By Alan Sorensen
Years ago he pastored in Shelby. For a time during those nine years, his wife returned to college and earning her degree from Northern Montana College in Havre.
Now he's back on the Hi-Line, this time serving as interim, part-time pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Havre.
Pastor John Gronli and his wife, Jeanne, reside year around in Martinsdale, about midway between White Sulphur Springs and Harlowton. They operate the Canyon Haven Retreat Center, a non-profit organization in the Checkerboard area of central Montana.
Since the end of October, Gronli's been spending three days a week in Havre. He's usually in Havre Friday through Sunday, but was in town Saturday through Monday last weekend as a result of Thanksgiving.
"I've been here for all of November and probably will be for the next few months, depending on how soon they get a minister in here," Gronli said.
The weekly commute has been good, so far, Gronli said, but could turn sour when winter hits.
"It's not bad unless you have weather like you have now, fog and slick roads," he said Monday. "If you stick to the main roads it's about ... 240 miles. But I got it down to about 215 going down back roads, through Belt."
Gronli, an ordained Lutheran minister, has pastored in North Dakota and Minnesota, besides Montana.
"I was at Shelby for nine years," Gronli said. "And then, more recently, I was at Sidney. That was where I was when I retried.
"In between those two, I was dean at Golden Valley Lutheran College in Minnesota.
He also works for the Montana Synod of the ELCA and its companion church program with other countries.
"That has taken me on trips to South Africa and to Bolivia in the past 12 months," he said. "I made three trips to South Africa all together. I have a particular interest in South Africa, because I was born there."
Gronli has had little trouble adjusting to his new duties in Havre and is enjoying his time at the church located on the south end of Fifth Avenue at 417 20th St.
"Wonderful," he said when asked how he finds the church. "It's a nice little congregation. I think they need to do some adjusting, you know.
"They've had a long pastor before and it will take a little while to get accustomed to a new one. It takes a while to make that adjustment, but they'll do fine."
The Gronlis' retreat is open year around to all sorts of groups, but the colder months do tend to be slower.
"We really have fewer visitors in the winter than in the summer," he said. "It is small; we can accommodate 25 comfortably."
Gronli can be reached at the church most every Friday through Sunday at 265-2334.
The Canyon Haven Retreat Center toll-free phone number is 1-800-656-8360 or call the Gronlis at 406-572-3345. Canyon Haven's mailing address is HC 83, Box 630, Martinsdale, MT 59053-9710, and its e-mail address is JGronli@aol.com.
Canyon Haven's web site is www.canyonhaven.org.