Bryan Simon is the new pastor at First Congregational Church.
His first day was Oct. 21.
Simon said he took the long route to becoming a pastor.
He said it took him a while to find what he wanted to do after college, and when he finally decided to pursue religion, it took him some time to find where he fit.
A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, Simon graduated from Central High School in 2002.
Following high school he attended the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally he decided to pursue a career in education; however, after a year and a half in the program, he realized it wasn’t the right fit for him.
“I started my undergrad with the thought that I was supposed to be a teacher ... but the idea even then was it was something I could do to help people,” he said. “If anything about what I’ve been trying to accomplish in my life is rooted in anything, it’s service and helping people.”
Once Simon came to terms that being a teacher wasn’t his path, he switched his major to history. He started out being a social studies and secondary education major. In 2006 Simon graduated with his bachelor’s degree in history.
After he graduated Simon was unsure of his next step and what he could do with his degree, so he talked to a couple of his former pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran church he attended while growing up. The pastors recommended he go visit a seminary school and sit in a few classes and see if the experience spoke to him.
It did, so he enrolled in the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.
Simon’s next step was figuring out if church ministry was for him and if the denomination he grew up in was the one for him.
Simon said his seminary school was diverse. There were 27 different denominations of Christianity taught there as well as nine other religions. He was exposed to a wide range of perspectives.
“I did my seminary internship at a United Methodist Church, and I wound up doing youth ministry while I was in seminary at an ELCA church,” he said. “Working across, among and beyond all religious and denominational boundaries is something that come very naturally for me just because I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was with no label.”
Simon graduated from seminary in 2010, but he still didn’t have his path figured out. After graduating Simon spent some time in Ohio, where he began his ordination process before moving to South Dakota, where he served at a small church.
Simon said he and the church weren’t the best fit, so when his contract ended, he called an associate minister he met back in Ohio and asked what he can do to find his place and if he saw a path for him.
“He said ‘I absolutely saw something in you. I still see something; I think you are someone that we can work with. If you come back to northwest Ohio, we can do something,’” he said. “So I moved back to Ohio and spent four years there.”
It was long journey to finding his calling, Simon said, but he found it in the United Church of Christ. He was ordained on Oct. 12.
“I did all of my stuff right out of high school and right out of college, the school work was all done, it was just a matter of everything coming together and crystallizing who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to do with it,” he said. “What could have been a much easier transition if I knew what I was doing earlier turned into kind of a wild journey.”
Simon said his time in Tomah so far has been wonderful; the community, and his congregants have been welcoming.
“They have made me and my family feel very welcomed. I’ve got a kid in high school, I’ve got (two) kids in preschool, so I kind of see all of the spectrum of what this area has to offer,” he said. “Tomah is smaller than the Twin Cities, but it’s also twice the size of the town we just left. It has a lot to offer, and I think if the congregation can feel their way through what they want to be, I think we will have a lot to offer.”
Simon said his goal in his first year is to help the church ignite its passion for helping and supporting people in and outside of its walls.
“The hope is to ... show people that we’re still here, that we do have a lot to offer and no matter who you are, we’re going to love you and we’re going to help you if we can and we’re going to support you in whatever way we can,” he said. “Life is a big struggle and we all need help.”