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Gazette Staff

When the Rev. Tim Tostengard has something he needs to discuss with his assistant pastor, he can probably take it up at the kitchen table.

That's because Tostengard, lead pastor at American Lutheran Church, 5 Lewis Ave., works with his wife, the Rev. Kay Tostengard. He works full-time and she works half-time.

"When we accepted the call to American, Kay and I were looking to serve a congregation together," Tostengard says.

Previously they worked together at a church in Spokane, Wash., and then served separately in Decorah, Iowa, where Tim worked as associate pastor of a church while Kay served as a campus pastor.

Together is better, Tostengard says.

"For one thing, we have three children and family life is much more possible serving just one congregation," he says. "We also enjoy working together."

That surprises a lot of people, Tostengard says.

"I've had many people tell me that they could never in a million years work with their spouse, but it's worked for us," he says. "We have very different, but complementary, abilities to give to the life of the congregation."

Here are other facts Tostengard shared about American Lutheran:

Contact the church: By phone, 252-4171; by fax: 252-0514; on the Web:

Name of denomination, affiliations: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Montana Synod of the ELCA.

Size of congregation: 1,530 baptized members; 450 average weekly worship attendance.

Service days, times: Worship in summer (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend): Sunday worship services at 8:30 and 10 a.m. and Wednesday services at 6:30 p.m.; during school year: Sunday worship services 8:30 and 11 a.m. with education hour at 9:45 a.m., Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.

Other regular gatherings: Confirmation on Wednesday evenings; Bible studies at noon on Mondays and at 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays; men's Bible study at 6:30 a.m. Wednesdays; women's Bible study at 6:30 a.m. Thursdays; Crossways Bible study at 9:30 a.m. Thursdays. Junior and senior high youth groups have been meeting on Sunday nights. Tuesday is the quilters' group. Bell choir on Tuesday evening. Youth choirs late Wednesday afternoon. Chancel choir on Thursday evening. A young adults group called "College and Careers" meets on Sunday evening.

Give a brief history of the church: Norwegians began worshipping in the Billings area in the late 1800s and in 1905, organized under the name St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church. The name was later changed to American Lutheran Church. Throughout its history, American Lutheran has had a strong vision of mission and outreach. Several Lutheran churches in Billings were supported by ALC as they were developed, including Atonement Lutheran in the Heights, and the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd and King of Glory Lutheran on the West End of Billings. The ALC tradition of committed and expanding ministry that began with the Norwegian-speaking Christians before the beginning of the last century challenges us to continue spreading the Word and caring for our neighbors near and far.

How is your church funded? Through the generosity of its members. The 2003 budget is just under $508,000. The congregation also has a Mission Endowment Trust fund, worth just over $500,000 which supports many kinds of mission projects, from the Friendship House to the Montana Rescue Mission to our youth group's mission trips to Luther Seminary.

Biggest success your congregation has had in the past year? Last fall, we completed the pledge period for a ministry expansion campaign to improve our facility and to raise money for ministry and mission. Over $400,000 has already been pledged. Just a few months into our three-year campaign, $120,000 has been given. Led by the vision of the church council, the congregation decided to match every dollar we spent on our facility to ministries beyond our four walls. The fact that the congregation decided to give away 50 percent of what we raise speaks to the health and mission-mindedness of American Lutheran.

Biggest challenge your congregation faces? To proclaim the good news to a world that needs to hear it in the many different ways that happens, whether in preaching, service to others, teaching or in the conversations of our lives. To do that proclaiming well and to sense the needs of the community and when someone is open to hearing a word of faith will be an ongoing challenge for our congregation.

One piece of advice that has helped you, as a pastor, succeed and one pitfall to avoid: A pastor I knew during my seminary years emphasized the fact that being a pastor is about preaching, teaching and visitation. I would add administration as an important component of ordained ministry. Pastors get pulled in so many different directions, keeping these areas of responsibility in mind helps me to focus on what is important in my work.

A pitfall to avoid would be to do the job on your own, sometimes called being a "lone ranger" pastor. If a pastor doesn't have healthy boundaries, their schedules easily spin out of control. I think this is true of most jobs, not just for pastors). One of the byproducts of this is that pastors don't spend enough time with pastoral colleagues or with their staffs.

Plans your congregation has for the next five years: In 2001, our congregation endorsed a vision statement for the next decade (2002-2012). This statement addresses all areas of a church's ministry, including worship, teaching, proclamation, fellowship, and service. The vision opens with a good summary of our life together: "By preaching the Gospel and giving comfort to those in need, we will prepare servants to reach the churched and the unchurched with the message of God's grace."

Title, subject of a favorite recent sermon: I don't title sermons anymore because I found that titles decided upon early in the week often have little to do with the sermon by the time it is prepared and preached on Sunday morning. I also believe that titles and outlines can be too confining and directive to those listening to sermons. Scripture teaches us that the Spirit of God blows where it wills, and that it's beyond our human control. That's a holy process, and I don't want to confine it to my own understanding of a particular passage.

Favorite hymn: "O Day Full of Grace" Because it speaks the good news so clearly. I particularly like the last verse which reads, "When we on that final journey go/ That Christ is for us preparing/ We'll gather in song, our hearts aglow/ All joy of the heavens sharing/ And walk in the light of God's own place/ With angels his name adoring." To be singing with "hearts aglow" even in the face of death is a strange image but one that well describes our Christian hope.

Favorite scripture: Romans 3:23-24, which tells us that "since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ." This verse tells it like it is, that grace is a gift. Period. We invent all kinds of ways to justify ourselves before God, but Christ has already done that for us. Because we're fine with God, our job is to serve our neighbor who is in need.