Retired pastor still follows his calling

Pam Griffin
The Destin Log

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. (John 15:16) 

Those called to be pastors, or in some other kind of ministry, work tirelessly fulfilling that call on their life. One such pastor is Destin resident, the Rev. Joel Kettner.

By the time he was 13 and in junior high, he already knew his calling.

The Rev. Joel Kettner has followed God's calling for 55 years.

"I had to take a career interest class, but I told the teacher I already knew what I wanted to do," Kettner said in an email. "Namely, follow in my Dad’s footsteps and become a pastor. She smiled and told me to take it anyway and my review led to a draftsman. I guess she assumed that in case the ministry didn’t work out, I’d have something to fall back on. But 55 years later I have been blessed with the dream I envisioned back in junior high school."

Kettner was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1939, and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1954 where he graduated from Lutheran High School. In preparing for the ministry, he graduated in 1959 from St. Paul College in Concordia, Missouri, and in 1961 from Concordia Senior College in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he received a B.A. degree. He entered Concordia Seminary at St. Louis in 1961, vicared in St. John Lutheran Church, Forest Park, Illinois, in 1963 and graduated from the seminary in 1965 with a master of divinity degree.

"My first call was to a church in Florence, Alabama, in July 1965, just months after the Selma to Montgomery march," Kettner wrote. "Being a Yankee from the northeast, I would hear from native folks the usual three questions — who are you, where are you from and who are your people."

Although these questions and answers identified him to strangers, he soon learned how important it was to earn the respect of others.

"Just wearing a collar wouldn’t cut it," he said. "In the parishes I have served over the years, I have attempted to foster that same kind of welcoming spirit, accepting people for who they are, learning how they came to be, and embracing them with a loving spirit."

Retirement for Kettner came in 2003.

"Strange as it may seem, it took a long time to get used to retirement, sitting in the pews with fellow members with no opportunities to preach or teach," Kettner said. "But in time I have enjoyed using whatever spiritual gifts God gave me. It’s not that I can’t say 'No' — it’s just about responding to God’s 'Yes' for another opportunity to serve."

In December 2017, the Kettners moved to Destin where they are currently members at Grace Lutheran Church.

The Rev. Joel Kettner and his wife Judy attend Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.

"Pastor Joel and his wife, Judy, have been tremendous blessings to our church," said Pastor Kevin Wendt of Grace Lutheran Church. "Pastor Joel has served as an elder, Bible class teacher, preacher, and pulpit supply preacher to area Lutheran churches. They have been a loving and dear presence among us."