Church has always been a big part of Pastor Amy Dinkle - VanValkenburg’s life.

Whether it was singing in the choir, serving as a church secretary, or running back and forth between two churches to attend both services, it’s never been a once a week obligation. Most of her life has revolved around a devotion to church.

“I was never one of those kids that complained about going to church,” she said. “I would go to church and sing for the choir and then go out to the community church and sing for them.”

It was only natural that her progression in the church led her to have a desire to pastor a church, which she is now doing at Joyful Spirit United Methodist Church in Wadena.

VanValkenburg grew up on a small beef cattle farm in central Minnesota and attended a small country church near Osakis. Her mother was Catholic, so she also attended the local Catholic church, giving her a unique perspective on the two church bodies.

At one point, VanValkenburg had to make a choice. While both her country church and the Catholic churches are dear to her, she was not able to pastor at the Catholic church, so she made a decision to pursue her calling to pastor with the Methodist Church.

She recalls speaking with her priest at 17 years old about her future. At that time she said that perhaps someday she would have his job. He responded that she might, perhaps things would change by that time.

“But it wasn’t, so I am,” VanValkenburg said. She said she continues to have a love for the Catholic Church, but that the Methodist Church is her home. It has allowed her to fulfill a lifelong goal.

She said that she began working to get the proper education to serve as a certified lay speaker to fill in for pulpit supply for Communities of Faith in Clarissa, Eagle Bend and Clotho for Pastor Kali Christiansen. But after her first time at the pulpit, she realized this was what she was meant to do.

“It just felt so good,” she said.

Things progressed quickly from there.

Her first Sunday service at Joyful Spirit was June 30 and she’s quickly been immersed in the work, including performing the service at a parishioners funeral Monday, July 15. But she’s also involved in the transformation that Joyful Spirit has been going through, namely the plan to sell both the Deer Creek church and the Wadena church in an effort to merge the two bodies into one church building. The Deer Creek church sold last year and the Wadena church could be selling soon. At that time, the church plans to build a new building between Wadena and Deer Creek, as a completion of the union. It’s an effort to take two churches that have seen lower attendance and work together to forge a stronger future together.

It’s that unusual union that had VanValkenburg excited about joining this church. Not that it was her decision. She was appointed to the position. She said the appointment is a good fit, though.

“How can you go wrong with that name, immediately I was warm to that,” VanValkenburg said. “That name and then knowing that two congregations, completely separate, decided to come together, sell their churches, and build a church, who does that? That told me that there are people here with an amazing amount of love and compassion and God in their heart … yeah I want to be a part of it.”

It all happened considerably faster than she imagined. She was thinking it would be five to six years down the road, not a matter of months.

Prior to answering the call to pastor, she followed the footsteps of her mother, teaching for over a decade. VanValkenburg was formerly the supervisor for the Central Minnesota Adult Basic Education Consortium, serving 31 school districts across the central region of Minnesota.

Meanwhile, Thomas, VanValkenburg’s husband, works as a web developer for United Health Group. The two have three children. Lydia (16) is a full-time student at St. Cloud University in the PSEO program; sons Elliot (15) and Sawyer (9) attend school in Osakis.

She plans to continue to serve on the Long Prairie School board until her four-year term is complete.

VanValkenburg and her family enjoy the outdoors, camping and hiking. She also enjoys reading or taking in a live show, musical or play. The family enjoys adventures and are ready for their next one here in Wadena.

VanValkenburg looks to create community that stretches far beyond Sunday mornings. Her passion for ministry lies in speaking “to the human issues in the contemporary world from a sound biblical and theological foundation as historically demonstrated in the United Methodist traditions, as is written in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church,” she wrote.