Lutheran leader moves on

After 20-plus years helping the students of SDSU, Pastor Bob Chell is leaving for a new challenge. 

He just doesn’t know what that challenge is yet. 

He might go to serve in prison ministry. He might do interim ministry for a congregation between pastors for a period of 12 to 24 months. He might serve a congregation for a community. 

“I don’t know what’s next,” said Chell, sitting in his University Lutheran Center office that faces the residence hall construction on the southeast corner of campus. “I’ve been real lucky with all of the calls I’ve had and I’ve always felt that I knew that was where I needed to be.”

In fact, it was the leaking roof and the water in the basement of the ULC that assured Chell in 1993 that Brookings was the sign he was confident where he needed to be.

“I don’t do boredom very well,” he said. 

He said one of the more interesting parts of being involved with campus ministry is that he stays in one place, while students rotate through as part of their educations. According to Chell, for every one student that is in worship, two or three almost came to that service. 

“Campus ministry is a little different that way,” Chell said. “Students are always bringing a new perspective.”

Chell said that students feel more pressure to do well in school than they did 20 years ago and the pace at SDSU is much faster than 1993. South Dakota’s land-grant university also has far more diversity than they did early in his time at the ULC. His building has experienced that, with international students and community members using the ULC for various classes and meetings, including knitting classes and English as a Second Language groups.

“The Lutheran Center can be an island of grace in a sea of stress,” Chell said. “It’s a place to stop and pause.”

But along those lines, SDSU’s students are more the same than they are different compared to when he started.

“The items that are important to students, those things are still the same,” said Chell, who started in 1983 in campus ministry and worked at Southwest Minnesota State, James Madison University and Eastern Mennonite University before arriving in Brookings. 

He said campus ministry has been able to transcend many of the issues of the day and focus on what is important for students and young people. Perhaps nothing has exemplified that aspect like the annual mission trip the ULC takes each spring. 

“I remember one year we were on a charter flight to Jamaica to help rebuild a school and there was another group from SDSU that was going down there to party for a week,” Chell said. “None of our students wished they partied for a week and that looked pretty draining.”

Chell said he’s always been able to appreciate the ability of students to have a unique sense of humor and an ability to “tweak the pomposity” that surrounds college. He’ll miss being around students because of their ability to bring levity to any situation. 

“It’s been challenging and rewarding. That’s all I could ask for,” Chell said.