by Virginia J. Flo, Regional Director of Minnesota & Conference Director
Each day for years I received a daily devotion called PEARLS, written by Rev. Lyle Kath. In those collections of Real Pearls (Scripture) and Cultured Pearls (man’s writings) you could read many pertinent perspectives on life. The pearls for the day were followed by a prayer and then a witty and humorous note that always brought a smile—and perhaps a little groan—after reading it.
The last Pearl I received was dated October 8, 2020. That is the day that Pastor Kyle Kath was called to be with the Lord. He had emailed it a couple days earlier, as if he anticipated not doing it that day. The Real Pearl for the day was, “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9). The Cultured Pearl for that last devotion was, “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for,” by John Ortberg. How fitting both of these pearls are for Pastor Kath’s life.
Pastor Kath had throat cancer surgery that removed his ability to speak and eat without external means. Yet he found ways to continue ministering even though he had to resign his Call as full-time pastor. He called himself the Circuit Rider and used his iPad with prerecorded liturgy and sermons that he could play while leading a worship service.
I met him for the first time a few years back, after I began work with Lutherans For Life, when I paid a visit to our Rochester Area Life Chapter. I was setting up a table with my back to the door. All of a sudden, I heard someone speak as if it was a computer saying, “How are you today?” I turned around and there was Pastor Kath with a huge smile on his face—iPad in one hand and a white board in the other. When he had my attention, he started writing on his white board, fast and furious. I don’t think he stopped through the entire meeting. He had lots to share. He was a communicator, and his inability to speak didn’t stop him!
At that Life Chapter meeting, they elected to send him to our LFL national conference in Des Moines, Iowa, that took place a few weeks later. He not only attended but enthusiastically participated. He sat next to me a couple times and, when he wanted to say something to the speaker, he frantically wrote on his white board and either had me read it aloud or he showed it to the presenter. He would quickly wipe the white board clean with a white towel so he could write more. When the towel got too full of black from the erasable pen, he used his shirt sleeve for expediency. After a bit, I finally asked him who did his laundry? We both got a quiet laugh out of that question! (I’m pretty sure it was his faithful wife, Jody.)
At that time, he and his wife lived in Eyota, Minnesota. I didn’t know him before his surgeries, when he was a full-time pastor. I can only imagine that he would have been loved and respected by the congregations he served. There is an entire litany of achievements he has received during his ministry. Other than the obvious physical signs, one would not immediately know he had a handicap. When he was present, he lit up the room with his smile.
When he moved back to Wahpeton, North Dakota, his hometown, I introduced him to our Fargo-Moorhead Area Life Chapter, and within a short time, I saw pictures of him holding signs on the sidewalk with Life Chapter members. He soon became their executive board pastoral counselor and became engaged with planning events. In 2018 he was honored as the recipient of their prestigious Dr. Jean Garton Life Award. Gail Waagen, the Life Chapter president, shared, “Pastor Lyle has been a faithful sidewalk prayer advocate at the abortion facility in Fargo during the 40 Days for Life Campaign. He faithfully attended our meetings, bringing with him, not only wisdom and spiritual guidance, but a quick wit to lighten up many meetings.” (It was encouraging to learn in 2018 he was called as associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wahpeton, fulfilling his passion for ministry.)
I last saw him in August at our West Fargo regional conference. He still was an inspiration with his participation and love For Life. We will miss this champion For Life as he not only advocated For Life, but lived his life as a living witness of what a child of God can do despite what some would view as impossible circumstances. We praise and give thanks to God for the gift of Pastor Lyle Kath.