Pastor Dave Gunderson

Gunderson retired on July 31, 2017, after serving for 27 years at St. John’s. His length of ministry at St. John’s was the longest time a pastor has served at the church in its 140 plus years of ministry in the Yankton community.

Pastor Dave Gunderson’s ministry began in 1981 at Grace Lutheran in Deadwood.

“In the nine years I served there my wife Connie, and I were blessed with two wonderful children, Kristen and Jonathan,” Gunderson says.

During his time there, he received ten different calls or opportunities to go to other churches, but in all of those situations, he always felt the Lord wanted him to stay in Deadwood.

In 1989, he became a chaplain in the South Dakota National Guard and settled into the idea of spending the rest of his ministry at Deadwood.

“But, then the call to be the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran in Yankton came. After much prayer, I accepted the call and began my ministry on May 1, 1990,” Gunderson says. “During those many years of ministry at St. John’s, our congregation was blessed in countless ways.”

St. John’s preschool was formed in 1992 and continues today. Every week they had chapel time for the children. Pastor Dave used puppets to tell the message.

“I’ve been doing puppet ministry for forty years, and the secret to puppets is to make the audience think they are alive and working on their own,” Gunderson says.

Pastor Dave was hidden from the three and four year old students and didn’t know the puppeteer.

“However, one little boy was absolutely sure he knew it was me, so our church secretary, Paulette and I were a bit devious. I used a microphone and spoke, but Paulette moved the puppets from behind the stage. When the show was over, I appeared in the hallway at the same time the puppets were still on stage. That little fellow couldn’t figure out who was doing the puppets. He looked at me, then the puppets, then back to me and finally went back to class puzzled how those puppets could do what they did.”

One of Pastor Dave’s highlights of his ministry was working in a team ministry. In addition to the preschool and office staff, we had vicars (student pastors) who came for one year of training.

“Teaching them was a great joy, but the size of St. John’s parish required two full-time pastors. Through my ministry, I worked with three pastors in team ministry. Later, we added Directors of Christian Education (DCE) who specialized in the education and youth programs in the church. As a team we shared the good news of Christ our Savior with others in good times and in hard times,” Gunderson says.

In his last years at St. Johns’ the ministry team consisted of Pastor Steve Weispfennig, DCE Joshua Schmitt and retired Pastor Jim Mueller.

“Together as a team we shared the good news of Christ our Savior with others in good times and in hard times.” Dave says. “Our team ministry was a joy.”

He’s officiated many weddings and funerals. He’s conducted over two hundred funerals with one of the most difficult being the Tammy Haas funeral in 1992.

During his ministry at St. John’s, Pastor Dave also served as a chaplain with the South Dakota National Guard for twenty-seven years. In 2011 the church received both a state and a national award for their partnership with the military.

“I will always cherish my military service. It allowed me to serve my nation and our community. While being a chaplain created some challenges for the church, many members were glad for my service. One member informed me that she voted for me to be their pastor for two reasons. One was my service in the guards, and the second reason was I was Norwegian in the background,” Gunderson says.

Throughout his ministry, Gunderson was blessed to serve the Yankton community in different ways. He served on the Yankton Ministerial Association, on both the Yankton Banquet and the Women’s shelter committees.

“Another great joy was coaching soccer in Yankton, this included helping with both the Yankton boys and girls high school soccer teams,” he says.

A favorite part of his pastoral ministry was preaching.

“I’m sure I will miss that at times, especially during the holidays. However, I have truly enjoyed being able to sit in the pew and worshipping the Lord,” Gunderson says.

If needed, he can help out and preach for pastors on vacations or churches without a pastor, but for now, he’ll be plenty busy in retirement. Currently, he’s taking classes at Sioux Falls seminary towards a degree in counseling. He plans to spend more time with family, to work on projects around the home, to go boating, golfing, and even some writing.

“My wife and I also plan to travel. We have already traveled over five thousand miles visiting family and seeing different places, and we plan to do more.”

“As I reflect on my ministry, a key event must include the church fire in 2009,” Gunderson says.

The fire happened on the weekend before Palm Sunday. On the morning of the fire, Gunderson felt a heavy load, because he also knew that within a year he would be deployed to Afghanistan with his National Guard unit.

“No one but my wife knew at the time that this was going to happen. I remember kneeling on the church lawn that morning of the fire and asking God to give the congregation and me the strength we needed to meet the challenges ahead. God did!” he says, then continues. “Our ministry didn’t stop because of the fire. The Good News of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior continued to be shared every Sunday in worship and Bible study. The congregation experienced the love of the community as countless resources were provided for us.

Mt. Marty College provided the church with a place to worship and teach for the year.

“In the end, that year was special to me as I saw the people learn that the church is not a building, but people. People created by God, redeemed by God and called by God to serve one another,” Gunderson says.

When deployed in 2010, he wasn’t worried about St. John’s because he knew the Lord was watching over them. It was His church and His people, and He would continue to bless them.

“When I retired from my ministry at St. John’s, I knew that the Lord will watch over them, just as He watches over me as I begin this new adventure called “retirement.”