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Hudson United Methodist's Bruce Stunkard retires from ministry

Retiring Pastor Bruce Stunkard has a passion for art, including woodworking. This is a cross he made a few years back. It now stands in the sanctuary at the Hudson United Methodist Church. (Hudson Star-Observer photo by Doug Stohlberg)1 / 4
A going away gift from the congregation was this engraved stone with a Bible passage from Deuteronomy. (Submitted photo)2 / 4
A retirement party was held at Hudson United Methodist Church on June 5. Admiring the cake are Pastor Bruce Stunkard, left, and wife Leslie. (Submitted photo).3 / 4
Bruce Stunkard, left, is retiring at United Methodist Church. One of the guests at his retirement celebration was longtime UMC Pastor Arland Averill. (Submitted photo)4 / 4

Bruce Stunkard is retiring from ministry after spending the past eight years at Hudson's United Methodist Church. He may seem like the mild-mannered minister of a local church, but his background includes a variety of activities – including coal mining -- and he was not ordained as a pastor until 1997.

As he progressed through various stages of his pre-ministry careers, he was continuously drawn to the church through a number of “inspirational” moments.

Stunkard, 65, was born in Duluth and spent the first years of his life in Hibbing, Minn. Both his father and grandfather were mining engineers on the Iron Range. Unrelated to his entrance into the ministry, he recalls the day when Hibbing native Bob Zimmerman – better known as Bob Dylan – delivered an appliance to his home.

“Bob's dad, Abe, owned an appliance store in Hibbing,” Stunkard said. “one day Abe and Bob delivered a new appliance to our house.”

After eighth grade, his family left Minnesota and settled near Cleveland, Ohio – where Stunkard graduated from high school. He went on to attend Ohio State University, earning a BS in psychology and pre-med.

Stunkard grew up in a Lutheran family, but his first real religious inspiration came with the death of his grandfather, Otto.

“My grandfather announced one day, 'I'm not afraid to die – Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior,'” Stunkard said. “Well, we didn't talk like that in our house and words made an impact on me.”

Not only that, but Otto died just two weeks later.

“I remember driving in my car to the funeral and felt lost,” Stunkard said.”There was something dark about the atmosphere. At that moment I took Jesus Christ myself and suddenly everything seemed calm and quiet.”

The funeral, however was another “light bulb” moment For Stunkard.

“You know, United Methodist Church in Hudson has gained the reputation for having the best funeral's in town,” Stunkard said with a slight smile. “It goes back to my grandfather's funeral – it was terrible. It was boring and offered no comfort. I was so upset and I actually became angry as I sat in the pew.”

He said he doesn't want anyone's funeral to be like his grandfather's.

“I reflect back on my grandfather's service before every funeral at our church,” he said. “I think every funeral I do is an effort to memorialize my grandfather and offer a much more positive experience.”

The next “light bulb” moment came from a girl friend's father, who happened to be a Baptist minister.

“I was at an age where I would try and challenge religion,” he said. “One day the minister said 'Bruce, you are intelligent, but you suffer from ignorance.' He went on to say 'the reason you are ignorant is because you haven't read the Bible.' I knew what he said was true. Before that I viewed the Bible as a reference book – at that point I started reading scriptures.”

Stunkard then entered Bethel Theological Seminary in the Twin Cities, but dropped out after two years and applied to Michigan Tech and earned a mining and engineer degree in 1979.

He spent the next 15 years in the mining business.

“Iron mining was dwindling and I got into oil and coal,” Stunkard said. “I worked 10 years as a chief engineer in above ground operations near Gillette, Wyo. After that I moved to southern Illinois and went into underground mining from 1988 to 1994.”

It was in Illinois that another “light bulb” moment finally turned Stunkard's life to the ministry.

“I was underground with a big miner named Jethro who walked toward me one day and asked 'Are you a Jesus man?' I blurted out 'yes' and Jethro said 'Let's pray, we've got a problem.'”

Stunkard said the “Jesus man” label made a big impression on him.

“It stuck with me, and I started leading underground prayer meetings.”

In his Illinois community he soon began serving as a “supply pastor (lay person, not ordained)” at a Methodist Church. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife found their way to River Falls. His wife accepted a job with Allina Health. In 1994, Stunkard found his way to United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minn. After he earned his degree, he spent time traveling to various locations around the world – teaching and preaching as he traveled.

He spent a lot of time in the Middle East and Africa., While in Africa, he discovered his preaching style – extemporaneous.

“There were days, I'd have 3,000 or 4,000 people in front of me and without much reference material I was able to preach for an hour,” Stunkard said.

He was finally ordained by the Methodist Church in 1997. His first call was to a congregation that served Ellsworth, Heartland and Diamond Bluff. He was there from 1997 to 2003. Next came a call to a congregation in Cumberland and the small nearby community of McKinley – he served there from 2003 to 2008. Next came Hudson.

“The one thing I've learned in Hudson was to love my enemies,” Stunkard said. “In my earlier travels I saw fundamentalism amongst Jews, Islam and Christianity – they all try to use scriptures to justify wrong deeds.”

Stunkard actually took himself out of the running for high profile job in the Middle East because he felt he could not love his enemies.

“That has now changed,” said. “I love my enemies and embrace what Jesus taught – love one another.”

Stunkard said he is proud of the work and mission at Hudson United Methodist Church.

“We are always on the lookout for ways to help people – that's why we do things like our annual Christmas Day dinner. Last year we served over 300 people who had no other place to go. We always try to be active in the community. That's why we offer our building as a polling place and host blood drives.”

The Hudson United Methodist Church is the oldest in town, dating back to 1847 when the community was known as Willowriver.

He and his wife Leslie live in North Hudson and will continue to do so after his retirement. Leslie is a drug/alcohol counselor for Minneapolis schools. Stunkard has four adult children (three daughters and one son) – two with Leslie and two from a previous marriage.

He is still a bit unsure about what retirement means, but he looks forward to studying more history and pursuing his passion for art.

“I love what I do (ministry), but I have reached the end and I trust God will lead me to a place – like He did with my calling to the ministry.”

Doug Stohlberg

Doug Stohlberg has been part of the Hudson Star-Observer since 1973 and has been editor since 1987. He worked at the New Richmond News from 1971 to 1973. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

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