St. Paul Lutheran Church has a new minister on board and he’s really happy to be back in his home state of Missouri.
Pastor Stephen Constien was born and raised in suburban St. Louis, the youngest of five children.
“I tell people Crestwood, Webster Groves, Affton — but it’s really just a little strip of unincorporated St. Louis County. It’s kind of where Crestwood and Webster Groves come together. My home congregation was the Lutheran Church of Webster Gardens in Webster Groves. My dad happened to be pastor at the time I was born.
“I was a PK (preacher’s kid) and he was a PK. My grandfather was also a Lutheran minister as well. When I was about four, my dad took a call to our church body’s headquarters — The Lutheran Church of Missouri Synod in St. Louis. He was in the area of adult education and writing and editing Bible study materials and so he was not the parish pastor. We stayed in that congregation, so people knew I was a PK, but I wasn’t THE pastor’s kid there.”
According to Pastor Constien, his call to the ministry was more of a process than a sudden awakening.
“I guess the first thoughts would be a lot different than when I actually took that path, but when I was growing up — even as a smaller child of maybe 7 or 8 — there were some folks who said, ‘You know, maybe you should think about becoming a pastor someday.’ As a pastor’s kid, that’s the last thing I wanted to hear!
“If somebody had asked me what I wanted to be, I would have said, ‘I want to be the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals. I was a huge baseball fan — I wanted to be a broadcaster… I want to be a baseball player! As the years went by, I would tell people that what I wanted to do was be a lawyer — and so I was on that path.
“In fact, I was a political science major at St. Louis University — the Billikens. I graduated there and entered into law school. After one year of law school at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, that’s where I was at a point in my life where I was a little bit more mature in my Christian faith and understanding. You know, sometimes the Lord shows you your path by showing you what isn’t your path. I think it was at that point while I was in law school that I was really pondering, ‘OK, what does God really want you to be doing with your life?
“Not necessarily what other people have said would be a good, successful career. Not directions other people might be urging you on, but what would bring satisfaction to you in view of how God has built and equipped you and how you might really serve. It took me really at that point to say, ‘I think God maybe wants me to be a pastor.’ So, it was then after a year of law school that I went directly from there to Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.”
Four years later, Constien had graduated from Concordia and was on his way to a call as an associate pastor at a large Lutheran congregation in Baton Rouge where he remained for around three years. His next call was to a small town in Kansas about 30 miles south of Wichita where he served as a solo pastor. Constien, who was still single, turned 30 while he was there.
“I had a lot of people sort of adopt me as an extended family member,” he said. “It was in the call after that in Lakeland, Florida, where I was an associate pastor of a large congregation that I met my wife Elisabeth through mutual friends. It’s a long story. She was actually living in New Jersey, but she came down and we were introduced. A long-distance friendship blossomed into us eventually getting married.”
After a number of years in Lakeland, the newlywed couple moved to Woodstock, Georgia for an extended call of more than 15 years.
“That’s where all three of our kids were born and raised,” Constien said. “I have a boy who is in 10th grade over at St. Paul Lutheran High School and two girls here on this campus — an 8th grader and a 6th grader.”
Two months after arriving at the church, Constien believes St. Paul Lutheran Church is where God wants he and his family to be.
“You want to be where God wants you to be and have that sense,” he said. “Had a tremendously warm and loving welcome from folks. There was a hunger for a pastor who was going to be here and I think there’s a good match between the congregation’s needs and its strengths, as well as what I feel I can offer with God’s help as a pastor in those areas.
“On a personal level, coming back to Missouri and the Midwest is great too. I still have family — my folks are still living in St. Louis. They are in their early 90s and living in the house I grew up in. This is the first time since I was ordained more than 29 years ago that I’ve been anywhere close to family on either side, so that’s a neat thing.
“At one time we were almost tri-coastal,” he said. “I had a sibling on the West Coast, I was down on the Gulf Coast and one was on the East Coast. Strangely, we’ve all sort of converged back in Missouri, except for the oldest brother who is still out in Portland, Oregon. I have a sister in St. Louis, one in Kansas City. One down the road in Jackson near Cape and we’re here.”
Constien said that, while he certainly won’t complain if God grows the church numerically, as pastor, it’s not his greatest desire for the congregation.
“I’ve always been one that doesn’t necessarily having the gift of seeing a campus or where a building would go or a ministry that looks like this and functioning this way,” he said. “What gives me great joy is proclaiming the gospel — the good news of what God has done for us in Christ, which we have no right to expect as sinful people with all the problems in our lives.
“Here’s this great God who loves us unconditionally and sent his son to be our savior and then shares through his word and through his sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper his grace. What I hope to see and live out with the folks here is people receiving that faithfully. More and more people connected to that who have no idea about this God and what he is really like and what he wants to offer.”
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org