Back to Bayonne
Grace Lutheran welcomes a new pastor—but an old friend
by By Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Jul 24, 2013 | 6887 views | 0 0 comments | 143 143 recommendations | email to a friend | print
NEW PASTOR IN TOWN -- The Reverend Gary A. Grindeland takes the reins at Grace Lutheran Church.
NEW PASTOR IN TOWN -- The Reverend Gary A. Grindeland takes the reins at Grace Lutheran Church.
“My undergraduate degree is in English,” said The Reverend Gary A. Grindeland, who is to be officially recognized as the new pastor of Grace Lutheran Church on July 28.

While he loved teaching in public schools and is still involved in teaching and coaching, he realized that for him there was something incomplete in his offerings to students in public schools, an aspect of life that pushed him toward a career in the church.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong supporter of public education,” he said. “But I felt there was more that I could be doing.”

A native of Ames, Iowa, Pastor Grindeland earned his bachelor’s degree from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. In 1980, he graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, with a Master of Divinity degree. Grindeland is married, with two college-age children.

Grindeland is the former pastor and executive director of Seafarers and International House, a maritime ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, well-known for its port visitation and 84-room guesthouse in New York City. Recently, he resigned as senior pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Delafield, Wisconsin, a Lake Country suburb of Milwaukee. In that post, Grindeland oversaw an operation that included a 38-year-old preschool. He also established an intern program with two seminaries, Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, and nearby Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wisconsin. He still serves on the Foundation Board for Nashotah House.

Grindeland was best known in Delafield for his outreach to the larger community. Christ the King Lutheran became an active member of the Delafield Chamber of Commerce and established a confirmation and mentoring program with its neighbor St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy. It helped to create a growing relationship between these institutions, Rogers Memorial Hospital, and several other churches in the area. Two years ago Grindeland helped create a community Thanksgiving dinner that served more than 700 people last year.

Grindeland has preached in more than 500 churches in congregations from Iowa to Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and New York.

“People need to be cared for. They need to be shown respect. And they need the overwhelming love of Christ,” he said “That’s all we are doing, being connected to Christ, connected to each other, and connected to community.”

Grindeland is not new to Bayonne or to Grace Lutheran Church, which was

A regular weekly stop while at Seafarers and International House since Grace’s pastor serves as port chaplain for the Searfarers.

“I loved coming to Bayonne,” he said “In fact, I spent a large portion of my free time in Bayonne. I would recreate here. Bayonne has some terrific food. You can get almost anything you want here. I also love the water and spend a lot of time on it. I love to fish.”

He said he also feels at home here because Bayonne is in the center of the port activities, and recently he did a blessing of the fleet at Robbins Reef Marina.

Bringing the church to the community

But his role has changed on his return, since he has a mission to take the church out “on his back” and into the community.

“Grace Lutheran is the last Lutheran congregation in Bayonne and southern Jersey City. Without this Lutheran presence, the larger community also suffers,” Grindeland said. “At one time, Bayonne had six or seven Lutheran churches. Now it has one for all of Bayonne and a portion of Jersey City.”

Grace English Lutheran Church was established in 1907. At that time, the Bayonne area was served by six other Lutheran churches in Bayonne, many with Norwegian, Swedish, or German roots. Today only Grace Lutheran remains. St. Paul’s German Lutheran Church combined with Grace Lutheran church in 1975, and elements of St. Paul’s history and architecture were given to Grace Lutheran. Last year, Zion Lutheran in Jersey City closed its doors. Several members of Zion have now made their home at Grace Lutheran. Grace Lutheran is a diverse congregation made up of Lutherans from all over the area in addition to a wide variety of other Christian traditions, from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal and from the Church of South India to Caribbean Anglican.

This comes at a time when Lutherans are gearing up for the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold moves in 1517 to bring the church back to the people in what many recognize as the start of the Reformation of the Christian Church.

But closer to home, Grindeland will work to support Grace Church’s work with the Hand-in-Hand Music School, the Girls Unite Leadership School, and Grace Sale, a store with clothing and household goods that can be purchased at modest prices.

“Our tag line is `Connected to Christ and each other,’ and I’ll be strapping the church on my back and bringing it out in the community,” he said, noting that the church building has been completely renovated and is ready to go. “But I’m not doing anything at the expense of other congregations,” he said. “I’m very ecumenical, and I believe that we should work together and that we are stronger if we develop a relationship with each other. I’ve been to five masses so far, and I go to church every Saturday to be renewed.”

A veteran of natural disasters

Before coming to Delafield, Grindeland served as vice president of Church and Community Relations for Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, and state coordinator for Lutheran Disaster Response.

Grindeland said during his time there he worked with families who had been impacted by two, 500-year floods in a nine-month period, along with a January tornado.

“This didn’t get as much press as the flooding in Iowa, but it was very bad,” he said. “We ended up providing crisis counseling for many of the 45,000 FEMA registrations and provided long-term recovery through local county long-term recovery committees. It was a mess.”

The back-to-back disasters there are reminiscent of events in the East and the slow recovery many communities are struggling with after Hurricane Sandy.

“Water will find a way, and the damages are long-term, and the recovery is oh so slow,” Grindeland said. Last year, Grindeland co-authored a manual on long-term recovery from a disaster, based on best practices and lessons learned from his experiences. Grindeland still serves on the Wisconsin VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) Long-Term Recovery Committee.

“I really feel that Bayonne and Grace Lutheran are poised for greatness,” Grindeland said. “The church has been renovated and there is an influx of new faces in the area. The signs are positive for a diverse community that is slowly being gentrified. The church needs to be on the forefront to meet and welcome these changes. I have high energy and a devotion to my work.” Grindeland, a 33-year veteran of the ordained ministry, said he makes monthly trips to Milwaukee to see his family.

Coming back to the New York area has also brought his sports preferences into geographic alignment. An avid fan of the New York Yankees, he said his love of the pinstripes in Milwaukee was often seen as treason.

“It’s like a dream come true coming back to the East Coast,” he said.

Grindeland will be installed at the 10 a.m. service at Grace Lutheran Church at 836 Avenue C on July 28.

Al Sullivan may be reached at

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