It wasn't easy leaving Advent Lutheran Church in Colorado, after 17 years as pastor, but the Rev. Dennis Hagstrom felt he'd done all he could do there. He let it be known that he was looking for a change and, as of Feb. 18, he became senior pastor at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Centreville.
"I was a finalist among five candidates, and I decided this congregation would be a wonderful place to serve," he said. "St. Andrew is filled with many dedicated, faithful, Christian people."
Born and raised in Moline, Ill., Hagstrom, 51, initially wanted to be a history teacher or a funeral director. (Growing up, he'd attended the funerals of many close friends and family members). And he believes his inclination toward teaching and his caring nature contributed toward his wanting to go into the ministry.
"I developed an interest in the ministry while I was in high school," he said. "I was active in my home congregation, Faith Lutheran Church, and the pastors there were supportive when my father and grandfather died. They answered my questions about ministry and gave me opportunities to work around the church, assist in worship and teach in Bible school."
Hagstrom graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., in 1973 with a bachelor's in history and religion. "In my first couple years of college, I felt that this is where I belong," he said. "I find joy and great interest in ministry, and I've always loved my job and felt happy to go to work."
In 1977, he received his master of divinity degree from Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., (now part of Luther Seminary) and was ordained. He spent 3 1/2 years as pastor of his first parish, East Chain Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota, then served for four years as associate pastor at Mt. Carmel Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
After that came Hagstrom's 17 years at Advent Lutheran Church in Westminster, Colo., between Denver and Boulder. While there, he supervised interns from Gettysburg, Pa., in their third year of seminary, and began coming east to participate in workshops with and for interns.
"I got to know this area; and, with my love of history — especially Civil War history, I felt this was an area where I could be open to a call," he said. So he submitted "mobility papers" to the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and that's how he came to St. Andrew's attention.
"I enjoyed living in Colorado and the western U.S. and Rocky Mountain region," said Hagstrom. "But I believe Northern Virginia is beautiful, too, and I'm looking forward to seeing the cherry blossoms and all the foliage."
However, it means that, until summer, he's a geographic bachelor. He and his wife of 26 1/2 years, Pam, a registered nurse specializing in oncology, have three children, and their youngest, Timothy, is still in high school in Westminster. He's currently finishing up his junior year at Standley Luke High so — although he and his mom attended Hagstrom's installation, March 3, at St. Andrew — they won't move here until July.
The Hagstroms' other son, Stephen, is a sophomore at Colorado State University where he's studying elementary education. Daughter Katie also lives in Westminster, and she and her husband Ed just became parents of son Tristan on Feb. 7. His proud grandpa plans to return to Colorado in April to baptize him.
Meanwhile, Hagstrom is getting to know his new parishioners here, plus the church's other pastor, Sherry Brumback, and the rest of the staff. He says St. Andrew is a young congregation — average age, late 30s — "with lots of kids." It has about 1,000 members and some 400 regular Sunday worshippers, and Hagstrom has found them "very welcoming, friendly and gracious" to him.
Sunday worship times are 8:30 and 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., with Sunday school at 9:45 a.m. Normally, on the second Saturday of the month at 7 p.m. — however, this month it'll be Saturday, March 16 — St. Andrew holds an informal celebration/praise service with contemporary music and a special message. "It's specifically offered to welcome folks who've not been part of a regular church and are seeking to learn more about the Christian faith," explained Hagstrom.
He also noted that the church holds a major congregational retreat, "Walk of Faith," once a year. At St. Andrew, he'd like to see the congregation continue to grow spiritually and keep on reaching out to youth and to the Centreville community.
Due to growth, said Hagstrom, there's talk about expanding the size of the sanctuary, but he'd like even more people to join. "We need to find ways of welcoming people and making them feel comfortable," he said.
As for his philosophy, he believes pastors are leaders of their congregations — people who "lead the worship, preach the Gospel and equip the congregants to live out their Christian faith in their daily lives. That's the point of worshipping together, hearing the word of God, being fed at the Lord's table and learning Christian education."
Hagstrom is enthusiastic about his favorite books in the New Testament — Luke, Acts, Romans and Revelation: "I like Luke and Acts because they give a totally unified picture of salvation in Jesus Christ through His birth, His ministry, His death and resurrection — and the whole origin of the Christian Church and the beginnings of its movement."
He likes Romans because "Paul so clearly sums up the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith — teaching us that our salvation is a free gift from God," said Hagstrom. "It's nothing that we can deserve or earn. And I love Revelation because of its message of hope that God in Christ will be the ultimate and final victor, and I love the beautiful images of heavenly worship and adoration given to God by the faithful people from all times and places. In fact, I see our earthly worship in church as a reflection of the heavenly worship described in Revelation."
Besides his duties at St. Andrew, Hagstrom is also an elected member of the Division for Ministry Board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and will attend its semiannual meeting this weekend in Chicago. This board sets policy and standards for those in ELCA ministries throughout the country. And in May, Hagstrom will attend the national workshop on Christian unity in Cleveland.
When not busy with all these things, he enjoys reading Civil War history, bicycling, playing racquetball and traveling. He and his family have traveled throughout Europe, the U.S. and the Caribbean, but he says a trip to Israel a year ago was a life-changing experience. Said Hagstrom: "The most breathtaking moment was seeing the Sea of Galilee, knowing that's where Jesus did so much of His ministry."