"We'd come for visits and because they didn't have a pastor, they asked me to do the community and preach and my wife played the organ," the Rev. Richard Behnke said.
As of June 1, the members of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church no longer have to ask him to fill in -- he's officially their pastor. His installation was held June 1 and officiated by the Rev. David W. Callies, president of the Mid-South District of the Lutheran Church.
"The church was looking for a pastor who was ready to retire and had a family in the area," Behnke said. "I fit the bill (and) here I am."
Behnke is a second-career clergyman.
Born and raised in Detroit, he attended Lawrence Institute of Technology in Southfield, Mich., and graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism in 1969. He was a technical writer for Control Data Corporation, Bendix Research Laboratories, Federal-Mogul Corporation, Creative Universal Inc., Manufacturing Data Systems Inc., and Diebold Corporation. He also served for 27 1/2 years in the U.S. Naval Air Reserve, starting as an airman recruit and retiring in 1982 as a commander.
While he was an active layman with three congregations in the Lutheran Missouri-Missouri Synod, "I fought to go into the ministry until I had no other choice," Behnke said. "The Lord said, 'I want you in the ministry.'"
So he visited Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
"A friend who'd been a longtime mentor and was also a businessman was there in his fourth month of seminary," Behnke recalled. "As I was visiting, I went to chapel and he saw me across the room and ran over to see me. He said, 'If you have any intentions to go, go in now.' That was November."
Behnke entered the seminary in January 1980, leaving his family in Michigan to sell their home, "which worked out because I lived in the dorm," he said. "I was 42, competing with young bucks."
His family joined him in 1981 and in November 1982, they moved to Wauseon, Ohio, near Toledo, where he served as pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church and fulfilled his vicarage requirements. He received his master of divinity degree in November 1983 and 19 days later, he was ordained and installed as pastor of St. Luke.
Behnke served at St. Luke for 20 years before moving to Dyersburg.
While in Wauseon, he was a member of the Kiwanis; served on the Board of Stewardship of the Ohio District for 12 years; served two terms as circuit counselor of Northwest Circuit 2 of the Ohio District; was active in the Lutheran Laymen's League and Orphan Grain Train; and served one term as pastoral advisor to the local unit of the Lutheran Laymen's League. In 1995, he and his wife traveled to Moscow with the first volunteers of the Mission Department of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
In addition, Behnke has been active in the Lutheran Women's Missionary League of the Ohio District. He has served as counselor for the Napoleon Zone of the Ohio District LWML and completed his term as the district's junior pastoral advisor. He was serving as senior counselor for the Ohio District LWML and had been nominated for the position of regional vice president of the Ohio District when he accepted the pastorship of Trinity.
Barbara Behnke served in several positions in the LWML and as confirmation teacher, organist and director of music at St. Luke.
Trinity had been looking for a new pastor for two years when representatives called Behnke in February asking him to come.
"I told them I'd accept but I had commitments to fulfill," he said.
His last service at St. Luke was May 4. He was also serving another congregation in the area; his last service there was May 18. He and his wife moved to Dyersburg on May 29.
"The opportunity came up (to move here). We're familiar with them," Behnke said. "It helped that my son and his wife had moved here (2 1/2 years ago)."
Behnke married his wife in 1960. They have three children, Kristen Maly of St. Louis, Richard Behnke of Dyersburg and Paul Behnke of Milford, Ohio, and four grandchildren, Alexis Maly and Jacob Maly of St. Louis, Marissa Behnke of Dyersburg and Joel Behnke of Milford, Ohio.
While it's still setting in that "this is now our place of residence" Behnke said he and his wife are "happy with the community and impressed with what we've seen so far."
Trinity opened in Dyersburg in April 1990.
"We're the only Lutheran church in an area that's predominately Baptist and in the Bible belt," Behnke said. "This congregation has a high percentage of native Tennesseans."
He has two main goals for the congregation.
"I'd like to see the congregation get more active in Christian education among ourselves -- strengthen our Sunday school and other types of Christian education, the catechism, knowing why we are Lutheran," he said. "I see that as a challenge." There's also "the challenge of growth," he said "I'd like for Trinity to grow by 5 percent in five years. I hope to do that and exceed."