“How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Romans 10).
On Jan. 28, the UCG Edmonton congregation celebrated the beautiful journey of Robert and Valerie Berendt, messengers for Christ, as they retired from the pastoral ministry. A photo tribute, spanning 50 years and many milestones, featured an animated pulpit on wheels with a rapidly scrolling odometer! Very conservatively, strictly counting only pastoral travel by car, our “odometer check” registered a driving distance easily exceeding 4 million kilometers (2.5 million miles)—or 100 laps around Earth’s equator—accident-free! However only God can measure the spiritual distance covered by this couple, ministering to His people through joy and sadness, weddings and funerals, baptisms and anointings, ordinations, blessings and trials.
Heartwarming tributes were received from North America and Europe as Robert and Valerie finished their 100th lap. Robert is described as a “people’s person” who contributed an awareness of church life in Europe and Canada, providing some “Canadian cool” during his recent two terms on the Council of Elders. Chairing the Doctrine Committee, he was a courageous leader devoted to the truth of God, but remembered for his warm personality, encouraging words, energy and zest for life.
Robert, a high school teacher, with his wife Joan and young family, joined the Edmonton church as it formed in 1964. Family camping adventures to the Feast in Squaw Valley California led to graduation from Ambassador College Pasadena in 1970 and ordination into the ministry. After pastoring for 13 years, Robert’s wife Joan died in 1983. Robert feels he was blessed to marry Valerie in 1987, and for the last almost 30 years Val has been at his side. Valerie, born in Malawi, from England, also has a university degree in education and a previous career as a physiotherapist.
“Der fliegende Pastor (the flying pastor)—that is what our Church brethren in Bavaria and Austria called pastor Berendt during his years serving the German-language regions,” relates Paul Kieffer. Robert and Valerie Berendt did not actually fly through the air, but they were constantly navigating the Autobahn and the Bundesstraße to serve two or three congregations per Sabbath between Nuremberg, Munich, Salzburg and Vienna. “We liked your Canadian German,” wrote one member, “. . . from the bottom of my heart I say thank you for serving us, serving the church and in the end serving God . . . Even over in Canada you have always looked after your flock in Germany and Austria.” They visited scattered individuals from Italy to Croatia where they delivered a carload of humanitarian aid during civil war. Their Bibles were regularly inspected by skeptical East Bloc border guards as they coordinated the Feast in Brno, Czechoslovakia, during unique times culminating in the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Back in Canada, even longer drives were routine, across British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and into Quebec and New York state. Wrote Mike Caputo: “You pastored, you wrote, you served on the Council of Elders, and on the Canadian board. You and your wife Val risked your lives travelling long-distances to serve God’s people, at times in dangerous conditions. No one really knows the fullness of your sacrifices but you and Jesus Christ, who most probably wrote the word ‘faithful’ beside your names in His book of remembrances.”
Robert grew up in the Rocky Mountains and for decades organized annual hikes there with large groups of Canadian teens, typically scaling a mountain peak on an ambitious 20-mile trek through wild back country. Robert and Valerie taught skiing for winter camps and canoeing for summer camps in Germany.
Robert’s enthusiasm for ice hockey generated popular church hockey tournaments. Robert and Valerie would also take hockey equipment over to Germany for their winter camp. Members in Germany recall their Canadian pastor’s speed-of-light skating ability and his playful prophecy that the “shining sea like glass” before God’s heavenly throne hints that ice hockey may well be the official sport of the world tomorrow, with an explanation that body checks in hockey are simply expressions of brotherly love!
“Once an elder, always an elder,” and they will continue to assist. However, even Levites were instructed in Numbers 8 to “retire from the regular service” by age 50. We rejoice that for Robert (apparently blessed with the vitality of Moses) 80 seems to be the new 50, and he and Valerie plan to enjoy even more hockey, hunting, fishing, snow and water skiing and kayaking together. “Now is a time to reflect upon all the ways God has used your services, and all the people you have reached over more than half a century,” wrote Bob Dick. “I hope in retirement you will have additional time for you and Val . . . Take a few more hikes, stop more often to smell the roses and don’t stop playing hockey.”
In retirement, Great Opa and Val Berendt may take an occasional “joy ride” but will reside in Edmonton where their beautiful journey began, assisting and celebrating past and future spiritual milestones with family which spans four generations, now including four great-grandchildren and three more expected this spring!