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Ministry's call became unmistakably clear to this new pastor

River Falls United Methodist Pastor Steven Kaehr (pronounced Car) succeeded Janet Ellinger in July. Kaehr, who had youthful ambitions to be a serious musician, stands by the church altar with one of his Native American flutes, this one is hand carved out of cocobolo, a tropical hardwood. Kaehr, 52, plays the flute during memorial church settings, prayer litanies, and for hospital and hospice visits. Ministry's call became unmistakably clear to this new pastor <i>Phil Pfuehler photo</i>

Steven Kaehr grew up with parallel interests: Music and the ministry. In the end, the spiritual call was the one he felt compelled to heed.

The choice, if it can be called that, is one he says fulfilled a great-grandmother's prophecy about him shortly after birth when he was very ill and nearly died.

As Kaehr's relatives and parents looked after him in eight-hour shifts, Kaehr's great-grandmother reassured his mother that she had talked to the Lord, who said: "This boy, he's not going to die. And someday, he will answer the call to the ministry."

Kaehr's mother never revealed the prophecy to her son. "She kept that hidden in her heart," he said.

Actually, she did tell him, but only when he turned 18 and confided that he felt drawn along a path that he could finally identify as the call to "begin preparing for the ministry."

His mother cried joyfully for her son, then revealed his near-death experience as an infant and the prophetic words from his great-grandmother.

It was also around this age that Kaehr - the new United Methodist minister in River Falls -- realized that his musical ambitions, due to some orthodontic problems, would prevent him from playing brass instruments at a professional level.

Kaehr's father taught instrumental music at middle school and high school levels in Kimberly. He also played piano in a big jazz band.

Kaehr admired his dad's talent and said his father "passed along his love of music to me."

Growing up, Kaehr attended many concerts and listened to all the great classic composers and jazz artists like Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and more.

Kaehr said he became "pretty advanced" in his own musical playing and was regarded as a "child prodigy."

At age 15 he won a state high school solo competition playing the trumpet.

Kaehr also played regularly on the trumpet and flugelhorn in his dad's jazz quartet that performed throughout the Fox River Valley. The quartet played at dances, country clubs, weddings, private parties and balls.

Between these gigs, practicing at school, band programs and classes, and also playing for church groups and theater productions, Kaehr said he averaged eight hours a day with his music.

The parallel spiritual pull was likely inspired, in part, by Kaehr's maternal grandfather, a retired United Methodist pastor in Indiana.

"We didn't see each other all that often, but we had some long talks," Kaehr said. "I think those served as a grounding for me -- philosophically, theologically and practically."

While his musical quest was undeniable, Kaehr says the ministry's call was more profound.

"God is always calling to people to speak on God's behalf, to be agents of healing and of change, to go out and be the love of God in the world," he said.

The spiritual calling intensified and became more focused until, at age 18, Kaehr told his mother of his chosen career path.

For the complete story, please see the Sept. 20 print edition of the River Falls Journal.