Lake Country Faces: Crosslake pastor says the calling was gradual
Bill Traphagan of Mission of the Cross Lutheran Church brings analytical practicality to his sermons
CROSSLAKE — Some pastors have a single moment or a single person that helped them realize their calling.
Then there's Bill Traphagan, pastor of Mission of the Cross Lutheran Church in Crosslake, who followed a path that gradually led him from one thing — accounting — toward another in the church.
Traphagan was born and raised in McCook, Nebraska, where he lived with two sisters, a mother and father. One sister was older by eight years.
"She got the great privilege of babysitting the younger two kids," Traphagan said.
The Traphagan parents both worked in the same factory for a company that primarily made garden hoses. When not working, the family was big into the outdoors. Traphagan's father was a very prominent gun safety educator.
"He was an avid outdoorsman, hunting and fishing," Traphagan said. "He taught gun safety to not everyone, but most people in southwest Nebraska over 35 years."
Living in McCook, Traphagan didn't always know he would go on to be a pastor. It was a seed planted in his mind by his pastor at the time he was confirmed.
"He said, 'You're going into high school, have you ever thought about it? Because you love the Lord, and you love his people and that's really what being a pastor is,'" Traphagan said. "He was the first to kind of put that on my radar."
Even then, it was only a possibility. He was still deciding his path. His next pastor encouraged him as well. By the time he was choosing colleges, Traphagan decided to choose one where he could pursue at least two options. He chose Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska.
"I was kind of keeping the door to seminary open while also pursuing some of my other passions, like accounting and business administration," Traphagan said.
Around his second semester, Traphagan realized he was coming to a decision point. He couldn't do both career paths, so he could either continue in accounting and business administration and become a very faithful layperson, or he could go to seminary and help lead a church with knowledge of money management.
"It came down to, which one of these is going to have the greatest impact?" Traphagan said. "There's not necessarily a shortage of good business people, but there is a shortage of pastors."
Traphagan earned a bachelor's degree in business administration to satisfy the requirements of entering seminary and to supplement his eventual career with the church.
"It's no secret that most church bodies' membership is declining," Traphagan said. "There may come a point where we still need churches, but is that going to look like a congregation being able to give a full salary? That's ideal, but there may come a time when pastors need to know they might have to supplement their income."
Of course, business administration can also help someone in a pastor position to make decisions that help the church stay financially healthy and meet their needs. Traphagan uses those skills now as treasurer for the church's South Asian mission work.
During his college years, Traphagan met his wife, Stephanie. The relationship wasn't instantaneous. They first met when Stephanie transferred from Concordia University in Chicago for a short time.
They kept randomly crossing paths in different places like camp, getting to know one another better each time, until his last summer in seminary they became an official couple who later married. They now have four children together.
Traphagan came to Crosslake in January, succeeding Pastor Les Uhrinak, who retired. He brings with him a practical approach to the Word. Just as a school might teach math through repetition, Traphagan uses repetition to make the scripture easier to remember, quote and understand.
"One of the things that is kind of a priority is that we want to have repetition," Traphagan said. "This is one of the benefits of using the liturgy. Even if we're walking down the street I can speak one part of the liturgy (to a member from the church), and they're going to be able to finish my sentence.
"And we have a depth of understanding about what those words drawn from Scriptures say," he said. "So part of it is repetition, and there's a certain simplicity in doing something well, and doing it just more or less the same way."
Traphagan is also practical in that he wants his congregation to see their faith as a source of hope for the present, and not just the future.
"Sometimes we set everything off in the distance and say, 'Oh, well, things are going to be better in heaven,'" he said. "And that's true, but it also needs to be something practical, and what do we have now?"
Faced with hardship, Traphagan wants to equip his congregation not just to expect things to get better in the future, but also to reflect on what the scripture says about their struggles in the present. He is determined to serve properly as a pastor and "under shepherd."
The under shepherd does not simply confine themselves in the barn, but they go into the field to find and tend the flock, he said.
"When I came, I began making a visit to every single member of our parish," Traphagan said. "And we're nearly done with that. We have a couple of snowbirds that have just come back that I haven't been out to see just yet. That's not going to be the only visit. I want to see them at the grocery store. I want to see them at ballgames. I want to see them at events in the community. I want them to invite me over to their house. I want to invite them over to my house. I want us to be in each others' lives."
Traphagan wants going to church to be like going home for a holiday.
"We're going to take what we do well. We're going to continue to do that. We're going to build on it," he said. "But also we're going to make it even more of a family atmosphere."
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.