Reverend Jim Kinsler hiked 700 miles on the Appalachian Trail when he was 17.
The retired pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Lake plans to return to complete the route while taking the message of Christ with him on his journey.
“I’m going to sow seeds of God’s love everywhere I go,” said Kinsler, whose last day is February 27. “I am leaving the pastorate. I am not leaving the ministry.
Kinsler said those who use the trail have trail names. His will be “Sowjourner Jim”.
“It’s going to be spelled Sowjourner,” Kinsler said. “One of my favorite parables tells the story of a farmer who goes out to sow seeds and he is very careless with it. He throws seed on the path, he throws it on the weeds and then, sometimes, on fertile soil My life is now going to be a sow’s journey.
Kinsler was ordained in May 1981 and opened his first church in June of that year. He then spent 23½ years at the First Lutheran Church in Parkersburg, West Virginia, before being called to the Lakeside Lutheran Church in Savannah Lakes Village.
Kinsler’s father, also a minister, was a pastor at First Lutheran from 1935 to 1942. He was also an army chaplain during World War II, serving under General George Patton, who was his field officer.
Kinsler has his father’s campaign altar in his church office.
Kinsler came to Lakeside Lutheran Church in 2008, launching several initiatives that transcend the physical walls of the church building. He led a lakeside worship every Sunday, where boats brought people in to hear the service.
“We call it worshiping in the cathedral of creation,” Kinsler said. “If you think of Jesus, where did he worship? In the Sea of Galilee. People who don’t go to church are more comfortable coming to church outdoors. There is something about walking through the doors of a church that is kind of a high threshold for people. It has been a wonderful way for us to reach people who have fallen away from the church or who have not been active in the church.
Kinsler also feels blessed to have broken down racial barriers.
“One of the things that really motivated me in ministry was getting involved in the community,” he said. “One of my priorities was to try to develop a ministry alliance here at McCormick that crosses racial lines. It’s tough, but it’s worked out well. Some of my closest colleagues in ministry come from the African-American community, and I welcome that.
He also enjoys working with the Ministry of Prisons at McCormick Correctional Institution.
“I plan to get more involved in community activities after I retire,” he said. “I see the rest as an adventure. I’m going to respond to the Holy Spirit. I love the small towns ministry. I like to be in nature. These things really appealed to me.
During his seminary, Kinsler led a Christian ministry in national parks.
“I preached at the rim of the Grand Canyon for a summer,” he said.
Kinsler, 66, said tackling the Appalachian Trail is something that will provide a great book ending to his life.
“I thought I better do it while I’m still delusional enough to think I can and healthy enough to try,” he said.
He will begin his new journey in May.
“Also, I would like to try other things,” Kinsler said. “As a pastor, you are a paid professional Christian. So now I can be a professing Christian and live out my faith in a way that isn’t necessarily limited to parish ministry.
Kinsler is married with three children and eight grandchildren. He will continue to live in McCormick, he said, because McCormick is right in the center of all the places his family members live.
Kinsler said one of the most important things he learned as a pastor is that relationships are key.
“I think building relationships is key,” he said. “And we do that by living our faith with people by showing God’s love, care and compassion in a realistic way. I think we have a bad image of what it means to be a successful church.
Kinsler considers himself a theological reductionist.
“I use the KISS principle – keep it simple, saints,” he said. “Because God is so real to me, I want to be real to others so they can see the real God in me.”
Despite recent figures that show Millennials and Gen Zers are much less likely to be religious than Boomers and Gen Xers, Kinsler thinks the future is bright for Christianity. .
“I think this is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to do something new,” he said. “The good news will be proclaimed. And my belief has always been that I want to do what God does. I don’t want to invite God into what I do.
“It has been 500 years since the Reformation, and we face a challenge. We need to be able to present the good news in a way that impacts individuals, but also the culture. Sometimes I struggle with how we as people interpret God’s direction, but I know it will happen.
Kinsler said stepping back from pastoral ministry “frees me up” to look at different avenues for connecting with people.