It was a few months ago that Pastor Leslie Neist elected to end the interview process with churches in Wisconsin, Iowa and the Twin Cities to focus on the single most appealing congregation in the riverside city of Granite Falls.
“This particular place seemed to fit all of my skills and gifts as to what they were looking for and what I?was looking for,” said Neist. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s just kind of a feeling where you know that it’s right.”
As the 32-year-old from Albert Lea was installed as the associate pastor of Granite Falls’ largest Lutheran Church two Sundays ago on November 6, the feeling was apparently mutual.
“I started on [November 1]. That was my first day here, and it’s been nothing but wonderful,” she gushed. “People are so welcoming, caring and encouraging and it’s just been fantastic. Yeah, I couldn’t be happier now.”
Neist, pronounced like a combination of “nice and Christ” (yes, how fitting), arrived in Granite Falls after serving her first call in Adams. There, in the town of 800, she was the lone pastor for the community’s two 150-year-old Lutheran churches spaced – one in town, the other in country – three miles apart.
Her calling to the ministry only arrived in recent years, though she has always followed a path of service. Prior to entering the seminary Neist received an AA in elementary education from Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa and a BA from Augustana Lutheran in elementary and deaf and hard of hearing education.
She worked as a deaf and hard of hearing teacher in southeast Minnesota and Goodhue County Special Education School Districts before growing weary of all the travel.
After resigning the position she found herself spending much of her time teaching confirmation and Sunday school at her hometown church Trinity Lutheran. There, she had been serving as congregation president since she was 25, and so it was not a huge surprise when her pastor, Curtis Zieske, asked her to fill in and preach for him while he was on leave.
She thoroughly enjoyed the experience and afterward was encouraged by Zieske and members of the parish to enter the seminary.
“It was a chance for me to be able to do what I love, which is to talk about the love of Christ for all people,” she said.
Skeptical at first, her parents have come to embrace her entry into Luther Seminary in St. Paul and subsequent vocation as a pastor.
“Now that I’ve been doing it for a while my family is excited, she said. ‘They’re proud, and it has become a good thing.”
In her brief time in town, Neist says she has become enamored with the natural beauty of the river and the passion of the community whom she is getting to know while taking part in weddings, funerals, baptisms and other events. All this has kept her busy, but once there is some down time she says she is looking forward to getting to know Pastor Steve Carmany outside of a working relationship.
Page 2 of 2 - “He has lots of experience and is very friendly. He cares deeply for people and I’m excited to learn from him,” she said.
The two pastors will spend the next year learning each other’s strengths and figuring out how to best divide responsibilities. Preaching duties will be alternated week-to-week.
In the meantime, Neist said Carmany would be in charge of administrative duties and she would be spending a lot of time with the youth ministry. Here, her talents as a musician – she loves to sing and is a capable guitar and piano player – are sure to come in handy.
In her spare time, the pastor said she loves to be out in nature, which she often roams the outdoors with her cockapoo, Cinder, at her side.
She considers herself a professional hobbyist in photography, and is bound to take plenty to of pictures of her new surroundings. As a licensed EMT and Police and Fire Chaplain, she also intends to be involved with the Granite Falls emergency services.
In just her short time, everything is turning up roses for Granite Falls’ newest pastor, but it really doesn’t come as surprise.
After all, she did have a feeling.