“God got his way with me, but it has been nothing but rewarding and fulfilling.” Those are the words Pastor DeVern Schwenn says with his heart overflowing and a smile on his face. Pastor Schwenn of Central United Methodist Church in Milbank is nearing the end of following God’s calling to the ministry. He will retire his role as associate pastor at the end of February.
DeVern admits his road has not been easy. He fought God’s calling as a young boy, suffered pain and wanted to walk away from the ministry two different times in his career. Through God’s steadfast love and commitment, DeVern devoted 55 years to the ministry and is excited to start the next chapter of his life.
DeVern grew up in the local area, residing near Corona, Wilmot and Milbank and is a 1956 graduate of Milbank High School. His parents, Vernon and Helen, raised six children on the family farm. DeVern was the second born and the oldest son. He has two brothers, and three sisters. Ivan and DeVern were the only children in the family called by God into the ministry.
The family attended church regularly, and during DeVern’s junior high school days he felt God was calling him to serve. “I was scared to death that this is what God wanted me to do,” he explained. “I tried everything I could to keep from following that call.”
As a sophomore in high school, DeVern was hit on the head while playing baseball and transported to the hospital in Sioux Falls with life threating injuries. “There was no way I should have survived,” he said. With numerous prayers and a miraculous surgery, God raised DeVern up. “I was physically unconscious, but spiritually conscious,” he stated. “God called me by name. It was there that I made peace with God and promised Him my life. God did His part in keeping me alive, so I knew then I needed to do my part and follow His call.”
DeVern graduated from Asbury College and Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY, before accepting his first official appointment in Hettinger, ND. He then pastored various Methodist churches from Lemmon, SD, to Enderlin, Sheldon and Bismarck, ND. He moved back in his home town of Milbank in 1983 and served as pastor for six years, before being called to Rapid City in 1989. He then relocated to Jamestown, ND, in 1995.
DeVern retired from the ministry in June of 2000 and moved back to Milbank. During that time the Presbyterian churches from Twin Brooks and Wilmot were searching for a new pastor and asked DeVern to fill in during the search. After some time had passed, DeVern addressed the search committee and asked to be updated on its progress. “I spoke with Tellus Waddell who told me ‘well we found what we were looking for’. So I came out of retirement and spent the next eight years in service to that area.” DeVern has most recently filled the role as associate pastor at Central Church in Milbank.
Pastor DeVern began keeping track of what services he provided about 10 years into his ministry. His most recent count shows he has performed 285 weddings, 316 baptisms, 488 funerals and 12 high school baccalaureate services. He has a book that his wife, Joan, bought for him to keep a record of every single service he has provided. “This book is very special to me.” He will perform his 983rd sermon on Sunday, February 14, which is also his last regularly scheduled sermon before his retirement.
With the wide variety of services that he has provided, preaching has been his first love and the most fulfilling. “It gives me the opportunity to express my love for God and His Word and to share the divine truth with others.” Preaching has an art form to it, and DeVern admits it can be challenging at times. “You have to work to meet the levels of every individual in the congregation.”
DeVern and Joan plan to stay in Milbank throughout their retirement. DeVern has such a academic thirst that he says he will continue to study God’s Word, and write and prepare sermons – “even though I won’t get to present them.” He also built a woodshop that has gone unused for 15 years and has more wood than he knows what to do with. He will spent his spare time in his shop as well as gardening and doing a little traveling. “A lot of people go south for the winters. I think I will go south, but maybe to LaBolt,” he chuckled. DeVern and Joan will also spend time visiting their three children, six grandchildren and their families.
Pastor Schwenn will continue to live his life as he has according to his favorite Bible verse – Matthew 6:33. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
“I love people,” he concluded. “I believe that God really loves us and wants the best for us. Our lives will be the most productive and satisfying when we discover His love and follow Him.”
A celebration of Pastor DeVern Schwenn’s ministry will take place Sunday, February 28, at Central United Methodist Church in Milbank. A breakfast will be served beginning at 9 a.m. with a short program at 10 a.m.