As Victor Hugo said, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Pastor Craig Werling of Living Word Lutheran Church in Milbank understands this quote in a unique way. He is leaving Milbank to become the newest pastor at Hosanna Lutheran Church in Watertown. At Hosanna he will find quite a few faces he knows, but none so familiar as his wife, Janine’s. She has been a pastor there since 2011.
Those who know Craig and Janine see them as different from one another, yet great complements. “She is outgoing and I am more laid back.” Craig said. He feels it’s a great benefit for any parish they lead. “We have our own talents. Between the two of us, we can cover everything. We are not competitive with one another, so it works really well.”
Each will be responsible for different areas, but both will be involved and participate in all aspects of the church. “We both will preach and perform weddings and funerals. Janine is good at counseling and working with youth and I enjoy visitations and worship and music planning. Being a pastor is a big responsibility, so having someone so close to you to help carry the load and share is very beneficial.”
Pastor Janine was called to be the pastor at Hosanna five years ago. Since that time, the congregation has grown to over 400 members. “They have gotten too big for one pastor,” Craig said. “I went through the application and interview process and got the call to join her. After years of working apart, we didn’t think we would pastor together again.”
The couple’s journey started years ago. After high school, Craig entered the United States military and was an Army officer. “ I assumed I would do that for 20-plus years, but after five years of active duty in Germany, I did some soul searching. I felt God telling me he was using my experience in the military to lead me into ministry.” In 1984, he entered the seminary in Chicago.
Janine is originally from Mitchell and attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls. After graduation, she worked a few years. “She wasn’t sure she wanted to be a pastor, but instead considered Christian counseling,” Craig said. She was awarded a full scholarship to Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey and there determined ministry was her true calling. She then transferred to the seminary Craig was attending in Chicago. The two met and were engaged within six weeks.
Upon graduation, they both were drafted by Region 3 of the ELCA to the South Dakota Synod and placed in Langford to pastor four churches. “I was excited because I had never even been to South Dakota until I met Janine,” Craig recalled.
They spent 13 years in Langford until they were transfered to Milbank to become pastors at the American Lutheran Church. After theological differences developed among the synods, the couple resigned in September 2010. One month later, Craig was called to the Living Word Lutheran Church in Milbank and Janine took employment in Sioux Falls. Janine was soon called to pastor in Watertown and the family chose to relocate to Watertown permanently. Craig has driven back and forth to work each day for the past four years. “Fortunately we have not had any bad winters. There was only one time I needed to stay the night in Milbank, so I have been fortunate,” he said.
The Living Word congregation began by gathering for services in the community room of the Milbank Visitor Center. In November 2010, the parish moved to the former Dollar Store in the Whetstone Mall and remained there for over three years. “We became known as the strip-mall church. I never thought I would be the pastor at a strip-mall, but I really enjoyed our time there. The closeness kept us focused on our mission and what the church was all about.”
Craig and Janine have been part of the consecration of a new church building in all of the churches they served. While in Langford, one of their four churches was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Its members chose to continue the parish instead of consolidating with one of the other three, so a new building was erected. When the couple joined the American Lutheran Church in Milbank, that building process had already begun and was completed in June 2005. Living Word’s new building opened its doors in March 2014. Hosanna Lutheran Church in Watertown also built a new church and moved into it exactly two years to the day of the opening of Living Word.
Craig said being a pastor doesn’t leave a lot of time for leisure, but when he can find spare time, he enjoys running and estimates he has run 12,840 miles since his first day in Milbank. “My mileage these days has decreased, but I still enjoy running.” He normally runs five miles three or four times a week and has been doing that for over 40 years. He also enjoys running 5K races and noted he only missed one 5K event in Milbank in 15 years. Craig has run in three marathons- the last one in 2003 in the Twin Cities. “Just like building three churches is enough, I think three marathons is enough, too. Although, I would like to try a half-marathon sometime.”
Three is a highly spiritual number, of course, and special to Craig and Janine in many ways. The couple has three children. The oldest, Emma, graduated from Milbank High School in 2008. She obtained her masters degree in counseling from Augustana. She and her husband are currently living in Bangkok, Thailand. Hanna is a 2011 MHS graduate and graduated from Augustana. Hanna spent this summer in charge of a high/low ropes course at a Bible Camp in the mountains of Colorado. She will be settling in Sioux Falls this fall. Their youngest child, Grant, graduated from Watertown High School in May and will attend Hillsdale College in Michigan. He is primarily interested in chemistry and physics.
Pastor Craig said, “It is sad leaving Milbank after 15 years. I have formed some close relationships with people here and it will be difficult to leave. Joining Janine in service again will make that easier. The last five years have been the biggest challenge for me not having her by my side. It’s hard to describe. Serving together for 22 years was all we ever knew. So, this move is wonderful for us.”