Clark County Press, Neillsville, Clark Co., WI

May 11, 2011, Page 2

Contact: Dolores Mohr Kenyon


Olson helps congregation build community at UCC


Neillsville United Church of Christ pastor Bryan Olson poses at the church balcony Tuesday, May 17. 

His first day as the new church pastor was March 15. (Photo by Peter Spicer/Clark County Press)


By Peter Spicer

Neillsville United Church of Christ (UCC) past or Bryan Olson has a passion for helping churches connect to the local community.

Olson’s first day at Neillsville’s UCC was March 15; he replaced longtime pastor James Mohr, who recently retired.

Olson grew up in Janesville and attended a First Congregational Church, which was part of the UCC.  He was a member of a statewide UCC youth ministry cabinet, which helped plan high-school youth retreats.

During Olson’s teen years, he felt God calling him to the ministry, but his youth pastor, Jenny House, stated; if he has any other interests, pursue them before going into the ministry.

Olson did just that, pursuing politics, sports management and even cellular phone sales before learning ministry was for him.

Olson attended Luther College in Decorah, IA, and studied political science and communications – he even took radio broadcasting classes.

Communications was “an invaluable major,” to Olson, who stated it helped improve his communication skills and allowed him to learn about many different subjects.

As a college junior, Olson became a legislative assistant for U. S. Representative Scott Klug and was able to observe the live of a politician.

“I knew it wasn’t for me,” admitted Olson.

After graduating from Luther College, Olson sold cell phones and pagers for a short time before seizing the opportunity to follow another one of his passions, baseball.

The president of the South Atlantic League (a class ‘A’ minor league) hired Olson to become an assistant to the league president in North Carolina.

Olson spent the next four years working in minor league baseball, three of which were spent in the South Atlantic League.

Olson then spent one year with the Chicago White Sox AAA affiliate, the Charlotte Knights, as the assistant media director.

While in North Carolina, Olson attended a Lutheran Church and was mentored by Rev. Edgar Cooper, who helped Olson grow in his faith 

“He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself at that time,” stated Olson.

After deciding it was time to begin full-time ministry, some of Olson’s friends and  relatives responded like Packer Fans who witnessed Green Bay receiver Antonio Freeman’s miraculous, game-winning catch made while lying on his back during a Monday Night Football game against the Vikings several years ago.

“He did what?” joked Olson.

However, some of Olson’s friends and relatives weren’t surprised and asked him, “What took so long?”

Olson attended United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, which is affiliated with the UCC.  He graduated in 2005 with a Master of Divinity and was ordained in 2006.

From there, Olson became the associate pastor at Minnesota’s Cottage Grove United Church of Christ and loved his time there.  Olson’s job was similar that that of a youth pastor and helped set a good foundation for his faith.

Olson had served an internship at the church in 2002 and 2003, and ministered there part time before becoming the associate pastor.

In 2007, Olson married his wife, Emily, who is a vocalist and pianist. They now have a four-month-old son.

The Olsons left Cottage Grove in 2009 to help build a church in Bucks County, PA, located near the historic Delaware River, which George Washington famously crossed on Christmas Eve before the Battle of Trenton during the Revolutionary War. 

Olson stated the project was “an exciting opportunity,” and “we did some really wonderful things out there.”

Olson helped start a pre-school, which featured reading and music programs, and connected with parents.  He also started a networking group for adults at the church, titled “Field of God.”

Despite the successes, tough economic times did not allow Olson to have needed funding to continue the project, which was a learning experience for him.

Now at Neillsville’s UCC, Olson wants to help his congregation build a stronger community and help others seek out what a relationship with Christ can mean.

Olson has enjoyed watching the congregation take care of each other during times of need and how the community rallies around each other during tough times.

“That’s something special,” Olson stated.

Olson plans to help others realize their gifts and then give those gifts back to the community.  He sees many gifts congregants have, including music, teaching and cooking.

One church program is providing food for children during weekends so they have enough to eat when they do not have school meals available, Olson explained.  

Olson is encouraging his congregation, which averages approximately 175 per Sunday, to work with other faith communities.

The UCC will work with Neillsville’s Calvary Lutheran Church this summer during Vacation Bible School (VBS), Olson said.  

Olson stated the congregation seems open to some changes; he wants to work on the church Website, which is the first thing people often see when they investigate churches.

Olson hopes to make positive changes while continuing the UCC traditions important to congregants.






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