The North Bend Eagle


North Bend United Presbyterian church
Michael Hill's first official church service in North Bend will be this Sunday [June 14, 2015]. He is pictured with wife Kristi and children, from left, Elizabeth, Isaac, Emma and Isiah, who does indeed have two legs.

Hill answers call to North Bend church

by Nathan Arneal
Published 6/10/15

When Michael Hill was a child, he told people he wanted to be a minister when he grew up.

But when he grew up, he entered the family construction business instead. After a few years of being heavily involved in his local church in Springfield, Mo., he revisited the idea of being a pastor at the age of 30. His wife Kristi liked the idea. Hill then approached people he figured would set him straight, tell him he wouldn’t be good enough. Tell him the ministry wouldn’t be a good fit.
When he broached the idea with his minister, his pastor asked him what took him so long.

“I figured we would have had this conversation 10 years ago,” the minister told Hill.

Even his parents gave him a vote of confidence.

“When I went to my parents, I figured they would say, ‘There’s no way you’re taking my grandchildren 500 miles away,’” Hill said, “but they were very supportive.”

Finding no one to talk him out of it, Hill took the plunge. Five years later he was in North Bend, Nebraska, accepting the call to be the pastor for the United Presbyterian Church. His first official service in the pulpit will be this Sunday, June 14.

Fresh out of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa at age 34, Hill was like any other new college graduate this spring. He needed a job. He sifted through hundreds of churches across the nation on a Presbyterian website that connects pastors with churches seeking pastors. He sent out dozens of resumes and cover letters.

“I cast a wide net of probably about 50 churches,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I had a place to go after seminary, because after graduation they don’t let you live there any more.”

Churches from Colorado to New York and everywhere in between responded. One of those churches was in North Bend, whom he first heard from in early March.

After several telephone and Skype interviews, the Hill family set up a tour of potential churches in April. The first stop was in Ohio, followed by visits to North Bend, North Dakota and New York.

The tour never got any farther than Nebraska.

“When Kristi and I came here, there’s just that idea of God’s call, that this is where God wants you to be,” Hill said. “We felt that walking through the halls here when we first showed up.”

Further research on the town and church backed up the Hills’ initial feelings.

“Everything we heard about North Bend was positive: wonderful schools, wonderful community,” Michael Hill said. “It just seemed like it was that perfect fit.”

It also helped to have family rooting for the move. Kristi’s family lives in the Waverly area, where she spent part of her childhood.

“(Kristi) knew what a Runza was. She’s knows what Valentino’s is,” Hill said with a laugh. “Kristi’s mother was ecstatic about the idea of her grandchildren being only an hour away. We had always lived six hours away.”

Hill conducted a neutral-pulpit service in Lincoln that the North Bend search committee attended. He was then invited to preach in front of the North Bend congregation May 10. Afterwards he was unanimously approved as the church’s next pastor.

For the Hills, the feeling of excitement was mutual.

“The church is very healthy, from everything we could read,” Hill said. “The church, age-wise, is pretty diverse. There’s a lot of young kids the Sunday we were here. That’s a great sign. There were also the older adults. The church is kind of the one place you have that intergenerational connection, where older adults and young children still mix and talk to each other. That’s one of the things that we just loved seeing when we were here.”

Michael and Kristi Hill are bringing their four children with them to North Bend: Emma, 7; Isaiah, 5; Elizabeth, 3; and five-month-old Isaac.

While this will be his first go-around as a full-time pastor, Hill said seminary prepared him for many of the struggles that lie ahead, especially a stint when part of his training had him he serving as a hospital chaplain. In that role he experienced many of the highs and lows of ministry and counseling.

“How can we proclaim God’s grace and love and perfectness in a world that has so much pain?” he said. “Those are difficult things to do. It’s really hard, when you’re sitting with a child that’s been abused who may feel that no one loves them, to say ‘God loves you and God cares for you.’”

Hill said he strives to have a consistent theme in his services and hopes to send the congregation home with lessons that will apply to their everyday lives.

“I believe that God’s word is alive and breathing and can speak to issues we have today,” he said.

Still, it is another part of the service that he points to as the most significant. The declaration of forgiveness following the call to confession is a powerful moment, he said.

“There’s more hope in that section of a service probably than any other, and I think it’s one of those times that gets glossed over,” Hill said. “Declaring that we’re forgiven, declaring we’re God’s people, that should be and can be more powerful than anything I would have to say in a 15-minute sermon.”

In an interesting quirk of coincidence, after just a few weeks on the job Hill will become North Bend’s longest-tenured minister. Both the Lutheran and Catholic churches will also be undergoing the transition to new pastors in the coming weeks.

Hill also won’t have to wait long to be introduced to the greater North Bend community. His third church service in North Bend will be leading the community worship in the city park as a part of Old Settlers weekend.

“I’ve been doing as much research as I can as quickly as possible to find out what I’m supposed to do,” he said. “Luckily I know there are people who have been here many years that can tell me. It’s kind of exciting and scary at the same time. I’m looking forward to it.”

The Hills have been moving into the Presbyterian manse over the past week. The kids have already gotten a start on making new friends as members of local ball teams. On Sunday, he attended the service led by interim minister Jim Gobel, Michael’s last chance to sit in a pew as a regular churchgoer in the North Bend church. Next week, he’ll be the one up front.

“I’m looking forward to starting here,” Hill said. “We’d love for as many people as would like to come out. We’re here every Sunday.
“Except for Old Settlers, when we’ll be there.”


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