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New Pastor At First Lutheran Shares Vision For Community

First Lutheran Church’s new pastor, the Rev. Mark Swanson, is preparing to deliver his first message to the congregation this Sunday. Swanson envisions First Lutheran as a church committed to reaching the community and being “a light in a dark world.” P-J photo by Timothy Frudd

The Rev. Mark Swanson is glad to be back in Jamestown as the new pastor of First Lutheran Church. He is set to deliver his first sermon this Sunday.

Swanson was born and raised in Jamestown and his family was active at Immanuel Lutheran Church, where he was baptized, confirmed, and ordained.

Swanson graduated from Jamestown High School, attended Jamestown Community College and the State University of New York at Fredonia and completed his education at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

During his time at seminary, Swanson met his wife, the Rev. Laura A. Csellak, who is the chaplain at Lutheran in Jamestown. Swanson and Csellak have two adult children, Stefan and Luke.

Swanson has been a pastor for 34 years and his wife has been a pastor for 36 years. Their youngest son is also a pastor. Swanson said he has about 10 total family members who are members of the clergy.

“It’s in the blood,” he said.

Swanson started his ministry career serving congregations in Queens, New York City. Over the years, he has served in Dansville and Cohocton in the Finger Lakes region and St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. He also served as interim pastor in Allentown, Pennsylvania, eastern Pennsylvania and most recently in the Syracuse region.

“We never thought we’d get back to Chautauqua County,” he said. “We like Jamestown and this area very much. Never would have imagined that I would be here and preaching out of the pulpit, but I’m glad to be back in Jamestown.”

Swanson said First Lutheran Church, 120 Chandler St., has a wonderful congregation and a rich history. To this day, it remains one of the largest Lutheran church buildings in North America.

“It was once the largest Swedish Lutheran Church in both its building and congregation,” he said.

Swanson said that while the dream of returning to the days when the church was completely filled every Sunday is not a likely reality under his leadership, he said the church will never stop working on growing and reaching out to the community.

The church hopes to grow the Sunday school class, youth group and Christian education programs despite the post-COVID-19 culture trend of attending church online.

“We want to be an active voice in this community,” Swanson said. “Reach out to our neighborhood and to do what Christ always calls us to do, which is to love God and love our neighbor and to put that active faith into love reaching out.”

Swanson’s plan for First Lutheran Church is to be an example of hope and light in the community, reflecting the same message he will share from the pulpit.

“We want to be the biblical light on the hill,” he said. “God’s people are the light on the hill and the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to be the light of Christ shining in the world of darkness that we live in. Let the light of Christ shine boldly in our community.”

Under his leadership, the church plans on working with the neighborhood, other churches, the mayor and the local government to bring about positive change for the community.

“We want to be an active part of making Jamestown an even better place to live,” Swanson said. “We are committed to the community. We are going to be a voice of hope in Jamestown.”

Swanson acknowledged several challenges facing the community, including employment, drug abuse, the opioid epidemic and gun violence.

“It’s right into that neighborhood that we want to reach,” he said. “We know we need to be here, so we’re not going to run away from being involved in the community.”

As the church prepares to enter a new phase under his leadership, Swanson said First Lutheran has a simple message to share with others.

“We want to let people know that in a world of suffering and dying, there’s still hope,” he said. “God is always with us. That has not changed. God’s promise is still relevant and good and right and true. Christ is always with us and has not abandoned us.”

Swanson said the challenges First Lutheran faces are the same challenges other churches in the area face. The church does not plan on working alone to solve problems. Instead, Swanson expressed the churches desire to work together with other churches to provide aid to those in need in the community.

While information on First Lutheran can be found on the church website, Facebook page and online worship service, Swanson encouraged people to come visit the church in person.

“The best way to know us is to come and be here,” Swanson said. “Church is about relationships.”

Swanson said the church community at First Lutheran recognizes they are human and make mistakes, allowing them to identify with the rest of the Jamestown community.

“The good news is that we’re forgiven,” he said. “If you come to First Lutheran Church, you’ll hear people who are here precisely because they need that. They’re hurting just like everyone else. They’re in need of forgiveness and hope. We’re here because we need to hear that good news.”

Sunday services at First Lutheran Church include the Contemporary Worship at 9 a.m. and the Traditional Worship Service at 10:30 a.m. The church is encouraging the public to come and be a part of Swanson’s first service Sunday.

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