HINCKLEY — When Chris Navurskis was growing up in Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Hinckley, some parishioners told him they thought he should consider becoming a minister. Even though he taught Sunday school and vacation Bible school, he didn’t give it much thought.
Even though he grew up in Hinckley, he spent a lot of time on his grandfather’s farm, doing “all the traditional stuff that farm kids do” and racing motorcycles.
“The whole white robe thing, compared to that, I thought ‘no, that’s not for me.’” he said. “But then you grow into the gifts God gives you.”
Not only did Navurskis become a minister, he was installed on June 17 at his home church – the same church where he was baptized and confirmed.
Born in Naperville, Navurskis and his family moved to Hinckley when he was 3. After graduating from Hinckley-Big Rock High School in 1992, he went to work for a few years before attending Concordia College for secondary education. In 2004, he graduated from the Concordia Seminary, where he was ordained.
Navurskis presided over congregations in West Bloomfield and Grafton, both in Wisconsin, before coming to Hinckley.
A long-time White Sox fan, Navurskis, 38, and his wife, Miriam, have three children, Mark, 8; Nate, 5; and Claire, 10 months.
Amid piles of books and unpacked boxes, Rev. Navurskis spent a few minutes last week discussing his religious journey with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.
MidWeek: When someone goes to the seminary, is that a four-year degree or how does that work?
Chris Navurskis: Yes, there’s a four-year undergraduate and a four-year master’s of divinity. One of those years at the seminary is spent deployed as a vicar or a student pastor. I spent that year at Rapids City, SD.
MW: Do you graduate or are you ordained?
CN: It’s the same coursework. You get the master’s of divinity degree and then are also ordained after that.
MW: When you go to a divinity school, do you go for one denomination?
CN: Correct. Within our denomination, the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, you can go to the seminary within your system and then you can go out into the field.
MW: So when you are ordained, are you on your own to find a church?
CN: The seminary receives information from churches. If a church would like to call a pastor through the seminary, they would contact the seminary and there’s a process to follow. There is a self-evaluation process that a congregation will go through to find out where they stand in terms of their ministry. It also informs the seminary what kind of a match a man might be coming out of the seminary.
MW: When you first become ordained, is it common to get a church right away or become an assistant at a church?
CN: It all depends on who you are and what’s available. We believe that the Lord leads through his people and by the power of his holy spirit calls a particular person to that ministry. It’s usually based on skill set and experience level. I came in having worked as a toolmaker and machinist, even in sales, for a motorcycle shop that I worked at. I came in with a little bit of different skill sets that others might have in college and seminary because they went right from one school to another school to another school.
I ended up with a sole pastoral position. Some of the guys came out and they wanted to be an associate. They wanted to spend time with someone who had been in the ministry for a long period of time. Some wanted to be in urban and some wanted a rural setting.
For example, a friend of mine is from Liberia originally, and he learned about Christ when he was in Liberia from missionaries, so he wanted a missionary setting. Right now, he is serving on the south side of Chicago and he is working to build a church there.
MW: Did you always know you were going to be a minister?
CN: No, when I came out of high school, I was very focused on being a teacher because one of the teachers at Indian Village Vocational, Mr. Schaffer, had really reached out to me and worked with me and kept me from dropping out.
He got me into a coop my last year of high school so I was actually working a full 40 hours my last year of high school at a machine shop and getting credit for it though HBR.
Through that alternate route, I was inspired to go back to Waubonsee to continue my education through my workplace.
All those things came together so I wanted to do that for another kid, like Mr. Schaffer did. I was at Concordia in Wisconsin when one of the professors took me aside and said “listen we need people to do youth ministry. We really need pastors. Our church, like a lot of churches, is having a pastor shortage. We could really use guys out in the field doing the same thing but at a different level. Instead of going for a teaching ministry, I advise you to go for a pastoral ministry.”
And that’s where the change took place.
MW: So how did you come here?
CN: Usually what happens when a church is going through a call process, people from the congregation can offer up names and so can the district. The Lutheran Churches are divided up into districts. We are in the Northern Illinois District. The district and the church work together to compile a list of names and a call from the deacon generally will form, based on the constitution of the church, to look at those names and look at who those people are and to look at who the congregations are and then look for a match. They’ll narrow it down to maybe let’s say three and the call committee will come to the recommendation to the congregation and say this is the person we recommend.
They try to keep some privacy involved in this. For example, if I knew all the other guys that were on that (list), I might be intimidated by “oh, well, that person can do a better job.” They try to keep everyone on neutral ground.
MW: Did someone nominate you then?
CN: That’s part of the church business. I don’t know if my name came through the district or the congregation ... It’s not an application process. You can’t throw your own name in the hat.
MW: Did you know about any of this?
CN: There is an interview process. They did call when they originally compiled their short list of people: “are you available for a call?” And there are certain circumstances where you might not be available. Let’s say, I was in a multi-staff team up in St. Paul, and if there was a vacancy, there’s nobody there to do this work if I’m not there. Or I might not be available because of my family.
Then the call process continues. Some churches choose to interview. Immanuel did. During the interview process, you can ask questions also. Then when the call comes, you make a visit and you get a chance to look at the ministry in a more in-depth way.
MW: Were you surprised when you were contacted?
CN: Yes and no. I wasn’t surprised when the call process started because there were a lot of names. I still keep in touch with folks here. ... But it was really emotional to get the phone call that said our voters assembly met and we voted to call you and we want you to be our next pastor. I remember that moment. I was in the garage in our condo up north in Grafton and telling my wife “I think our lives are about to change again.” It really was one of those moments where everything kind of stops. I was very excited.
MW: So no hestitation on your part?
CN: I was definitely inclined towards the call. I wanted to find out more about what it was that led God’s people here to say, this is the guy. Immediately, I wanted to take it very seriously. I was definitely drawn to it. But I wanted to sit down with the leaders and tell me about the process that I didn’t see. What was on your hearts that you think I can do the job?
For me, being here at Immanuel, growing up here, the values that I got, the skills that I got, the people who took care of youth when I was young, there are so many people here who dedicated themselves to the work as volunteers that everything they packed into me I was able to use in college, in seminary, out in Rapid City. All this stuff that was originally there, I got from this place.
So when I’m coming back here, I’ve changed a little bit since I’ve been gone, they’ve changed a little in the 16 years I’ve been gone. The congregation has changed a lot. There are some new members and there are some who have been here since before I was a kid. Let’s reconnect and make sure we’re all together on the same page in terms of where we want to go with this.
It was exciting. I knew after I left the visit I made after the call.
MW: Is it strange?
CN: It’s going to be a transition for the folks here. Some of the folks are not sure, "Should we call you Pastor Navurskis or Pastor Chris?" Christopher was usually what folks called me, or Chris. If folks call me Chris, it means we still have that relationship. It was never broken.
I think there’s a great deal of historical value in that. Before seminaries came along, it was the folks in a congregation who affirmed a member of the congregation.
MW: Overall, what are you feeling?
CN: I would say the overall emotion will be thanksgiving. I came from here, they gave me so much, I am really thankful for the chance to give back to Immanuel.
I’m not the only pastor to come out of here. There are other pastors and teachers who came out of here, who grew up here.
MW: Is it unusual for someone to return to the church they grew up in?
CN: Not totally, no. A friend of mine up in Wisconsin went back to his church. And when I received this call, I called him and told him I’m in a similar position to him. I am kind of taking some cues from him.
The benefit I have is I don’t have to set up all new relationships. I’m not necessarily a stranger. There’s more trust in some ways, both ways, for me because I know these folks, and in addition there are people here who remember me and are just glad to keep the work going.
MW: Is this something in the back of a minister’s mind, you’d like to go back to where you started?
CN: Oh, sure. I love my hometown. I love the area. I love being out here in the country. My grandpa’s farm is a mile or two north of the church here. I can still drive up and down the roads here and see people I’ve known for my whole life. For me personally, the desire to come back here has always been with me.
We got the call the first of May, but one of the reasons we waited was because our two boys were in school and we wanted them to finish school and say goodbye to their friends. One of the fun things about this is that, in the fall, my boys will be going to the same school I went to and they even have the same lost and found mailbox in the hallways that I had.