By Andrew Roiter
The Barnstable Patriot, posted Mar 20, 2015 at 2:00 AM
The new pastor at Saint Michael the Archangel Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cotuit has had a long journey from studying to become a Lutheran pastor in Indiana to his new role in Cotuit, but that suits Father Benjamin Kjendal just fine.
The father of six originally studied at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he was certified as a Lutheran minister. He worked in Brooklyn, New York, as a pastor in 2006, when he began to make some changes in his life.
“I realized that there is a church that continued teaching and worshiping in the way of the original Christians,” Kjendal said. This led him to convert to Antiochian Orthodox, the American branch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch.
Part of what led him to this decision involved his studies at Concordia. While there he specialized in exegetical studies and history, focusing on the teachings of the early Christians. While he certainly does not regret his time as a Lutheran New leadership at Cotuit church minister, and his family remains Lutheran, he felt that the teachings of that denomination had a much more Western focus that had changed from the original teachings.
″(The Orthodox Church has) stayed constant in its teachings and worship over time,” he said. “My family still has very strong ties to (Lutheranism); I don’t hold any grudges, I think it helped bring me to where I am now.”
He added that he wasn’t the only member of his class at seminary to convert to the Orthodox Church after graduating, but as far as he’s aware he’s the only one that became an Orthodox pastor.
After his conversion, Kjendal, who grew up in Lakeville, had a couple of secular jobs, but just over two years ago he began thinking about leading a parish.
“I started talking with my bishop about becoming a pastor and shepherding a flock,” he said.
Prior to coming to Cotuit, Kjendal was working in Springfield at Saint Stephen’s Orthodox Church, but he was living in Worcester and the commute was more than an hour long.
His bishop then contacted him and told him about the Rev. Dr. Nicholas Manikas’ retirement from Saint Michael the Archangel and asked him if he would like to be pastor in Cotuit.
“In many ways it just kind of made sense,” he said. “We were welcomed with much love and open arms here.” Prior to taking the job, Kjendal met with Manikas.
“I was very impressed with him,” Manikas said. “My hope and my prayer is that Saint Michael’s will continue to grow and prosper under Father Kjendal’s leadership.”
Manikas joined the church in 2001 after moving to the Cape for his retirement, but when he and his family came across Saint Michael’s without a pastor he decided to delay retirement. During his time at the church, the parish grew from 20 families to 90.
Now, Kjendal is concerning himself with becoming a part of the community in Cotuit.
“We want to be part of the community, not just the parish but the greater community as well,” he said. “The most fundamental goal is to see us grow in our love to each other, to God and to our neighbors.”
This extends not only to the members of the Cotuit community and the Orthodox community, but all of the Christian churches in the area, and there are more than 130 churches on the Cape alone.
“I hope we can work together,” he said. ”(And) impact the communities around us.” In particular, Kjendal would like to see the number of young families attending the church increase. “I would like to see us grow in the younger families that we have,” he said. “That will certainly be a focus of mine.”
Part of joining the community, according to Kjendal, is learning how the church can best serve it. Prior to coming to the Cape, Kjendal knew about the needs of the aging population as well as the drug issues, but was surprised at the severity of the homelessness issue.
“For me, the real goal is that we are able as a community to live out our Christian lives in a way that will impact others and glorify God,” he said.
Saint Michael the Archangel Antiochian Orthodox Church is located at 62 Main Street in Cotuit. Liturgy is at 10 a.m. on Sundays, and church school begins at 9:30 a.m. For more information visit www.stmichaelcotuit.org. Services are conducted in English, but all Orthodox denominations are welcome.