Zion Lutheran welcomes Rev. Muters

Rev. Matthew Muters installed at Dysart church

Zion’s newly called minister Rev. Matthew Muters – aka Pastor Matt – smiles while sitting in Zion Lutheran Church’s sanctuary in Dysart last Friday, Dec. 17, two days ahead of his installation. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

It’s been a challenging past five years at Zion Lutheran Church in Dysart but with the installation of their new pastor Rev. Matthew Muters on Sunday, Dec. 19, the congregation is looking to the future with relief, joy, and hope.

Zion’s longtime minister Rev. James Radatz retired in 2017, setting off a series of events no one in the congregation would have predicted as they went about the task of calling a new Lutheran pastor.

After working for more than a year, Zion received word in the spring of 2019 that Rev. Erik Heskin, 46, of Escanaba, Michigan had accepted their call, but a mere two weeks before Pastor Heskin was set to arrive at Zion, he suddenly passed away and the call process was back to square one.

In January 2020 – just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world – Rev. Kimberly Swenson accepted Zion’s call.

Pastor Swenson, a native Iowan who had been in ministry in California prior to Zion, unfortunately left the church after less than a year.

Photo by Soren M. Peterson

As the pandemic continued to rage across the landscape in late 2020, Zion again found itself pastorless.

Various ministers have provided pulpit supply to the congregation in the months since Pastor Swenson’s exit – including retired Pastor Phil Borleske of Vinton – but it was mostly the church body itself keeping everything afloat, especially church secretary Kathleen Alpers.

Zion’s new minister Pastor Muters did not immediately accept Zion’s call, he told the congregation back in November during a sermon, due to the various “red flags” he’d been warned about.

Fortunately for Zion, Pastor Muters himself is a fairly unconventional pastor – his undergrad degree is in law enforcement and criminology, while his work background includes bouncing at a heavy metal bar – and Zion’s “authenticity” intrigued him.

Even a tornado hitting the church parsonage weeks before he and his wife Yvette, a pharmacy technician, and young son Elias, age 8, were set to move in did not deter his resolve to accept Zion’s call.

Pastor Matt Muters (right) smiles while being presented to the congregation following his installation as Zion Lutheran Church’s pastor on Sunday, Dec. 19. Rev. Kevin T. Jones (left), Bishop of the Northeastern Iowa Synod, installed Pastor Muters. Photo by Soren M. Peterson

During a sit-down with the Telegraph, Pastor Muters quoted Ephesians 4:12 in his answer to the question, ‘Why Zion?’

“Pastors are given to the church to equip the Saints for their ministry,” Pastor Muters said, paraphrasing verse 12. “A lot of other churches, a pastor has to convince [the congregation] and equip them first … [Zion] has had many unique, well rooted, theological pastors who have been hands off, which has lifted the vocation of the people in a way that has engaged the body, the community.”

Pastor Muters said from day one he felt what he repeatedly calls an “authenticity” at Zion.

“It’s not just that I can pastor here, but I can be a person.”

Pastor Muters was born outside Chicago – where his parents met during a production of the musical “Carousel” – but raised in Cedar Rapids. He grew up performing community theater, first taking the stage at the age of four.

Singing, dancing, and performing have long been a part of his life. He sang a few opening lines from a Broadway musical during his first sermon at Zion.

Ministry has also long been a part of Pastor Muters’ life, but not necessarily in the traditional format.

“My entire life my parents have done foster care,” Pastor Muters said. They’ve adopted eleven foster care kids and fostered more than 100. That’s been their primary ministry my entire life. My mother felt called to be a mother of the world.”

Growing up, the Muters family attended First Lutheran Church in downtown Cedar Rapids, but Pastor Muters said he is the first in his family to formally pursue the ministry.

“God wouldn’t leave me alone — I tried to run from [the call to ministry] … I just never at first could picture myself [as a minister] … I expected to never make it through seminary because I am one to ask questions.”

After graduating from Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque in 2002 – which took place following several years of post-college employment in the field of social work while moonlighting as a bouncer and custodian – Pastor Muters’ first call was to help plant a church – Seeds of Faith – in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

“It’s not usual to call a brand new pastor to plant a church,” Pastor Muters said. “But I ended up having the perfect team for it and now I have lifelong friends with [Kevin and Rita] Eikamp – [their daughter] Emily was a member of the [Mt. Vernon] church.”

Pastor Muters said when he interviewed at Zion, call committee member Kevin Eikamp recognized his name and face and asked his daughter Emily to verify – a “green flag” and one of many he said he encountered on his journey to Zion.

Following Mt. Vernon, Pastor Muters spent roughly a year at a parish just outside Madison, Wisconsin. A church with “major, major conflict,” as he described it.

“Nothing grows without working against the grain,” Pastor Muters said. “Churches have trouble with that sometimes.”

He then headed west to Ogden, Utah where he spent seven years in a similarly challenging ministry before being called back to Iowa – to Mason City where he was in tandem ministry at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church and St. Paul Lutheran Church.

Since beginning his ministry at Zion on October 25, Pastor Muters said it’s been “hectic” due to the many funerals but that is not necessarily anything new, he added – it’s a natural part of church life.

Hectic or otherwise, Pastor Muters said he and his family made the right choice in coming to Zion.

“I really do believe that God will use us no matter what choice we make … but there are certain calls … God definitely works in that and through that.”

As Pastor Muters pulled into the parsonage driveway for the first time a couple of

months ago, a song was playing on the radio he had never heard before – a song from the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”

As he parked in front of his house – a house that barely two months earlier had been hit by an EF-1 tornado – the word “home” sang out on the radio.

No more red flags, Pastor Muters told his congregation during that very first sermon back in November, he instead sees only “green flags.”

After five years and one long journey, the people of Zion Lutheran Church seem to agree – heartily clapping their hands following the completion of last Sunday’s installation service as Rev. Matthew Muters turned to face them, a smile beaming across his face.