Twenty years ago an experienced and compassionate pastor with a special energy for social justice and evangelism came to North Central College to become campus chaplain.
The relationship between the Rev. Dr. Lynn Pries ’67 and North Central College was a match made in heaven, so to speak, as he took up the call of campus ministry and maintaining the connection among North Central College, the United Methodist Church and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.
The history of North Central’s relationship to the church began in 1861 on day one, when A. A. Smith, president of the Evangelical Association’s Greensburg Seminary in Ohio, was selected as the College’s first president. By 1876, the Union Biblical Institute was preparing ministers on campus. In 1913, the Evangelical Theological Seminary opened on the north side of campus, which today, as North Central’s Kiekhofer Hall, represents sacred ground for developing young ministers and housing campus ministry and worship.
After growing up in the farming community of Eyota, MN, Pries came to North Central as a student at the urging of his pastor, the Rev. Dale Wordelman ’56. Pries was already thinking about the ministry even though he decided to enroll in math classes. “Becoming a math teacher was my back-up plan—but I had asked Rev. Wordelman what a call to the ministry would feel like,” says Pries.
As a student, his faith life was nourished by the Rev. George St. Angelo ’43, who was a model for those who wanted to be engaged in social justice and civil rights. “George was definitely a mentor,” says Pries, who graduated from Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETS) in 1971. He then received a series of appointments to churches in the Illinois communities of Channahon, Aurora, Cicero and Worth. Along the way, he completed his doctor of ministry at Garrett-ETS, graduating in 1986.
Pries embraced the opportunity to become North Central’s chaplain in 1994. “When I was appointed to the position, I was worried that I could never be as gifted as George, who was my chaplain,” he says. “But I also thought about how important campus ministry was to me as a student. And I was proud of North Central and I wanted very much to be part of the staff.”
There was a robust offering of ministry activities to manage, including the Appalachian Service Project annual trips, New Beginnings Vacation Bible School and New Visions music and drama touring group. As the part-time staff for those ministries was reduced, Pries developed a model of student leadership that continues today. He also helped to boost the popularity of alternative spring break service trips.
His outstanding ministry at the College was recognized in 2001 when he was named Chaplain of the Year by the United Methodist Foundation for Christian Higher Education. He described his role as a “ministry of presence,” being visible throughout campus to students, faculty, staff and alumni.
Pries especially enjoyed participating in the renovation of historic Kiekhofer Hall and Koten Chapel, which was completed in 2006. Early on, Pries met with architects and the late John “Jack” ’51 and sister Jane Koten ’55 to develop the plans. Their gift was instrumental in the project getting underway and they helped with many critical decisions. “It was really important to Jack that the campus ministry offices be moved closer to the chapel,” Pries explains.
In more recent years, Pries worked to establish the Albright-Wesley Society, a funding source specifically designed to support student ministry activities and scholarships. But Pries has always felt that his greatest reward came from helping young people discern their calling to church vocations and prepare for the ministry. Statistics predict a shortage of 5,000 clergy in the United Methodist Church nationwide due to retirements in the next 15 years. And North Central’s commitment to prepare students for theology degrees remains steadfast. “And that makes it hard to retire . . . when I see the fantastic young people we have on campus who want to go into ministry.”