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Prime-time pastorate

Karl Pishaw arrives from Alaska to lead Emanuel Lutheran on the cusp of the Cornelius congregation's second century
by: Chase Allgood,

In the early 1980s, when Karl Pishaw spent his Friday nights strumming the guitar at a Christian coffee house in north Seattle, he got lots of song requests.

Back then, he thought he wanted to be a music teacher or a disc jockey. As it turned out, he went into the ministry.

But he never would have dreamed that 20 years later, newly arrived at Emanuel Lutheran Church in Cornelius, he'd experience a spiritual sort of déjà vu.

'I played a song during my first Sunday in worship here as a musical benediction,' said Pishaw, 53.

'The next week I had a phone message asking us to put the words in the bulletin so people could sing along next time,' he said, his eyes widening.

The song, 'As you Go on Your Way' by Out of Eden, aptly describes the Pishaw family's most recent journey - from the fishing village of Petersburg, Alaska, to Oregon's Family Town.

Pishaw started work at Emanuel, a 300-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregation, on Oct. 1. He'll be installed as the church's 18th pastor this Sunday, Nov. 5.

He follows Ron McCallum, pastor at Emanuel since 1999, who left to do missionary work in Africa.

The weekend promises to be a well-orchestrated celebration of the church's first century. Pishaw, his wife Jean and their two daughters, Abigail, 17, and Rebekah, 11, plan to revel in it.

'It should be a wonderful celebration,' said Pishaw, shaking his white head while sitting behind the desk in his sunny, south-facing office.

'My hope for Emanuel's next 100 years is that this would be a place of welcome for all the people in this community,' said Pishaw.

The sign on the eastern edge of the city, identifying Cornelius as 'Oregon's Family Town,' holds some significance for Pishaw already.

'I'd kind of like to see Emanuel as a family church for Oregon's family town,' he said.

To do that, Pishaw intends to focus his energy on infusing the church with a fresh shot of vitality. Despite having 377 members on its rolls, Emanuel typically draws between 75 and 100 congregants to worship on Sunday mornings, when it holds services at 8 and 10:30 a.m.

Its preschool enrolls 33 three- and four-year-olds, but its youth group has dwindled in recent years to fewer than a dozen teenagers.

Pishaw hopes to change all that.

'The people of this church hired me to bring life and vitality into the congregation and to help them learn how to reach out to people around them,' Pishaw noted.

He figures that task, which includes reaching out to Cornelius' Latino community, can be accomplished through 'prayer, fresh ideas and encouragement.'

An influx of younger families, which Pishaw will actively recruit, could be a key to Emanuel's future as a traditional Lutheran church that more often than not attracts 'people of German or Scandinavian descent,' he said.

'The majority of the folks here are above my age,' said Pishaw. 'We're looking for some young people to bring new blood and new energy.'

A monthly food-basket program continues to thrive at Emanuel, and a neighborhood barbecue drew a large crowd last summer. But to satisfy Pishaw,

who's working alone at this point, the activity level will need to ramp up.

'I want to see a giant amount of activity going on here - things that will help people grow in their faith,' he said.

A graduate of Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, Pishaw was ordained as a minister in Seattle in 1984. He spent 15 years as an associate pastor, first in Starbuck, Minn., and then Minneapolis.

In 1999, when the senior pastor at the church he served took another position, Pishaw found himself at a crossroads.

'I wasn't interested in stepping into the senior position there, so I took a year away from ministry and worked at Nordstrom,' he said.

Specifically, Pishaw was the stockroom manager in the children's shoes department at Minneapolis' Mall of America.

'It was fascinating learning about business outside of the church,' he said. 'And it was still ministry - people would come up and share with me about their concerns and ask for prayer.'

In December 2000, Pishaw moved his family from Minnesota to Alaska, where he served Petersburg Lutheran Church, a congregation of about 400.

Living in the town 90 miles south of Juneau, they were surrounded by 'mountains and water,' Pishaw said.

'It was gorgeous, and in a way it was hard to leave,' he said. 'You saw eagles all the time, and Orca whales.'

Petersburg, also known as 'Little Norway,' had one IGA grocery store, no Starbucks and 'no Burger King,' Pishaw said. It rained a lot, but on sunny days, 'you thought you were on the doorstep of heaven,' he added.

In Alaska, Pishaw's ministry focus was Bible study and introducing new styles of worship to the congregation. Here, it'll be largely the same.

'My passion is Bible teaching - showing people how to discover things in the Bible themselves,' Pishaw said. 'I like to concentrate on life application of the scriptures.'

Pishaw traces an interest in ministry back to his childhood, when he spent a good deal of time with his godfather, a Lutheran pastor.

'When I was four, I'd go over to the church and don the acolyte robes,' Pishaw recalled. 'I'd do my own little service, putting a chair up in the pulpit and pretending to preach.'

After high school, Pishaw enrolled in classes at the Lutheran Bible Institute, now Trinity Lutheran College, in north Seattle. At that point he still didn't know he was headed into ministry.

'While I was there I sensed a call from God to be a pastor, specifically a preacher,' Pishaw said. 'That made all the difference in the direction of my studies - and my life.'

An average student until that time, Pishaw's grades improved dramatically. 'I had a goal and a purpose. I was on my way,' he said.

He's particularly enjoyed working with young people over his 22-year tenure as a pastor. A guitar gig or two hasn't hurt, either.

'I've been able to use my music - it's something I really do love,' he said. 'Hopefully they won't mind if I continue doing that here.

'I'm counting on them coming back next Sunday and the Sunday after that.'