By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
St. Timothy Evangelical Lutheran Church called the Rev. Kris Bjerke-Ulliman as its new pastor during an installation service Aug. 7.
The native of Wisconsin received the call at a Sunday afternoon service attended by members of the St. Timothy congregation and local church leadership. She takes over for Pastor Dean Hunneshagen, who retired last year.
In his sermon, Dean Pastor Lee Miller of the Upstate New York Synod, who officiated at the installation, said Bjerke-Ulliman "comes with some God-given gifts that God knows are right for this time in this place."
Miller added, "God has given her a vision of what that might mean to be the church for the sake of Grand Island and I already know that means working on building relationships here within the walls, but making new relationship outside the walls."
He joked, "She already knows everybody who's at the Tim Hortons-Wendy's on the circle."
Miller described St. Timothy's new pastor as a woman with enthusiasm.
"And she says 'Hi' to you whether she knows you or she doesn't. She brings her great energy and spirit, her love for God's people, and she is ready to set these gifts free and to find yours as well," Miller said.
As St. Timothy is "church together," he asked the assembled to turn to each other and say, "We are in this together." He asked the congregation to join Pastor Kris to proclaim the good news, to "not be afraid, but to be ready with your lamps lit, and your fuel ready to burn, fired up and ready to go."
Born and raised in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Bjerke-Ulliman is in her 18th year as a minister, with her most recent church a parish in rural north-central Wisconsin. Earlier this year, she received a call from the assistant to the bishop in the Upper New York Synod asking her if she ever thought of going to Niagara Falls. Though she wasn't looking to make a change, she said Christ led her to the Island, and her answer to the bishop was, "Sure, why not?"
She visited in April and interviewed and preached at St. Timothy in May. She said the church congregation appreciated her authenticity when she met leadership for an interview.
"I came to this interview being myself, reflecting my faith, reflecting who I am," she said. Though she said she was happy in her former parish, she said, "Wherever God leads is going to be fine."
She began her ministry July 17 and said her first impressions of the St. Timothy congregation were that "They are very spiritual people. They listen deeply to God, and they are open to following wherever Christ leads."
She is joined by her husband Steve, a classical guitar player.
"I love it. I love it. I love living on the Island. I love the people," she said.
"They've been through difficult times, like every place has, however when people go through difficult times, there's two spots. You either get angry and curl up, or you learn to trust that God will provide," she said.
As Miller alluded to in his sermon, Bjerke-Ulliman soon discovered the Grand Island chapel of Western New York's other unofficial patron saint named Tim, Tim Hortons, just up the road from the church location at the corner of Stony Point and Staley roads.
"I've been heading that way a lot," she deadpanned. "I have met people there for conversations. I can't believe there's this coffee place this close to the church."
Pastor Kris is determined to welcome all Islanders with energy and spirit, making sure the route she's taking from St. Tim's to Tim Horton's runs both ways.
"I'm hoping to develop a walking path," she said, laughing.
The Rev. Kris Bjerke-Ulliman