Our Pastors

Reverend Dr. Rick Carlson

Lead Co-Pastor

I grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, as the youngest of four children. After joining the Covenant Players, a Christian drama company, and serving as a counselor at a Lutheran Bible camp, I felt called to be a Lutheran pastor. I graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN and then went on to Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA. Once I finished my studies for my Master of Divinity, I went straight to Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA, for my PhD in Biblical Studies. My first call was in the ALC at a three-point parish in Roseau, MN. My second call was to the staff at Trinity Lutheran in Moorhead, MN. In 1990, I took a call to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg where I had many hats including Professor of New Testament, Director of Internship, Candidacy Coordinator, and Director of Theological Studies. I served in that call for 27 years.

I have three children, two live in Virginia and the other in Oregon. I enjoy playing Fantasy Football in our church league and a league in Las Cruces, NM. I love international travel, especially to the Middle East, Italy and Greece. My wife, Michelle, and I were married in a historical home with 13 people present on the Gettysburg Seminary campus in June of 2004.

Reverend Dr. Michelle Carlson

Lead Co-Pastor

I grew up in several parts of Virginia as a pastor’s kid. I am the oldest of two daughters. Women just started to be ordained in 1970 in the Lutheran Church, so I did not really see women as pastors growing up. I pursued a degree in English, Linguistics and Speech with a certificate in secondary education. I taught high school English for two years in Baltimore, MD, and one year in Hagerstown, MD. After discerning that I would rather teach people about Jesus than Shakespeare, I moved to Gettysburg for my Master of Divinity. My internship was in a town of 35 people in northern North Dakota. I fell in love with the Midwest and ended up completing the requirements for my degree at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I had a wonderful mentor who encouraged me to get my PhD in Religious Education. I went on to Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary on the campus of Northwestern University for my PhD in Congregational Studies with an Emphasis in Religious Education. I served my first call at Mt. Zion Haugh’s Lutheran Church in Keymar, MD, for nine years. During that time, I was also an adjunct professor at Lancaster Seminary, Wesley Seminary and Gettysburg Seminary. I was the Director of Lifelong Learning and Certificate programs at Gettysburg for a time.

I am a certified Healthy Congregations Facilitator. I enjoy combining my ethnographic studies and listening skills with family systems theory. I like to read and play Scrabble with my mom. Someday my craft room will get finished at home, and I will be able to get back to doing some artistic endeavors. I also enjoy domestic and international travel. I always have our backgammon board with us when my husband and I travel to play while waiting for our food in a restaurant or in the evenings with a glass of wine. We enjoy living in Kearney with our nine-year-old Maltese/Bichon mix, Natasha.

Pastor Elisabeth Pynn Himmelman

Associate Pastor of Youth and Young Adult Ministry

I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco, CA with my parents and older brother. As a child, I was a competitive rhythmic gymnast, a casual soccer player, and had my first job slinging frozen yogurt at the local mall. My family was involved in the local ELCA congregation, and that community is where I first experienced the love of God lived out through service to others.

At Pacific Lutheran University, I majored in psychology and met Jacob. We married after graduation and then I completed my Master of Social Work degree. Then we moved to Milwaukee, WI where Jacob earned his Master’s degree in Architecture. In 2012, our son Jens was born, and he has kept us laughing ever since.

I worked in youth ministry entirely by accident for over a decade. When I finally got the message that God was calling me to ordained ministry, I started seminary at Wartburg, attending primarily on Zoom while working as a youth director in Madison, WI.

As a family, we love kayaking, a good UNO tournament, and harvesting rhubarb. This is my first call in ordained ministry.

Office Staff

Kandy Bacon

Administrative Assistant
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I began working as an Administrative Assistant at First Lutheran Church in February of 2017. A partial list of my duties includes answering the phone and door, assisting all guests/members, tracking attendance, and coordinating volunteers. Tracking shut-in visitations and pastoral care or congregational visits, overseeing the Odds & Ends payments, Preschool administrative duties, coordinating and creating bulletins, and creating the weekly newsletter and weekly communion schedules. I have been married for 23 years. My husband, Scott, is an insurance agent for AAA. We have two children, Scottie, age 21, and Ben, age 17, and two fur babies, a Cocker Spaniel named Milo and a Pekingese, named Carebear.

Marti Brockmeier

Bookkeeper
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I have served as First Lutheran’s Bookkeeper since 2014, and my family and I have been members of First Lutheran since 2003. My husband, Troy, and I have been married for 28 years and have 3 children. The Brockmeier family is thoroughly enjoying the newest addition to the family…a Goldendoodle puppy named Finley!

Natalie Radcliffe

Worship Coordinator
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I have been on staff with First Lutheran since 2012 and a member of the church since 2004. Prior to coming to First Lutheran I spent 20 years as an Air Force wife, teaching elementary and K-12 music. I then worked at the Kearney Housing Agency managing low-income housing.

I enjoy sharing my passion for music in a variety of ways. I have a Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance from the University of Southern California. I play flute, alto flute and piccolo in the UNK Flute Choir, piccolo in the Kearney Symphony Orchestra, flute in the annual Messiah Orchestra and also perform as a soloist locally and nationally.

Additionally, as the director of the Chancel Bell Choir at First Lutheran, I have been involved with handbells since 1980. I have two sons and two grandsons.

Adam Eilers

Maintenance Coordinator
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Hello! I am the guy who helps take care of our awesome facility. I currently sit on the Property and Management team. I have also been on the Care and Growth team and Witness and Members team in the past. I’ve been a member here since 2003, when my wife Misha and I got married. Before this, I was an electrician for 20 years. Misha and I have 3 crazy kids Ethan 13, Preston 11, and Brooklyn 9. Fun fact: they were all born in August.

Jen Puls

Database Assistant
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I have been a member at First Lutheran Church since February 1997, along with my two sons, Nathan and Christian. I have taught Sunday School and Wednesday night youth activities, which is now called FROG. I have served on Church Council, Endowment Committee, and Feeding the Flock on Wednesday nights during the school year. I work part-time at First Lutheran Church on the Church Database called CCIS. Typically, I do behind the scenes assistance and try to help with organizing events such as the pictorial directory. I send out reminders to various individuals, families, and groups for different events. It is a joy to help out the church however I am needed.

Pre-School Staff

Judy O’Donnell

Director and Lead Pre-K Teacher
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I have been working with the First Lutheran Preschool since 2008. Originally from Omaha, my husband and I moved to Kearney that same year. We have 2 daughters and 5 grandchildren and a little fur-baby. My passion has always been for teaching young minds, which I have been doing over 30 plus years. I am an avid cyclist and kayaker and love the outdoors. My favorite quote is, “Life’s a ride, enjoy it.”

Amanda Lewis

Lead 3-4 year-old Teacher
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I love my job! I graduated from Wayne State College, taught one year in a two-room country schoolhouse near Valentine, Nebraska. I then moved to Kearney and taught kindergarten at Emerson Elementary. After 8 years there, and when my third child was born, I became a stay-at-home mom. Being home with the kids was a great time for me and my family.

I finished my online Master’s Degree in Reading at UNK in 2016 and shortly after started teaching here at First Lutheran Preschool.

I love movies, playing volleyball, dancing, music, flowers, Husker football and reading!

My favorite quote is, “Character is how you behave when no one is looking.” I am blessed to work and be around many people with good character.

Lora Messbarger

Assistant 3-4 year-old Teacher

I am in my 7th year as the assistant 3-4 year old preschool teacher. I grew up on a dairy farm near Lawrence, NE, and attended college at Kearney State and UNMC.

I was a medical technologist before becoming a stay-at-home-mom for many years. My husband, Rob, and I are very proud of our kids; Nathan, Pete and his wife Caitlin, Kelly, Robert and his wife Julia, and Nicole.

I have always enjoyed kids and I am very passionate about education. I feel very blessed to get to be involved with forming these youngsters’ hearts and minds at First Lutheran Preschool.

Sonya McLeod

Assistant Pre-K Teacher

My name is Sonya McLeod and I have served in the First Lutheran Preschool program as both a Substitute and an Assistant Pre-K Teacher for the past 16 years. My husband and I have been married for 25 years and have two daughters, Marisa (21) and Mackenzie (17). We are both originally from Ravenna but are proud to have called Kearney our home for over 22 years. Both of our daughters attended First Lutheran Preschool and I couldn’t think of a better learning environment for our children or a more fulfilling place for myself to help educate young inquisitive minds.

My favorite quote is “Life is a boomerang, what you put out there will come back to you.”