Bob Bagley ’58

Retired. First call in Papau New Guinea; served most recently part-time at Christ Lutheran in Lake Elmo, Minn.

As a pastor, what did you learn that you didn’t expect to learn?

Here’s the biggie: Bishop Rogness’ dad, Alvin Rogness…when I came to a rural parish after being in New Guinea, he said, “Bob, you use this small parish to better yourself for future ministry.”

So here’s what I did. I made advanced standing in clinical pastoral education. I was endorsed for specialized ministry, which most pastors don’t make, specializing in chaplaincy work in hospitals. After my fourth parish, I went to Hazelden and did a four-year chaplaincy program. Then I was endorsed for veterans’ hospital ministry. I was a chaplain for a year at the big VA Hospital in Minneapolis.

What is an issue that you never imagined yourself dealing with as a pastor?

The first parish after Papua New Guinea was easy because it was a bunch of loving, Norwegian farmers. It was a good place to get re-acclimated to the American way of doing things after five years overseas.

What are some of the most interesting or prominent changes you’ve seen in the church in your career or since you went to seminary?

There’s a lot more support in empowering the pastors to do what they’re most gifted to do. You can’t do everything; you can’t be good at everything. I think a middle-sized parish should have a changeover of pastors every six years because in six years you’ve kind of done everything and it’s time to move on.

The concept of the old Lutheran Free Church and many of the old ELC churches was that they were tired of the pastor doing everything and deciding everything, and they hardly needed a church council. The reaction to that was “We’re going to tell the pastor what to do.” Now it’s changed so that the pastors are empowered to do whatever they’re most gifted in.

What are your own spiritual practices? Where/to whom do you turn for guidance and encouragement?

I work with 60 global students at Luther Seminary who come from all over the world. I also did ministry with people with alcohol and drug issues. At Gethsemane Lutheran in Maplewood and where I am now, I established Stephen ministry, an outreach. I do more training to help others minister to people in great need.

Is there a particular passage of scripture that frames your call to ministry?

It would be where Jesus said to the whole church, “I send you.”

The motto that I follow is: Go out and share the love of Jesus, and only if necessary, say something. Naomi (my wife) says too often I end up telling people I’m a pastor. She says, “You don’t have to say anything. Just be you.”

What is one thing you wish non-clergy knew about your life/identity/call as a pastor?

I’ve never been satisfied to stop growing in pastoral care and I’m available when people want to talk. The gift I learned from a Catholic priest in my chaplaincy training is this: He asked me what I consider to be my primary gift. I said, “I don’t know.” He said, “When you’re talking with someone, there’s just an automatic pipeline between your eyes and their eyes, and that removes all reluctance to talk.” I can get people to share stuff with me that normally would take four or five visits, but they know I care about them by just looking them in the eye.

What is one of your most memorable services?

At the VA Hospital, I touched the lives of people there who, if I hadn’t had special training, I wouldn’t have been able to help. One guy owned a million-dollar auto dealership, and he wouldn’t sign his will and he was dying. It was on a Saturday that I wasn’t even supposed to work. The people were waiting for me at the door saying I needed to come up and talk to their dad. I sat down with him and his son and had Holy Communion as a Lutheran priest (he was Catholic). When we were done, I said, “Your family is so upset. It’s unbearable for them that the doctor says you’re dying, and you haven’t signed your will.” He kept saying, “Nope. I got a few loose ends to tie up at the dealership.” In the end, I got him to sign his will by promising I would help him tie up the loose ends. A cheer went forth to the Lord above. The next day he was playing cards with his friends in the hospital, and three days later he died.

What do you think you would be if you were not a pastor?

I probably would have followed in my older brother Emil’s footsteps and have done some aspect of social work.

When you meet God, what do you hope God says to you?

Well, I would be meeting Jesus, not God, and he would say, “Well, welcome thou good and faithful servant.”

Click here to read Pastor Bob Bagley’s story about Mario Colacci

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