Pastor to be installed at Montgomery area church
MONTGOMERY – The response to what differences are noted between the local church and previous assignments for the Reverend Viking Dietrich would be an emphatic, EVERYTHING!
“There are no nomadic herders here,” said the pastor who will be officially installed at 3 p.m. this Sunday at St. John Lutheran (Brick) Church in rural Montgomery.
After more than 25 years of schooling, teaching and preaching, this will be the Reverend’s first pastorate at a church in the United States. “We’ve never been this close to home before,” the Hershey native said.
A look at his biography shows Dietrich’s works have been mostly in West Africa. His first experience was with the Lutheran World Volunteers at Hillcrest School in Jos, Nigeria in 1984. After a year he was reassigned so his sweetheart from college days became his wife and joined him there. Both had been English students working on certifications as English teachers from Lebanon Valley College.
Later they returned to the states where the husband entered Gettysburg Seminary graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in 1992. Part of his seminary experience included an internship at a Native American reservation in Northern Idaho.
Just as the couple were about to settle into pastoral duties in Idaho, the ELCA Global Mission invited Dietrich to Senegal as an evangelism pastor.
“The new assignment afforded us the opportunity to minister with Muslims. As in Nigeria, improving Christian-Muslim relations was a keen interest to me,” Dietrich said.
Experiencing two vibrant faiths, the missionary faced three monumental questions: What was needed for Africa to develop? How can Christians and Muslims be faithful to their beliefs and live together? How will Christians remain anchored in the face of questions that surpass human understanding?
Before they could enter the new field of harvest, they traveled to France for a year of language training, then on to Dakar, Senegal. The first twelve of sixteen years were spent in holistic non-aggressive ministries such as primary health care, teaching practical skills, veterinarian work and developing and maintaining libraries.
They began literacy work with interfaith dialogue in a country where the literacy rate is about 25 to 30 percent. Though formerly a French colony, French isn’t the primary language; rather it consists mostly of Pulaar and Wolof. “Teaching reading meant they’d need something written in their language to read,” the Christian educator said. A publishing program was initiated which included some Christian materials picked up and used by Senegalese authors. One reason Dietrich valued this period was keeping the national languages of which 22 are indigenous. “Whenever you lose national languages, you also lose grammatical structure and world views related to them,” he said.
From 2005 to 2009, Dietrich remained in Senegal and became the General Secretary for Interdenominational Joint Christian Ministry in West Africa. Its goal, which was accomplished in five years, was to restructure the organization so the West Africans themselves could assume leadership. An additional two years were spent as ECLA’s regional representative for West Africa.
After raising four youngsters mostly in West Africa, Viking and Marissa believe the children have been exposed to wonderful diversities. Currently a son is in Philadelphia, a daughter in Italy and two are in the local school system.
Rev. Dietrich said, “We’re looking forward to settling down in the USA, being part of the Brick Church and working with the people of St. John in service to others. Also helping people experience God and understand our spiritual reality in order to steer through the demands and crises in life.”
The new pastor’s initial service at St. John occurred on Easter Sunday. An installation service is to be held Sunday, April 29 at 3 p.m. officiated by Bishop Robert Driesen of the Upper Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA. The public is cordially invited to attend.