By Robert Lucke
Jack Rampelberg loves Havre, Montana. He should, for as a minister at the Sixth Avenue Christian Church, this is the third time he has served his Havre congregation. And it is safe to say that Havre loves Jack Rampelberg as well!
"I first came to Havre in 1962 and stayed until 1968," recalled Rampelberg. "Then I went back to Illinois and came back to Havre from 1970 to 1976. Then back to Illinois my wife and I went because we needed to care for our parents. Later, my wife got cancer. She passed away and still later I remarried and came back here in 1991 and have been here ever since."
Havre has a special spot in Rampelberg's heart because his five children were mostly all raised in Havre. All attended Northern Montana College and all graduated from some unit of the Montana University system.
"And there is lots in this community that I take a lot of pride in," continued Rampelberg. "In the 60's I was a part of laying the groundwork for the new hospital. I was the chairman of the Finance Committee that put the whole package together. These days when I enter the hospital, I am proud of our work back then."
These days, Rampelberg's work consists of being the ramrod for the new Christian church being built on Fifth Avenue.
"I laid the groundwork for the church and helped to raise the money and we decided that we needed one preacher for the building and one for the congregation," said Rampelberg. "I am the one for the building. This is the third church I have built, and I have a construction background so it works well. But this is the first time I have built a building while trying to keep 300 volunteers all heading in the same direction. There is a lot of prayer and you need to recast the vision about every month!"
There is an old saying that the preacher who builds a church has to leave when the church is finished. Not so with Rampelberg.
"I am going to weather the storm. We were all aware of how easy it is to get crossways with the congregation when building a church. That is why we divided the work in this church. And, of course, at my age (almost 80) most people are put out to pasture. I am happy just to be working," laughed Rampelberg.
That wouldn't happen anyway, for Rampelberg has each member in his congregation vote whether or not he should stay each year that he is here.
"What if I get 10 votes to go? In four years that is 40 people who don't want me and then it is too late to do anything much about it," Rampelberg said. "If I get four votes against me, I probably know who those votes came from and I am out quickly mending fences. I try to get young ministers to have their congregation's vote on them each year. It really works."
Rampelberg was 30 years old before he became a Christian. His wife had been after him to take their preacher fishing and to go to church. He never did, but one day he decided that if he believed in the first verse of the Bible, he would live it. He became concerned with his own salvation and the salvation of those around him as well. He left a good farm income, found a church to minister in that paid him $60 a week, while he went to school to become a minister. And all that with a wife and five children to provide for.
"That was the best decision I ever made," said Rampelberg. "I love to go to work every day and want people to love the God that loves them. Even though I am close to 80 years old, I get up in the morning and try to talk to people about Christ. No salesmanship. Just sharing."
That's sort of the way that Rampelberg raised his own children too.
"You know I raised my children, hoping that they would be my friends when they were 30, but I didn't care if they even liked me when they were teenagers," said Rampelberg with a grin.
In terms of Havre, Sixth Avenue Christian Church is a large congregation with around 500 members and an average attendance of 300 a Sunday.
"You know," said Rampelberg, "all of our congregation is paying for the new church. They have really been sacrificing for the last six years to see this dream come true. And it has made us all grow in faith."
Even the site for the new church is a matter of faith, according to Rampelberg. The folks who owned the property would not sell it, except if a church were built on the land.
There is Rampelberg's love for Havre and Montana people in general. And his mission in life, which in his words, is to "Help people become Christians and fight the devil."
And regarding the new church, again is his words, "It is the right time, the right place, right now."
And it should be added that there is the right man for the job too. Havre's Jack Rampelberg.