An interview with Pr. Remy Remmers

with Dave Lundahl, Grace Council President

Pastor Remy will start their new call at Grace Monday, December 4.

Dave Lundahl:   So here today, with Pastor Remy. So one of the questions I’m sure that everybody at Grace wants to know is tell us your story. You know, where did you grow up? Why did you decide to become a pastor?

<Pastor Remy (they/them)>
I grew up in the Dallas area of Texas, so grew up with two Midwestern Lutherans who independently moved down to Texas and met via church softball, which apparently got all the couples together. Back in that day.  But they met each other and fell in love and decided to have kids.  So, I grew up in a Lutheran family, ELCA Lutheran ELCA is only a few years older than me, so it’s actually a very young denomination.

If you think about it, I loved growing up in my Lutheran Church, I went to a bunch of the different youth retreats.  It was a large church and so I feel very lucky for the opportunities that I had growing in my faith at King of Glory.  That’s what the church is called, which is a very unique Luther name. Grace is the more common Lutheran name.

Growing up, I realized that I was really good at looking at systems. So, I was like, I’m going to be an engineer.  So, I went to school for engineering science and mechanics with a biomechanic focus and my last uh you.

The summer before my last year, I was a camp counselor in Virginia.  So that’s in the DC area and which day by day there I learned that while I was good at engineering, I wasn’t passionate about it. And that I could have a life where I would do engineering and I would do it well.  But I really wanted to do something that I was passionate about and working with these kids was so much closer to that passion and I teaching them about God and the rituals and like, why I loved Lutheranism, made me realize I wanted to be a pastor.

There are people called to Camp Ministry and I love them so much, and I am so grateful for my time in it.  I knew that it was close, but not quite so that made me decide I want to go to seminary and learn more. where I was very much intimidated by all of these people who studied religion, philosophy and those kind of things right before seminary.

Not too many people studied engineering, so I had to be willing to interrupt the class by raising my hand and being like, what does homiletics mean? What does this word mean? And I just felt like a constant interruption at the beginning because I didn’t know the words.

I didn’t know how to participate in this space because I’m like, I can look at systems.  I can see all these different moving parts and how they intertwine with each other, which made me really good once I started learning about Greek and Hebrew.  And being like OK, this is how the Bible is coming together and how fascinating and loving that is and faithful interpretation throughout many years.

But it was kind of an interesting choice to do engineering beforehand. You can imagine.  I went to seminary at LSTC, which is Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Dave Lundahl: I understand that you took an internship in Omaha NE, is that correct?

<Pastor Remy (they/them)>
So I did.  I did the traditional seminary path, which has two years of schooling, one year of internship, and then another year of schooling – so, a four-year process where you get to move multiple times.

So, my third year I’m in Omaha, NE and this congregation Augustana is Reconciling in Christ, which is our denomination’s way of saying open and affirming towards LGBTQIA plus. And they wanted to live into that identity by having queer interns.  So, I was their second intern and I had just a wonderful time there.

I was interning there during the 2017 year, which is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and so on that Sunday I had shaved my head like a monk and so had that ring around my head showed up to worship in a month’s robe and with the hood up.  And then as soon as Bell practice before service was about to start, I put down the hood and just everyone burst out laughing.

It was a quirky congregation where we could lean into the humor of our tradition while still having those serious conversations.  That really or why we come to faith and fun fact the year after me was Hallie, so I was able to meet Pastor Hallie beforehand before coming here to Corvallis.  The Lutheran world is small.

But this congregation became Reconciling in Christ partly because of their past and the 60s, during the race riots in Omaha, NE.  There they had a pastor who wanted to just have a conversation with the Black Church.  That was just a few blocks away, and this threat of even having a conversation divided the congregation so much that they asked the pastor to leave at the end of it.  All of this is captured in a documentary called a Time for Burning, which I think is still on Amazon Prime.

But Augustana decided that they want their scars visible.  And they’re like, yes, we are ashamed of our past, but we want to openly repent them and be like we haven’t done what we were called to do.  And that is why we in the future want to do better.  So that led them to become RIC many years later and they have decided they don’t want this fracture to happen over the inability to have a conversation. So they have really tried to be able to ground themselves, to have hard conversations, which has led to such health and flourishing.

Dave Lundahl: So how has that all shaped you in terms of your beliefs and approach to being a pastor?

<Pastor Remy (they/them)>
One of my defining-like memories of how I want to be a pastor.  We’re going to rewind a little bit to get to college (seminary).  Then we’ll go back to Augustana.

This past Sunday was the parable of the 10 talents.  And it’s such a hard passage because of how harsh it is. It’s like yes, we’re given these wonderful gifts, and we do something with it and that’s great.  But then the ending left me feeling very uneasy.  And I remember sitting in a college Bible study where I was like, are we just going to ignore the second half of the parable?

What is happening here? And I was told by that pastor, well God doesn’t get angry.  And it hit me in such a weird way and I started just quoting Bible verses in which God got angry.  And I’m like, how does God not get angry when injustice is happening?  Like God gets angry all the time.  There’s nothing wrong with anger in it of itself, and God experiences all these emotions, but I what I realized in that room is as soon as the pastor said something, half of the room became silent.

And they didn’t want to speak up against the pastor.  And that was the moment that I really understood the weight that a pastor has in a room if they say something and don’t create an environment where people can talk to each other.  As soon as you disagree with the pastor, you exit the conversation.

You might be sitting there personally, but you just stopped talking and you don’t feel like you can actually share your faith and your doubts and how to wrestle with this text together.  After that conversation, after that Bible study, half the room came up to me and was like, yeah, I had questions about that passage too, but seeing how they were treating you, I couldn’t name that out loud.

And so then, going into seminary and then going to Augustana, I was like, I want us to always be able to talk about hard things.  There are things happening in the world that leave us shocked and stunned, and we have this wonderful faith grounded in Jesus Christ coming and living here on Earth that we can lean on.  But if we can’t talk about it, wrestle through it, then we’re just sitting in a room together, ignoring the elephant in the room.

God is giving us a faith to handle what is happening in this world, and if we can’t talk about that, is that really a faith we want?  And so that’s what I learned at Augustana is they were such wonderful teachers in the fact that they wanted me to preach about anything that I was passionate about.

They wanted to hear about everything that was happening in the world and their only condition was if you are willing to preach on it, you’ve got to be willing to talk on it later.  And if we have questions about it, we want to be able to talk to you.

And if we ask for an adult forum on that topic later so we can have a better time to process it, because a sermon is not the best way to process all information like that. It’s a key thing to remember that they taught me that, hey, we want you to talk about things; we want you to be passionate and like, talk about how God is interacting with this world; and you can’t just say it from a pulpit.  You got to be able to back it up later and wrestle with us.   So, they gave me such grace and that and the perfect combination of silliness and seriousness, as I said before, by shaving my head like I had been there a couple months.  If it was a very staunchly congregation, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing it, but they loved that and they loved laughing at these funny stories in our faith.

Dave Lundahl: Well, let’s shift gears a little bit to community and the Grace community now. I understand that you have a great love of food and bringing food into community.  And can you talk about that?  What are some of your favorite foods?  What do you like about food and community?

<Pastor Remy (they/them)> 

I am well, First off, lactose intolerant. So, no dairy. I do cheat a little bit with butter.  I decided in my head it’s not dairy, so I know I’m wrong on this.

Don’t correct me, but one of the first things I missed when COVID hit was eating together communally.  Like suddenly I’m in a new place and I have to eat alone all of the time.

And I realized the role of having food and community, which led to doing meal kits here at different food banks where we would take.  Now food, leftover food from farmers market, from gardeners who grew too many zucchinis and were tired of the zucchinis that they are growing.  And so we would make food kits, and this program has been building that this past summer, over 1000 pounds of food, we were able to redistribute to food insecure folks, which is just amazing for a small church to think about how big of an impact they can have.

So food has this amazing role of connecting each other. I love chili.  That’s one of my favorite spaghetti and chili.

I hear you have a chili cook off that I will very much be willing to eat everyone’s chili.

We almost had a food event here in Prineville.  We were going to name it Squash that Hunger and just getting rid of all the squash that was leftover in everyone’s garden where they would just make silly recipes like fried zucchinis.  However, you’re going to get rid of your zucchinis.  It would be a fun event.

So yeah, I’ve always really loved food.  And this capacity of bringing people together of wanted to learn more about cooking but becoming lactose intolerant in my mid 20s says, like, really shifted my cooking expertise.

So I’m still in the process of learning new things, so I’m trying and I don’t know if you know this, but a lot of Asian food is dairy free because they’re also lactose intolerant.  So that is kind of been my most recent exploration because it’s really good food that doesn’t depend on dairy.

Dave Lundahl:  Going through the call process I recall you spoke about loving to go outside the church building and meet people.  Why is that important?

<Pastor Remy (they/them)>
So when I got here (Prineville), we structured my time very intentionally, where Monday and Tuesday I would be in the office and Wednesday and Thursday I would be on visitations so that could be, I would be visiting our various Members that could be I when I first got to town, I sent emails to all the different community leaders that were in town.

So, like our relief nursery, I sent an email saying I would like to meet you.  I wanted to get to know the town and like the other nonprofits and churches in the area that I would work with and having a very two days a week that were very flexible meant that it was easier to schedule these things.

Luckily, and unluckily for me, I entered Prineville in 2020, which meant meeting someone inside a building was not really the safest option.  So, I sent out a wonderful newsletter being like, hey, do you got two chairs on your porch?  Do you have a dog who needs an extra hand on the leash?  Call your pastor.  Go on a walk with your pastor.

I have found that moving my body just makes talking easier anyways, so I walked with so many people and met them where they are.  When people come into the church, they often feel like they have to perform a certain version of themselves.  And you’re able to see people more true to who they are when you meet them in their house where you see their decorations, you see the photos on their wall.

On internship I had dinner at someone’s house, and I did not know that they were brother and sister until I was there and I was like, why is this person on your wall?  Like, why is she in the photo and he was like you didn’t know she was my sister.  And I’m like, you have different last names.   How was I supposed to know this information?

And so, it really gets you into a space of vulnerability with each other.

I had book studies in my sunroom, and I loved being able to open up my space for other people, as well.  It’s a different way of getting to know people, and society has shifted before.

Churches were the Community Center for the town or the county, and now that isn’t the thing.  And there’s a lot more religious trauma these days, so less people are going to just walk into the church uninvited.

So if you can meet people where they are and they can get to know you, then they might start rethinking some of their assumptions that they were making.

Dave Lundahl:
Well, so in getting another community of Grace, what are the things that you like to know about the people of Grace?

<Pastor Remy (they/them)>
I mean, I would love to know the events that ground you, the way that you engage with the liturgical season, the altar, there are four sides.  When do we turn it?  I would love to know the importance of each side of the altar that we have a living history, of the rituals of Grace

And I would love to know why certain things you have done in the past have like grounded you in connected you to Jesus and God in the past and part of my first year at Grace is going to be a mode of learning where I learn about how your traditions are meaningful to you, so that then I can help create more liturgy and rituals that are rooted in our past and still grounded in the context of Corvallis. I can’t do that unless I know how they mean.

What they mean to you and so like, I definitely want a calendar of special events throughout the year.

Having grace with me as I get lost trying to meet you in different places is going to be especially needed.  but I want to learn the stories of grace and why you came to Grace and why you stay, those are two of my favorite questions.

Dave Lundahl:  Well, we’re so looking forward to your arrival here in a couple weeks.  So excited about that.  And thanks for taking the time today and looking forward to this all coming together and we’re all excited.

<Pastor Remy (they/them)>
Yeah, I am so excited to start this chapter with y’all.