Long pilgrimage leads couple to pastoral service

Sometimes in life, what people think they want and what actually makes them happy are two different things.

“I always thought I would never want to be a pastor’s wife,” said Carol Peterson, whose husband, Ken, is the new pastor of First Mennonite Church in Hillsboro.

“I didn’t think I had the intelligence or the ability to be a pastor,” Ken said.

But God apparently had something special in mind when he brought Ken and Carol together. Today they are both making the most of the gifts he has given them.

The couple complement each other in many ways. Ken is the performer, Carol is audience.

“Everybody’s got to have an audience,” Carol says. “I’m a very good audience.”

She also helps behind the scenes.

“Carol is a very good helper with counseling,” Ken said. “She usually has a lot of insight that she’ll share. She listens.”

“Especially if it’s a woman or a couple,” Carol said. “I think they feel more comfortable if I’m there.”

“She’s really gifted at outreach too,” Ken added. “She’s constantly meeting peoples needs.”

This will be the first pastorate where Carol has not served as Ken’s church secretary. She has taken a job in Newton, where she will be the administrative assistant for the Mennonite Women, a denominational organization.

Having returned to college later in life, and trained as a paralegal, Carol enjoys her free time by researching genealogy for her family and friends. She also has an extensive chess-piece collection. She made most of the pieces herself.

She isn’t the only collector in the Peterson household, though. Ken’s book collection is substantial, too. Works about or on Christian psychology, C.S. Lewis, and Sherlock Holmes line the walls of his home office.

“It all started with the New Testament,” Ken said. “I started disciplining myself, and reading has now become a hobby and a habit.”

He also enjoys singing, and tries to incorporate his passion in his sermons.

The Petersons also love a good time. Every year they take a vacation to Disneyland, where, Carol said, “We ride and ride and ride.”

But the greatest ride so far has been their exciting trip through life. Born and raised in Colville, Wash., and Aberdeen, Idaho, respectively, their journey has been measured in more than miles.

Ken’s faith testimony begins in an unusual place for a Mennonite minister: the army.

“I was sitting down, shining my boots in the army, talking to a Jewish friend of mine,” he said. “We talked about what we wanted to be when we grew up and left boot camp. I was 17 at the time.”

Ken said he had become a Christian at a young age and had decided to make his faith central to his lifestyle.

“I decided to read the whole New Testament the Methodist church had given me, and to believe that it would work, that Christ would be with me, and to do what it said the best I knew how.”

Several of the more rowdy recruits counted on Ken to make sure they got home safely after a night on the town.

His good example paid off. Many of his friends turned to Ken for moral and spiritual guidance.

“This was kind of a strange new thing for me,” he said. “I saw going with the guys as a New Testament thing, being among sinners. My friend had observed that evidently and he suggested that I be either a counselor or a minister.

“I felt those things were way above me. But silently on my bunk that night I said, ‘God you know what I’m like, you know my temper, you know I don’t like to read, but you can change me if you want to.

“From that time on, for 13 years, I prepared myself intellectually, practically and spiritually to be a minister. I was ordained when I was 30.”

During his army days, he served as an assistant chaplain. After he was discharged, Ken studied in college to to be a minister. He had only been there a few months when he found out he had tuberculosis. He would spend the next seven months in the hospital.

“It was a hard, but a very good experience,” he said. “The Lord was with me there. The Order of the Purple Heart came to see me, and when they found out I had tuberculosis when I was in the army, they offered to pay for my education, and put me on a pension for awhile.”

With his financial needs met, Ken finished college. He was attending a nondenominational church in Seattle, Wash., and was active in the youth ministry, but felt a desire to preach.

“When the pastor would get up and preach, I felt like I should be preaching,” he said. “Since I was still a young man, I thought I’d better go to seminary.”

Financing seminary school was his next challenge.

“I had previously checked with the veterans administration about helping me with Seminary, and they said they couldn’t help me.”

Still feeling a call to pastor, Ken tried the Veterans administration one more time.

“I went back and talked to a different person,” he said. “And they said, ‘Yeah, sure, we’ll pay for at least the first two years of seminary.'”

Ken viewed it as a windfall from God, and decided to begin his studies, hoping he would find a way to finance his last two years.

While at seminary, Ken was still searching for a denomination. A mentor suggested the Mennonites.

“I thought of black buggies, and strict people,” said Ken. “I told him that would be too strict for me, and he said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I’m one.’ So I felt kind of embarrassed and said, ‘Maybe I don’t know what Mennonite is.'”

Ken said he had a problem with the fact that Mennonites did not take up arms in war, having just coming out of the army himself.

“I started studying the issue, and I saw for the first time, that the Jesus way of peace came from the New Testament, was biblical, and made sense.”

After finding a denomination he was comfortable with, Ken had another goal: to find a wife.

His first assignment after seminary was as an assistant pastor in the small town of Aberdeen, Idaho, during summer 1973.

“I wondered how I was going to find a wife and a church to pastor in the middle of nowhere,” Ken said.

He did not wonder for long. He met his wife, Carol, in that very church.

“He caught me off-guard when he came to ask for a date,” Carol said.

Recovering from the initial shock, she agreed to a date. Ken and Carol were married that August and now have two grown daughters.

Shortly after the two were married, Ken was asked to serve as interim pastor at a small country church in Washington.

They stayed in Washington for three years before accepting a pastorate in California, where they spent the next 10 years.

From California, they moved back to Portland, Ore., where Ken had attended seminary, to pastor a Mennonite congregation there for the next three years.

Freeman, S.D., would be their next stop. They were at the Hutterthal Mennonite Church for the next 10 years.

In 1999 the Petersons left South Dakota for Flannegan, Ill., where Ken would be interim pastor for one year.

During their service in Flannegan, the Western Conference minister recommended them to the search committee of First Mennonite Church in Hillsboro.

“We were looking for a full-time pastorate,” said Ken. “We wanted a church that would be interested in outreach.”

The Petersons believe they have found that in Hillsboro. They also praise the church’s sense of humor, its natural spirituality, and friendliness.

“It seemed obvious that they liked us,” said Ken. “And that’s an extremely important thing for a pastor’s leadership. I go where I’m wanted.”

Ken has definite goals for his pastorate. He hopes to meet every attendee personally and talk with them about their lives and the church.

Communication will be a key part of their ministry, but the Petersons also emphasize outreach.

“We would like to develop an outreach ministry involving the church as a whole,” said Ken.

Another goal Ken hopes to achieve is to make his services both fun and worshipful by incorporating singing, drama and visual stimulation.

Both Ken and Carol say they hope to remain in Hillsboro.

“I hope we’re here for a long time,” Ken said.

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