By Alan Sorensen
The search lasted nearly a year, but Messiah Lutheran finally has a replacement for long-time pastor William Olsen. The choice is Pastor Rodney Mruk, who preached his first sermon at the south Havre church Sunday, Dec. 10.
"We unloaded the truck the 9th," Pastor Mruk said. "It was 20 below (zero Fahrenheit) that day."
Despite that first cold day and week, the Mruks, who hail from the Chicago area, insist they have had nothing but a warm welcome in Havre.
"The community has been fine," Mruk (pronounced just like truck with an M rather than a T) said. "You walk through town or one of the stores, you meet people you don't know and they smile and say hi and are willing to speak with you."
Mruk's wife, Linda, is equally happy with the community.
"The schools have been wonderful; our girls have done beautifully," she said. "We feel very, very blessed to be here."
The Mruks have five children. A grown son, 23, who works for his uncle's construction company in Indiana and four children at home. Two girls, 9 and 10, attend Devlin Elementary and a third, 12, is a sixth-grader at Havre Middle School. Linda, a certified teacher, is home schooling their 16-year-old son in his high school studies.
Linda Mruk has no intention of doing much outside the home the family's first year in Havre.
"This year, I'm just, hopefully, helping the family adjust," she said. "I love to read; that's number one, and I love to do crafts with my girls."
It is no accident that the Mruks wound up in rural Montana. Mruk grew up in a town of 2,000 that had reached a population of 4,000 by the time he graduated from high school. He has been attracted to small towns since.
Mruk met Linda when they were both freshmen at Lake Forest College in Illinois. Upon graduation in 1976, the Mruks married and he was accepted into graduate school at Northern Michigan University. In 1991, they settled down on four acres in an unincorporated area of Valparaiso, Ind., a suburb of Chicago.
In 1995, Mruk enrolled in the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. He worked full time and went to school part time for the first year, then worked part time and went to school full time the next year and a half. He quit working all together in January 1998 and attended school full time until his graduation. He was ordained Nov. 12, 2000, just one month before taking his first pastoral job, minister at the Messiah Lutheran Church in south Havre.
He was able to study full time because he had had a good job and the company he had worked for continued to provide support for him and the family while he went to school. Also, his final year was spent as an intern and Linda went to work as a teacher's aide and taught at the church preschool.
Mruk is the only Evangelical Lutheran Church of America minister in Havre with the recent departure of the two ministers at First Lutheran Church.
"Dorthy (Nielsen, departing pastor) is coming to dinner Monday night," Mruk said. "She has been very helpful to me."
Mruk said he hopes he can be helpful to the people of First Lutheran during the absence of a pastor. In fact, Mruk has made it clear that the people of Messiah Lutheran are open and eager to work with all the churches in the Havre area.
As it turns out, Mruk's first wedding ceremony in Havre will be performed at First Lutheran Church.
As for life on the Plains, the Mruks said they also are happy with their neighbors. (They live a few miles from town on a few acres of land well away from the highway.)
"At seminary, I was the only one who wanted to go to a small town," Mruk said. "We keep reassuring people that we chose Montana. We consider ourselves to be very lucky. We didn't come to Havre with the intention to leave.
"We want to set down roots. That's why we like small towns. It seems you can see roots."
Havre and the Hi-Line affords the family a lot of what they have been looking for.
"The girls want to be in 4-H," Linda Mruk said. "And they're looking forward to seeing rodeos, the county fair here and the state fair in Great Falls."
Mruk said his interests include reading and the outdoors.
"I love to read," he said. "I try to be diverse in my reading. I love to garden and fish and camp and hike, backpacking and those sorts of things. And we like animals and we hope to raise some things to eat. And my son likes hunting."
Their younger son also has a couple of years experience helping a dog trainer and has become a good trainer himself.
"We have four dogs," Mruk said. "He trains Labrador retrievers and would like to work with other owners around here."
Mruk sold his snowmobile not long ago when he thought his calling might be to Arizona.
When his older son came for a short visit, they headed down to Neihart and spent a day and night on rented snowmobiles and really enjoyed themselves. Now Mruk is anxious for the Bear Paw Ski Hill and Chippewa Cree Recreation Area to get up and running.
On Sundays and during most weekdays, Mruk is a consummate pastor. His office hours vary for now and the church services remain pretty much unchanged for the time being. Right now, Sunday school classes meet at the church 417 20th St. from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and morning worship begins at 10:30. An adult Bible study class meets at 1:30 p.m. Thursdays.
To reach Mruk, call him at the church office at 265-2334 or at home at 265-6851.