WAVERLY, Nebraska (Lincoln Journal Star) — About 9 miles north of Waverly off of a dirt road sits a small church and a pastor with a big heart.
Bethlehem Covenant Church’s senior pastor Dan Olson has become a source of inspiration for the church’s members to serve both the Lord and their community.
The church itself has been around for about 130 years, Olson said, and many members have been attending for decades and may have had family members who attended before them.
The congregation includes about 300 people from Waverly, Davey, Ceresco, Lincoln and Eagle and ranges from young families to older adults.
Olson came to Bethlehem Covenant about 10 years ago after a decadelong stint as a pastor in Alberta, Canada. It was a fun adventure, he said, but he was ready to be closer to family when he decided to interview for the pastor position.
The idea to apply to lead the little church in rural Nebraska came from a friend, Olson said.
“One of my friends had said, ‘There’s this little church just outside of Lincoln, but it has a whole lot of potential to grow because there’s some good folks in there that really want to do good things for their neighbors and the world,’” he said.
When he first drove up the long gravel road to the church for the first time, Olson remembered thinking, “Who’s ever going to come out here to church?” But then Olson and his wife, Kerri, met the congregation and saw their love for God and for others, he said.
“I think that’s what drew us, is the people and their heart to make a difference,” he said. “Because that’s what we want, we want to spend our life trying to help as many people as we can.”
Under Olson’s lead, the church began focusing on community service. Church members quickly jumped in to pack up food for local school children or donate to the church’s community closet, he said.
“We’re not just doing these things for the church people, we are doing them for the world,” he said.
When he delivers his sermons each Sunday, Olson said he tries to relay stories from the Bible that can motivate churchgoers, from children to 90-year-olds, to go out and make a difference.
Anne Bremer, who’s been attending Bethlehem Covenant for about three years, said this is the only church she’s attended where she doesn’t even think of excuses not to go each week. She said Olson preaches to the congregation, not as a superior but as an equal.
“When he gives his sermons he talks about himself, he talks about his own family, and it’s regular everyday stuff that all of us go through,” she said. “He’s a very humble person and I think that’s something that draws people to him.”
Sue Rader, who’s been attending Bethlehem Covenant for about five years, said his sermons each week are inspiring and stick with her weeks later.
“A sermon that, say, he gave a month ago, you still have that in your mind because it just hits home,” she said.
During the pandemic, church members said he’s made a point to keep members connected in as many ways as possible.
The church is holding in-person services in line with COVID-19 restrictions but also streaming services online for those who can’t or don’t feel comfortable attending in person.
Olson said the church community has made a point of reaching out to members during a time when many feel isolated and lonely. This has included calling members to check in on them and offering assistance and prayers if someone becomes sick with COVID-19.
The church also has a Benevolent Fund that members donate to to help people in the community in need with things like unexpected expenses, Olson said.
Andy Drake and his wife, Ann, have been attending Bethlehem Covenant for around 10 years.
Drake said Olson deeply cares about his community and is a gifted preacher.
“I don’t think I’ve known anyone that has as much passion for his work as a pastor and being a shepherd of a congregation as Dan,” he said.
Olson is humble and said he doesn’t feel like he’s doing much more than any other pastor, but his church members clearly see him as an inspiration.
“I think the passion that Dan has for the church and for the people definitely shows and it’s been a big factor in the success of having a church out in the country,” Drake said.
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