"The conference has always given me that opportunity to not only share but also to live out my call. I started preaching at Camp Crook and Buffalo, South Dakota when I was in college. When I was 20, Dick Fisher asked me to serve there in the summers. He trusted me. God has been good," said Rev. Ross Reinhiller, who has served the Dakotas Conference for more than 40 years and has entered a retirement relationship with the conference.
Ross Reinhiller grew up in Southwest North Dakota and Northwest South Dakota. His parents were teachers and moved to different communities in his early years. "I was blessed having a mom and dad that took their faith seriously," said Rev. Reinhiller.
His call to ministry came in those formative years when he was in kindergarten. The Reinhiller family lived in Lemmon, South Dakota, and attended the Methodist Church. The pastor at that church was Rev. DeVern Schwenn.
"My kindergarten year was my traumatic year. I was 21 days in a row late for kindergarten because I didn't know that you had to go at a certain time. My freedom was gone. Pastor DeVern preached something that year that spoke to me. He asked if I wanted Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. I remember going into my bedroom and just praying. That was the beginning of my journey. By spring of kindergarten, I had my call." describes Pastor Ross.
Pastor Ross experienced a variety of pastors that encouraged and listened to his call. Revs. Art Scanson and Warren Wenzel invested in him. In addition, Ross served on the youth council at his church and for the conference.
He said, "I lived a long way from any camp. I grew up with the things that people grew up with— ministry on the radio, Bible class, and things available in the seventies. Then Art Scanson and Warren Wenzel, those United Methodist pastors, invested in me."
After high school, Pastor Ross attended Dickinson State University, graduating with a degree in education. After earning his undergraduate degree, he attended Asbury Seminary in Kentucky.
"I attended seminary when I was 21 years old— quite young. I thought I was going to be a church history professor. My master's degree is in church history and historical theology, kind of an academic and professional degree," he said.
After seminary, Rev. Reinhiller held a couple of teaching positions. He felt he needed some experience as a pastor at a local church.
"I thought I needed to know what my students were going through to teach effectively. I was appointed to Ashley and Forbes in the North Dakota Conference. Rev. Norm Neumann was the Eastern District Superintendent in North Dakota at the time. He told the churches, 'You're getting a young fellow right out of school. He will be very enthusiastic and think this is the best thing in the world. You're either going to make or break his ministry. If you break his ministry, he won't have the good sense to quit, but he will struggle all the rest of his ministry.' So those two little churches decided they were going make my ministry, and they really did," said Pastor Ross.
Rev. Reinhiller returned to teaching at the Biblical seminary in Medellín, Colombia. "When I returned to Colombia, I returned as a pastor rather than a teacher."
While serving at Union Church in Bogota, he realized he had fallen in love and eventually married Rev. Val Reinhiller, who was back from seminary and was serving at First United Methodist Church in Bismarck. Ross was serving at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Mandan. Ross and Val got to know each other but never dated. However, they remained friends in conversation across the miles when Ross headed to South America.
"I went to South America. God got ahold of me and reminded me that there's somebody that I really do love back home. So, I came back to the annual conference in Fargo and proposed. She said, 'Yes.' I went back to South America and came back in September, two days before the wedding. We got married, and we've been together ever since. We never kissed until after we were engaged. So I tell my youth group, don't kiss until you're engaged. It worked for us."
The couple headed back to Bogota, Columbia, in service together. "She married into that. It was the first time we were in ministry together as a couple. We served on staff in South America," said Pastor Ross.
They returned to the United States and served a three-point charge at Faith UMC in Williston, North Dakota, Grenora UMC in North Dakota, and Bainville UMC in Montana. During that time, two daughters were born into the family.
"I got a fellowship for pastors training at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky," said Pastor Ross.
Returning from school, the bishop appointed the couple to serve at Winner, South Dakota. "That was just a great place. You know, the church went from 170 to 400 in worship," said Rev. Reinhiller. "We were the right people at the right time."
From there, Rev. Reinhiller went to Bismarck, North Dakota. He served as the superintendent of Shiloh Christian School. "We went to Shiloh to focus on their plan, mission, and finances."
He was then appointed to Southern Hills UMC in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Pastor Val served at Sunnycrest UMC in Sioux Falls at the same time. First United Methodist Church in Aberdeen, South Dakota, was the next appointment where they served together as a couple. Today they serve at Faith in Williston, North Dakota.
"I don't know that we would have picked any of the churches we served, but we couldn't have served better churches," said Pastor Ross. "We've had the opportunity in every church to do just basically two things. One is to call people into a relationship with Jesus Christ and grow them deep at every church we've served. That's been exciting because Valerie and I have dedicated ourselves to helping people find and fulfill their calls."
A highlight of his ministry journey has been to live out the Wesleyan way of personal and social holiness, working for and in God's mercy and justice. "Whether that's in Native American ministry down on the Rosebud [Reservation] or the Out in Faith ministry in Williston, those have been the exciting things. To see people sharing God's mercy and justice for those with basic needs like food and clothing. The first thing they really need to know is that you care. That has been the fullness of our ministry," said Pastor Ross.
He shares this advice with new and continuing clergy: "Remember that the church is Christ's bride, not yours. So, make sure that you don't get in the way of what God wants you to do in his church. Be willing every day to put yourself at God's disposal. Do what God wants to do. Stay close to God. Follow Wesley's basics— love God, love others, do no harm, and do good. You make a difference if you do that every day."
In retirement, Revs. Ross and Val Reinhiller will continue serving and living in Williston, North Dakota. "I am retiring and serving alongside Val. So, we are kind of switching our roles," said Ross.
He is grateful for the opportunity to serve and answer God's call. "I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve in my call. I am thankful for those Godly women and men in Ashley and Forbes. They must have done something because I'm still a pastor."