what it does, and you are asked by God to keep on doing that for those around you here, at work, in your family.”
“Keep honoring God by showing love to each other in the congregation, community and world,” Rev. Henkelmann said in closing his sermon.
Rev. Henkelmann’s wife Raylene and their children, Sarah, Matthew and Rachel, joined him at the front of the church to sing one verse of “I’ll Fly Away,” which drew the first of two standing ovations from the congregation. The second came at the end of the program.
Rev. Henkelmann grew up in Pigeon which is 100 miles north of Detroit and in Michigan’s “thumb.” He is the third generation in the Henkelmann family to serve as a Lutheran pastor. His father, the late Rev. Ernst Henkelmann, served the Pigeon church for about 25 years, and he and his late wife, Evelyn, built a home there in 1974 after he retired from the ministry. He planned his retirement to coincide with the start of his son’s ministry.
His grandfather, Rev. Friederich Wilhelm Henkelmann, had a long career as a pastor. Rev. Fred donated the 1880s printing press his grandfather used to print church bulletins to the South Central ThreshingAssociation, Inc. at Braddock, and it is operated every fall during the threshing show.
Iowa, graduating with a degree in German in 1970. He then entered Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, where he graduated in 1974.
He met Raylene, daughter of Emma and Edwin Friederich of Jamestown, while they were students at Wartburg College. Fred was in the band, and Raylene was in the choir. Her roommate was in band and decided the two should meet. They double-dated and the spark was ignited that led to their 43-year-marriage. They were married June 20, 1970, in Jamestown.
Raylene earned a B.A. Degree in Social Work and was a stay-at-home mom until the children were older and she was hired as a Title I Aide at the Linton School.
She jokes, “Fred married me so I could put him through seminary.”
The couple expected their ministry to begin in Wisconsin, but Rev. Henkelmann had also sent an application to be an exchange pastor in Australia. Since only six exchange pastors in the entire country were to be chosen, they assumed they would serve a small town church in Wisconsin, as did their families.
“When the call letter arrived, I opened it, and it said Australia,” Rev. Henkelmann said. “As it turned out, I was the only one who had signed up.”
“Our thoughts about a small town in the Midwest, probably Wisconsin, went out the window. Sarah was 11 months old, and we were taking away the only grandchild in the family. That was another phone call we didn’t want to make,” Raylene laughed.
Their communication back home was by letter and through a monthly 10-minute phone call. Those were the days when an overseas call cost $3 a minute.
Rev. Henkelmann’s assignment was to a three-point parish at Cleveland, Queensland, Australia, which is about 25 miles from the better known Brisbane, the capital of Queensland.
They liked the area and its people and were glad to learn there were no snow storms. The churches were about 10 miles apart, which made for easy commutes. In all, there were about 250 parishoners.
The parish congregations were a mixture of Europeans, and it took some time to understand the Australian accent and the use of terms foreign to the English spoken in the United States. The men wore shorts, knee-high stockings and sandals to church, and the women wore frocks.
Matthew and Rachel were both born in Australia and have only vague memories of it since they were preschoolers when the family moved back to the U.S.
Rev. Henkelmann said he learned to drive on the left side of the road in Australia and had to re-learn his driving skills when he returned to his home country.
“We enjoyed living inAustralia and loved the people,” Rev. Henkelmann said.
“When we got back home, people said the kids and I had strong accents,” Raylene laughed. “It was an adjustment to me to go back to using the terms I grew up with—dress for frock, for example.”
When his six-year commitment ended, the family moved home, living briefly with his parents before he received a call to serve the Maxbass and Newburg parish in northcentral North Dakota’s Bottineau County. North Dakota Bishop Roy Gilbertson had visited the Henkelmanns in Australia.
The family lived in Maxbass for about eight years, and then Rev. Henkelmann received a call to serve Peace Lutheran in Linton. When they arrived in Linton, Sarah was a sophomore, Matthew a seventh grader and Rachel a fourth grader.
Raylene’s school role
Raylene was hired as a Title I Aide at the Linton School, and she worked with small groups of children in grades K-8 who needed help with math or reading.
She noted the changes she has seen include books on Kindle (an electronic tablet) and educational use of the Internet by the older children.
Raylene said she loved working with the other staff and, especially, with the children.
“Kids are always surprises,” Raylene said. “You don’t see much shyness anymore— the kids speak up.”
She said working with children keeps her young, and she enjoyed visiting with the kids, including on the playground.
Raylene cherishes a comment made recently by one of her students who told her, “I like you more than my cat.”
When they move into their home in Michigan in a few days, it will be the first time since his ordination that they will not live in a parsonage.
“While we have appreciated living in parsonages, I am excited about having our own home. I can paint the rooms any color I want,” she laughed.
Raylene said she will enjoy being welcomed to full-time living in Pigeon where those old enough to remember her husband as a child address him not as Rev. Henkelmann but as Freddie.
Rev. Henkelmann said he would have liked to have served Peace Lutheran Church a few more years, but his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease in 2001 gradually affected his health. He preached his last regular sermon on Jan. 20, 2013.
The Henkelmanns will be attending Cross Lutheran Church in Pigeon. The town and church are similar to Linton and Peace Lutheran.
While he will miss preaching and serving a parish, Rev. Henkelmann said it will be no different in his retirement.
“I need to hear the word of God. When I preached, the message was more for me than the congregation,” he said, joking, “I listened to myself preach.”
He referred to his time in Linton as a “wonderful 24 and a half years” that went by so fast.
“We were so blessed to be in Linton, and everyone has been so good to us. It’s been a great place for our kids to grow up, and we are taking a lot of good memories with us,” Rev. Henkelmann said with Raylene nodding in agreement.