Pastor Christopher Bruesehoff, who assumed the role of spiritual leader at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church on Sept. 1, has faced some challenges and sudden twists of fate over his 40-plus years on Earth.
Raised in the same Lutheran faith — and by a clergyman father — he nonetheless endured 13 years of North Jersey Catholic schooling because of his mother’s employment within the school system. When choosing a university in the academic nexus of Boston, he elected Boston University over Boston College, Northeastern, Emerson, Tufts or Harvard. And when selecting a course of study as a newly-minted Terrier, Bruesehoff initially elected to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.
But a higher authority seemed to win out.
“Growing up, it seemed like I wouldn’t be a pastor; it seemed that God had other plans,” Bruesehoff said in a Sept. 22 conversation with the Sun at his new church.
Bruesehoff’s spiritual formation began at a point when most students would have been exploring any other avenue than the one in which they were raised. During summers between school years in Beantown, he worked as a counselor in a Lutheran summer camp back in New Jersey.
“It was a different way of teaching and learning things and spending time with the community,” Bruesehoff explained. “It certainly changed my perspective and gave me great relationships that helped me figure things out.
“That’s when I felt like I was called to do something else.”
Following graduation just ahead of the new millennium, Bruesehoff landed in Chicago to continue his spiritual education. Not content with two cold and relatively northern locales, he ended up serving in the hinterlands.
“I went to seminary because, in the church, you’re expected to go and get your master’s degree, so I did,” the pastor recalled. “It’s three years of schoolwork and one year of an internship. I did my internship in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.”
Having survived close encounters of the Yooper English kind, the New Jersey synod saw fit to return Bruesehoff to his home state. He spent the next six years as an associate pastor in Toms River, and then the last 11 years with a church in the northernmost part of Sussex County, a stone’s throw from the New York border.
The Almighty also seemed to lend a hand in providing the new pastor a stable family life. Bruesehoff’s wife, Jamie, was an active member of the Lutheran church and grew up in the western end of the township, a proud alumna of Cherry Hill High School West.
“Back in 2003, when I was finishing up seminary, I graduated, got ordained and got married over the course of about 15 days. We met at the same summer camp, working there, and we got married there,” he revealed.
But nothing has prepared Bruesehoff, personally and professionally, for the challenges of tending to his new flock during COVID-19.
“This is probably the most active time the church has been called to be in the world in a long time,” he admitted. “You have our elderly population which is increasingly isolated because they can’t go out or receive visitors. We have to come up with new ways to interact because in most cases, we physically can’t be there.”
Bruesehoff added that healing programs are in greater need because so many people in the community are out of work, particularly non-essential employees. In addition, many other families who are fortunate enough to have one or both parents employed are struggling to keep up with work demands and manage children who need guidance with virtual learning.
And so, the question becomes how the church intercedes to support so many in need? Bruesehoff is finding alternatives to connect in ways that used to call for a personal touch.
“The biggest challenge right now is building relationships. I’m making a lot of phone calls,” he said. “We do a lot of stuff over Zoom or Facetime so we can see each other. I can come to someone’s porch, have our masks on and talk through doors. It’s awkward but at least we get to meet each other.
“We’re going one step at a time.”
For more information on St. Michael’s, visit the church website: https://www.stmichaelslutheranchurch.org/.