Members of Faith United Methodist Church gathered Sunday, July 25, to say farewell to Pastors Joel and Barb Certa-Werner. The couple has been leading the church for 21 years.
The couple moved to the Eau Claire area Monday, July 26 — Joel’s birthday. He has been appointed pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Elk Mound and Salem United Methodist Church in Iron Creek. Barb will continue to serve as North West District Superintendent for the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church, a position she’s held since 2019.
Pastor Cathy Hamblin, who leads the congregation at Hayward United Methodist Church, will serve as interim pastor at Faith United.
Joel is the longest-serving pastor in the church's history. The usual length of time a pastor stays with a congregation is about five to seven years, he said.
“This is exceptional,” said Mary Manion-Bick, who has been with the congregation since she was born. “It’s really been a blessing to have them here.”
Linda Berg, director of the church food pantry, said 21 years together has led to a deeper relationship between the congregation and the family.
“You know what’s different about it is people usually think of pastors as sharing in our lives, you know, the big things — the baptisms, the births, the weddings, the funerals — but because they have been here so long, we have actually been a part of their big moments — their children’s births, their baptisms, their graduations ... We have actually had the chance to watch a minister’s family grow up also, and become a family, which is unusual. I’ve never had that experience before," Berg said.
The pair brought a sense of mission and a can-do attitude with them, church members said.
“Rev. Joel has lots of energy and enthusiasm. He exudes that. I think that’s a big thing that they brought,” Manion-Bick said. “It will be really hard to change gears and adjust to somebody new, but, you know, change is good.”
The Certa-Werner family moved to Superior from their previous post at Elmwood, Wisconsin, in 2000. When they were first assigned, Barb was on family leave.
“I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything. I was supposed to be raising my kids, and I started the homeless shelter four or five months after I got here,” she said.
Harbor House Crisis Shelters, a ministry of Faith United Methodist Church, today encompasses two emergency shelters, a transitional living center and a five-unit apartment building offering permanent supportive housing to homeless women and families.
About the same time Harbor House was beginning, Joel launched Wildfire, a youth mission opportunity that brought young people from throughout the state and beyond to Superior for a week of work and fellowship. Last week, as Wildfire participants painted houses, did yard work and helped move the food pantry at Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, the Certa-Werners finished packing.
“The crazy part was that when we approached the church about doing this, they said ‘Yes.’ I’m not sure very many churches would do that. This one does,” Joel said. “That was an exciting moment for us, because it really set the tone for what was going to happen here.”
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Existing ministries, including Noah’s Ark Child Care, the church food pantry and Sunday community meals, grew and flourished over the past two decades. New initiatives like the community garden were launched.
“The church has embraced what has been happening through our ministries, and being part of that excitement and development of new ministries over the years has just been really fun,” Joel said. “I’m just grateful to have been able to be here, to be able to have time to experience all of this.”
The pastors said the church was a good fit for them.
“This congregation has a heart for the community. It has been the DNA of this congregation. It was nice to walk into that, because it matched who we were,” Joel said.
As they launched initiatives and connected with the congregation, the couple’s family of four grew to six. Daughters Hannah and Hope were born and raised in the Twin Ports. Their youngest, Hope, graduated from Superior High School in June.
“So this is home,” Barb said.
Berg said she will miss Joel's deep, heartfelt connection with everyone he meets, from food pantry recipients to church members, and his encouragement.
Millie Rounsville, chief executive officer of Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, said she will miss Barb's lifelong commitment to public service. The pastor served on numerous committees and boards.
"They've done a lot for the community," Rounsville said.
Church members said they're grateful for the time they've had with the Certa-Werners.
"We will miss them, but I think they have to serve some other people now," Berg said.
And they're looking toward the future.
"We will be all right. We have some good leaders in our church," Berg said. "It will always be an adjustment, but I think deep down our church really cares about our community. We've been really active in it, and I think that will continue."
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