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Long-time pastor retires

The Rev. Peter Schmidt, middle, and his granddaughter Tula Nash are greeted by long-time church member Don Grindahl at Faith Lutheran Church in West Fargo, this past Sunday. Carrie Snyder

Days into retirement, the Rev. Peter Schmidt is still getting used to his new role in the community of West Fargo, one that no longer includes shaping the congregation of Faith Lutheran Church, a mission he has held for the past 24 years.

“Being a pastor has been a joy and a privilege and hard work,” Schmidt said. “Being able to serve here for so long has been a rare gift.”

Faith Lutheran Church is only the third church Schmidt has served at as pastor, starting his career in the inner city of Chicago before moving to Bemidji and finally settling in West Fargo. Since 1990, Schmidt has led the Faith Lutheran community, watching the church grow at its first location at 127 2nd Ave. E., to more than 3,000 members and a second campus, Journey in Faith, that opened last year at 650 40th Ave. E. The church has become known nationally for its confirmation model and outreach programs that include international missions.

His impact on the community is apparent when he stepped out to a local eatery last week and well-wishers from in and outside the church intermittently interrupted to offer kind words. Hundreds attended Sunday’s program at Faith Lutheran Church to honor Schmidt and his wife, Vicki.

Vicki Schmidt has also been an integral part of the Faith Lutheran church as worship coordinator and pianist.

As Schmidt talks about the past 24 years at Faith Lutheran Church – a rare extended tenure for modern pastors at one church – his eyes light up with fond memories of the personalities he has gotten to know beneath the stained glass windows. When he shifts to more serious topics, such as social justice, his eyes lower to a quiet seriousness. Schmidt has become an outspoken advocate of gay and lesbian rights in and outside the church. He and his wife, Vicki have also been foster parents to more than 100 children.

The pair started as foster parents in the inner city of Chicago and continued to open their home to children in West Fargo as therapeutic foster care. The couple opened their homes and hearts to children of special needs, often teen mothers or mothers to be.

Over the years, the couple also fostered a sense of duty to their entire community, encouraging others to step outside their familiarities and learn new things.

“If you get to know another culture, you get to know your culture better,” Schmidt said. “I’m a firm believer that our comfort zone is our prison.”

Schmidt has officiated gay and lesbian marriages, and is one of the few officiates in North Dakota who do so. Faith Lutheran Church is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America synod, a Lutheran denomination that has been one of the most liberal in acceptance of gay and lesbians. Although Schmidt has officiated unions off grounds, he has suggested his church’s board consider allowing the ceremonies on the grounds but has so far not been successful.

Schmidt said the issue has been one that united and divided churches.

“You do pay for a price for it,” Schmidt said. “It’s best by some standards to just stand by but I couldn’t do it.”

Despite retirement, Schmidt will not be slowing down anytime soon. A skilled carpenter and cabinet maker, and avid runner – Schmidt is a familiar face in the Fargo Marathon 5k and 10K races – Schmidt said he has plenty of projects waiting for him to start and finish.

He and Vicki have been married for 46 years and have two sons and a daughter. They currently live with their daughter and son-in-law and their three young grandchildren. Schmidt said the living arrangement is one of choice by the family, not necessity, one that is common in Australia, his son-in-law’s homeland.

He will also continue pastoral duties on a part-time basis, but not at Faith Lutheran, per denomination rules.

“I’ve had a heavy presence there for so long,” he said. “It has to be a clean break.”

As Easter Sunday draws near, Schmidt would normally be finalizing his Easter sermon, adding the finishing touches to a cornerstone of Christian worship, something he is done for 40 years. Instead, this year he will be deciding where he and his family will hear the Easter message.

Schmidt said this soon after retirement is a time of bereavement for him, one where he is mourning the break from his congregation and staff, whom he has grown to love.

“There is a bond there that is pretty strong,” he said.

In the meantime, Schmidt said he is confident a new senior pastor -who will likely be appointed in a year or two – will keep the church thriving.

“That’s what retirement is. It’s new people rising the vision,” he said.