When Samuel Wiseman showed up Tuesday with his moving van at the house he is renting in La Grande, 10 people from Faith Lutheran Church were there to help him.
Wiseman was moving his wife, Charlotte, and their four children into the house at Sixth Street and N Avenue, known in the past as the Neighborhood Club House.
While unloading boxes and furniture, Wiseman started to get acquainted with the people who had showed up to help.
In fact, he had not met any of the people at Faith Lutheran, where he has come to serve as pastor.
When Wiseman, who has been minister of Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Lake Stevens, Wash., for the past 2 years, learned of the opening for a minister at Faith Lutheran last spring, he submitted his name to the Northwest district office of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.
Wiseman filled out a questionnaire and sent other information to the La Grande church to review.
Wiseman waited through the summer and didn't hear back from the church. He was contacted in September to see if he was still interested. He was.
Congregation representatives at Faith Lutheran visited with him by phone. But Wiseman did not come to La Grande to preach, meet the congregation, attend potluck meals or answer questions.
The people at Faith Lutheran looked over his qualifications and compared him to others who had applied. They then prayed about the matter and, sight unseen, voted to call Wiseman.
"They gave me three or four weeks to consider the call," said Wiseman, a former football and track coach. He accepted.
And now, Wiseman, his wife and the younger of their six children, Jacqueline, 16, Levi, 14, Ben, 10, and Anne Liese, 8, will be getting to know the people at Faith Lutheran.
That process started Tuesday but will continue at 3 p.m. Sunday, when Wiseman is installed as pastor.
The community is invited to the installation service, which will be held at the church on the southwest corner of 12th Street and Gekeler Lane. A reception will follow.
Wiseman's first time in the pulpit at Faith will be Sunday morning, Nov. 23.
The new pastor said he knows that many church congregations require a prospective minister to visit their church, deliver a message on Sunday morning and get to know the people before a call is made.
It's not unusual in the Missouri Synod, however, for a church to call a pastor without meeting him, Wiseman said. Somewhere around 20 to 40 percent of churches operate that way.
"The call is based on spiritual guidance and on the orderly system used by the Missouri Synod," Wiseman said, who added that he felt honored that the people of Faith Lutheran would call him without asking to meet him or hear him preach.
Wiseman, 44, said he's been aware of La Grande for many years.
He remembers visiting the community when he about 8 years old. His family was living in Echo in Umatilla County at the time.
His mother, Ora Lee Wiseman, commuted to Eastern Oregon College to complete her teaching certificate and the family visited La Grande.
His father, Norman "Duke" Wiseman, was a teacher and football-basketball coach at Echo. The family moved on to Pilot Rock and later to Twin Falls, Idaho, where Wiseman graduated from high school.
Wiseman's next experience in La Grande occurred when he was a student-athlete at Whitworth College in Spokane. Wiseman was a defensive tackle on the football team and threw the shotput and discus in track.
"The football team would come here once every two years for games," Wiseman said.
"It was always in the back of my mind that La Grande was a very beautiful place."
Wiseman graduated from Whitworth and went on to become the college's head track coach and defensive coordinator for the football team.
After seven years on Whitworth's staff and teaching for a year in the public schools, Wiseman took a job as science teacher, head football coach and assistant track coach at Gooding High School in Gooding, Idaho, about 80 miles east of Boise.
Wiseman explained how he got the call to leave teaching and prepare for the ministry.
The 1998 football season in Gooding did not go as well as he had hoped. His team lost some games by a few points.
"I needed to have some reflective time," Wiseman said of the months that followed the difficult season.
Meanwhile Wiseman was heavily involved at the local Lutheran church. He was chairman of the congregation and taught an adult Sunday school class.
A shortage of pastors was occurring in Lutheran churches in the area.
In February 1999, the circuit pastor from the Southern Idaho region of the Missouri Synod attended a church council meeting.
"You're the guy," Wiseman quoted the minister as saying to him. "You really need to be a pastor."
Wiseman did not immediately reject the idea. He told the pastor, "Not now. Maybe when I'm 50 I'll consider it." He had 10 years to go.
"For the Holy Spirit, that was an open door," Wiseman said.
By April, Wiseman had made the decision to go to seminary to study for the ministry.
There was one obstacle that stood in the way of the family leaving Gooding. The Wisemans had purchased a house only six months earlier, and still had a house in Spokane that was waiting to be sold.
"It was a very slow market," Wiseman said of Gooding.
But in a matter of days, both houses sold.
The family moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., where Wiseman studied for two years at Concordia Theological Seminary.
After completing his training, Wiseman was called to a vicarage at a mission church in Lake Stevens, where there was no pastor. He completed his one- year internship at Lamb of God Lutheran Church under the supervision of a retired minister.
The congregation invited him to continue on as pastor, and the church continued to grow.
"Now they are a fairly strong congregation," Wiseman said, able to provide support for their minister.
Wiseman learned about the opening in La Grande when he visited with Wilfred Nitz, Faith Lutheran's pastor who retired in April after 19 years.
Wiseman and his family are settling into their rental house on N Avenue. Coincidentally, Faith Lutheran got its start in the same building more than 40 years ago.
The new pastor said steps of faith brought him to La Grande, and he'll continue to seek God's guidance as he begins his work at Faith Lutheran.
"It's completely out of my hands," he said of what God will be doing with him in La Grande.
"It's not of my merit, but of the merit of what God has to do here."
Â— Story by Dave Stave