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The Rev. Michael Sheppard is the new pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural La Crescent, pictured here, and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hokah. The small Houston County parishes are his second calling, as he served two churches in Michigan prior to his arrival. (Henry-HCN)

Michael Sheppard doesn’t remember telling his mother in eighth grade that he wanted to be a pastor, though she’s certain of it. Whether he remembers it or not, it must have been true, because Pastor Sheppard is now the new head of Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural La Crescent and Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hokah.

He was installed at the churches on Sunday.

Actually, Sheppard’s career as a pastor began far earlier than his newly assigned parishes in Houston County. The Saginaw, Mich., native started his pastoral work in 2001 at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Mich., and St. John’s Lutheran Church in Mio. But his upbringing in the faith started much earlier.

Sheppard attended Christian day school, a Christian prep school and seminary, and then went on to Northwestern College in Watertown, Wis., and Martin Luther College in New Ulm to earn his bachelor of liberal arts degree. That was followed by a two-year stint in seminary at Wisconsin Lutheran in Mequon, Wis., then one year as a vicar at Christ Lutheran Church in Zumbrota. He finished up his seminary work back at Wisconsin Lutheran.

Other than his revelation to his mother after catechism class, Sheppard said there isn’t one moment he can point to where he knew pastoral work was what he wanted to do with his life. Instead, it was a gradual feeling through the encouragement of good role models.

“After my vicar year working with the pastor at Christ Lutheran, I came back with the convictions on what I was going to do,” he said. “I don’t know if there was a specific time where all of a sudden it dawned on me. … When I got back to the seminary, a professor asked me what I was thinking. I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

And that’s what he’s done for the past 11 years, somewhat surprisingly, in Michigan.

“I was honestly expecting to go anywhere else just because going to your home state in not the normal thing sometimes,” he said. “It was just the way it worked out.”

But now he and his wife are in the La Crescent area after Sheppard accepted his second call. Though acknowledging it was hard to leave the people he served behind, he decided it was time for a new opportunity to get to know some new people and see some new scenery.

“And I think my gifts that God has given me can serve these congregations well,” he said, “and I can do well here with the people here and serve them.”

The Sheppards like the small country churches and the people who belong to them, but admitted they’ll enjoy the convenience of a larger city nearby. At his previous location, on the edge of a national forest, the nearest Walmart was at least a half hour away.

“It’s kind of nice to be closer,” he said.

Sheppard comes to Immanuel and Zion an open book. He doesn’t necessarily have any goals for what he’d like to accomplish, but instead is willing to listen to the needs and desires of the people and preach the Gospel the best way he knows how.

“I’m willing to be there with them for whatever they need me to do,” he said. “Preaching, teaching, the normal pastor things. I enjoy those things, so it’ll be nice to step back into that with a new group of people.”

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