Sixty Years Of Service

Despite his unofficial retirement in 1991, Pastor Charles Gustafson is still going strong after six decades in the ministry.

On Sunday, Gustafson presented a sermon as guest pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church to a capacity crowd comprised of nearly 200 people from several congregations to celebrate the 60th anniversary of his ordination.

A 1946 graduate of Jamestown High School, Gustafson has served as head pastor of three churches over the course of his career. He spent approximately 15 of the ensuing years away from the area; first graduating from Lutheran Seminary in Rock Island, Ill., in 1954, then moving on to pastor at Salem Lutheran Church in Williamsport, Pa.

He then served as pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Elmira for a time, before returning to Jamestown in 1970 to serve at Bethel Lutheran Church for the next 21 years. Upon his retirement from Bethel Lutheran, Gustafson became interim pastor and a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran; where friends, family and congregation members past and present gathered Sunday to hear him preach.

According to Norm Owens, a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran, the church welcomed upward of 190 people Sunday morning; which he said is approximately 100 people more than an average service.

Gustafson said the high turnout for the service and reception was a humbling experience.

“This is really overwhelming to me,” he said. “It’s been a great 60 years, and I have always looked forward to sharing the love and grace that God gives to us through Christ. That has been a real big part of my ministry. All in all, it doesn’t mean that everything was hunky-dory all the time, but I would say that we had a real beneficial, helpful and meaningful experience; one that has been blessed both by the congregation and by the presence of God in our lives.”

A reception was held following the Sunday morning service, during which Robert Kasting, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran, read letters written to Gustafson by some of his former associates who were unable to attend.

“Throughout my 31 years as a pastor, I have returned again and again to the lessons you taught me during my intern year at Bethel,” wrote Jeff Laustsen, a former intern of Gustafson’s who is now pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Stratford, Ontario. “I have noted frequently throughout the years that my year in Jamestown was the most important year of my seminary education, and that all you taught me has given me a solid foundation upon which I have continued to build my practice of serving the church as a pastor.”

Alan Anderson, interim pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, also shared some memories and lessons he had learned from his interactions with Gustafson.

“I’ve found a lot of things about ministry that happen in everyday ministry life that I attribute to Chuck,” he said. “One of those things was ‘be aware of the passage of time.’ But now I am the recipient of his 21 years of ministry at Bethel, and I want him to know that his legacy lives on at Bethel. So I want to thank him for his mentoring, and his example.”

Gustafson then addressed the reception attendees, which included the first couple he married as a pastor at Salem Lutheran – Jack and Barbara Uplinger. The Uplingers eventually moved to Elmira when Gustafson was pastor of Bethany Lutheran, and made the trip to Jamestown to celebrate with him.

“There were many times when it caused me to smile, but there were some times that caused me not to smile,” he said. “But that’s par for the course, I think, for any of us. We all have occasions where we are on top of things, and then there are other times when we are way down in the valley.”

He concluded by thanking his wife Esther, whom he married on Aug. 29, 1953.

“I have been so fortunate to have this gal as my wife, and to share in my ministry as well,” Gustafson said. “She has sat through 2,500 of my sermons, and I never once caught her sleeping through any of them.”