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A warm welcome: New pastor begins at Roberts UCC

Roberts United Church of Christ’s new interim pastor Zoe Kuester stands before a favorite wall hanging depicting Central American women’s idea of Heaven. Kuester said she wants people to know she appreciates a good joke, but don’t expect her to remember them. She took over pastoral duties July 21. (Photo by Sarah Young)

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Zoe Kuester asked as she ran her hand lightly across a wall hanging in her office depicting Guatemalan women’s idea of Heaven. The tapestry shows a menagerie of animals amid lush greenery. “Apparently there are a lot of llamas!”

Even though she began her new position scarcely two weeks ago, Roberts United Church of Christ’s new interim pastor is already sure of one thing: she loves her new church and its congregation.

Kuester stepped into her role as pastor July 21, making July 27 her first Sunday in the pulpit.

“It was great,” Kuester said while sipping coffee in her office. “This is such a warm and welcoming community. Everyone is so kind.”

Kuester said coming to the Roberts church seemed “like it was meant to be.” Not only do she and her husband Lanny have a house in Stillwater, but her position as an interim pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Moorhead, Minn., was coming to an end. She was interim pastor there for 10 months, while her husband remained at home as pastor of People’s Congregational Church in Bayport, Minn.

She heard from a colleague about an opening at Roberts, and everything fell into place after her interview.

“It seemed like a really good fit,” Kuester said.

Pastor Melinda Feller’s last day at Roberts UCC was June 15. She has moved to eastern Wisconsin, Kuester said.

Kuester grew up in Nebraska. While she didn’t grow up on a farm, she comes from a farming background.

“It’s such an interesting blend around here, isn’t it?” she said of the farming/rural/suburban culture of western Wisconsin. “A lot of changes are coming for this area.”

Kuester graduated from United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minn., in 2011. Roberts UCC is the third church she has served.

While Kuester described her background as deeply imbedded in theater and singing (directing and performing), she feels arts and spirituality complement each other beautifully.

“Arts are a wonderful expression of spirituality,” Kuester said. “In learning how to sing, I learned it was a way to open up to God. It’s a natural way to be more deliberate in finding spiritual expression.”

Before she entered the seminary, Kuester took classes in the family social science department at the University of Minnesota, but was missing the spiritual component of her education. She said she took one class at the seminary, then another, and then another.

“I’m so grateful for the background I have because you bring everything you have to ministry, truly,” Kuester said.

Kuester, who has lived in the Twin Cities area her entire adult life, has two children: Emily, who lives in Spain; and Nathan, who lives in Washington, D.C. Her husband has two sons, Cody and Ben. Her eyes fairly sparkled when she spoke of her coonhound/Rottweiler, Homer.

“He’s old and deaf, but he loves me,” Kuester said. “He is so happy that I’m home.”

It’s obvious Kuester is happy to be in her home area too. She said while summertime at churches can be quiet, that is not so at Roberts UCC.

“Vacation Bible School begins on the 23rd, and the Red Cross had their blood drive here yesterday,” Kuester said. “We have the food pantry. There’s a lot going on, so I’m jumping in. There’s no time to rest.”

She also hopes to begin offering guidance in “parenting as a spiritual practice.”

As she looked around her new church home, she smiled.

“There are a lot of big hopes and dreams in making a building like this,” Kuester said. “I envision it as a community gathering place. I’m looking forward to getting to know the communities. My learning curve is very steep.”

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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