Everyone knows where to find a pastor on Sunday, but what do priests and ministers do the rest of the week? The Reverend Gary A. Grindeland of Grace Lutheran Church says, “A clergy’s work is never done.”
This, despite the fact that Grindeland is also a committed family man with a wife, two grown children, and a four-year-old granddaughter, who live in the Midwest. Grindeland commutes from Milwaukee, where he lives with his wife, though he only gets to spend time there every two months or so.
Grindeland first visited Bayonne while serving as executive director of Seafarers International House, an Evangelical Lutheran social assistance and advocacy group that helps travelers and immigrants.
“I was always impressed with the character of the community and its potential for growth,” he says. “From Seafarers, I moved back to Milwaukee but never took my eyes off of Bayonne.”
For the past three years, he’s worked here tirelessly.
“You are 24-7 and your schedule can and does change with a telephone call,” Grindeland says, as he enjoys his ritual of morning coffee.
“I am always excited about meeting someone new and look forward to the stranger I have yet to meet,” he says. “One of the ways I do this is by having morning coffee at The Chandelier. I usually bring a couple of books for study, but any reading melts away when someone sits down by me at the counter.”
His men’s group meets at The Chandelier on the second Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 11a.m for a social breakfast.
Grindeland also serves coffee and distributes water from the lawn of his church, on Avenue C between West 37th and 38th Streets. This is a way of welcoming community members and forming new bonds.
“My work is really about relationships,” he says. “I am an example of hope and love for the people I serve and the larger community. Presence is absolutely critical and necessary to establish and maintain a relationship with other people. It’s about bringing the church to other people.”
Curtains for the Coffee Break
Grindeland and I can’t linger over breakfast because he has to bring the church to yet another person. Today it is an injured parishioner who hasn’t been able to make it to services. We head downtown to the home of Mary Kimak.
Grindeland leads me up a steep flight of stairs and introduces me to Kimak, a 90-year-old member of the congregation, who maintains a “phone tree” for worshippers like herself who have trouble getting to church. Grindeland says that she is “sharp as a tack” and is affectionately known as “Mother Mary.” Kimak is a sort of ambassador between him and other churchgoers who are hospitalized or homebound.
“Pastor Gary is wonderful,” Kimak says. “He’s a workaholic. The church is getting much fuller because of him. He’s down-to-earth, and I have the highest regard for him.”
Grindeland says, “Shut-in visits, along with hospital visitation, are crucial in priority. They are vulnerable and have the greatest need for pastoral care. We maintain regular visitation for these members.”
The Long March
Today we are getting around Bayonne by car, but Grindeland can be seen purposefully walking around town. He calls his walks the “Walk of Hope.” His intent is to convey a message of hope to the community.
“I am walking every street in Bayonne armed only with an alb [white vestment] and my shepherd’s staff,” Grindeland says. A blog has been set up so that readers can follow his travels. “Thus far I have made seven walks, about 2 ½ miles each, that have covered all the avenues north to 20th Street,” he says. “My walk is to remind people that we have so much to be thankful for, and there’s so much to be positive about, especially the anticipated development in the community of Bayonne.”
Time to get back to church. The place is a hub of activity, even on a weekday. Hand in Hand Music School holds classes there. A wing of the church is full of classrooms where students study piano, voice, percussion, and string instruments. Lessons are for adults and children ages 5 and up.
Kim Norton, the music school administrator, says Grindeland “stepped into this when Hand in Hand was still kind of growing and struggling. He really believes, as we do, that music is not just about a single person and their connection to music, but about the connection to the community through performance. He has a tremendous sense of community.”
The church also offers art, ESL, and citizenship classes with Hand in Hand.
ESL and citizenship program director Rev. Rose Hassan was formerly pastor at Trinity Episcopal Church and Calvary Episcopal in Bayonne. They started in 2014 with an ESL class of about 60 and now have a program that offers level 1-4 language classes and citizenship classes to around 100 students.
“This has been spearheaded by Pastor Gary, all at a very low cost to the people,” Hassan says, adding that the group is diverse when it comes to native language, skill level, and age. “We have students of all ages, but mostly adults,” she says. “We have a lot of young mothers because we offer free childcare because the cost of a babysitter is so prohibitive.”
The church also hosts Bible studies and church fundraisers associated with the Grace Sale Thrift Store at 426 Avenue C or H.I.G.H.W.A.Y.S Food Pantry.
“We will make our space available to the larger community in response to how God has blessed us,” Grindeland says.
Grace is a meeting place for The Fun Factory, a recreation group for developmentally disabled kids ages 8 to 16, and Lamaze and parenting classes.
Grindeland works collaboratively with other groups, and churches of other denominations.
Tonight the pastor leaves Grace to serve dinner at Trinity Episcopal to the special-needs community who attend The Windmill Adult Day Center. Grindeland is on the Windmill Advisory Board.
“I regularly go there because they lift me up,” he says as he heads out into the gathering dark. When it comes to lifting up, it’s a two-way street.—BLP