ARCHER—Jacob Sandholm is the youngest person at Archer United Methodist Church on Sundays. He also is the pastor.
The 23-year-old Sheldon native was appointed in July, replacing the Rev. Derrick Okine who served Archer since 2017.
It is an unusual opportunity for Sandholm, who is only a year into seminary. He said his experiences in Archer have led him to hold great respect for the collected life experience and grounded faith present in the congregation.
“They’ve seen so many more things in their lives than I have,” Sandholm said. “Even though I’m definitely the youngest one at the church, the fact that they’re all still willing to listen to me and understand what I’m saying, it really means a lot that they come to church and they listen and they respect me.”
Sandholm is no stranger to straddling generations in his ministry work.
He also is the youth pastor for Sheldon United Methodist Church.
Of the two audiences, Sandholm said it is the youth group that intimidates him most. He remembers being scared to do youth ministry when he first started as an intern for Marion First United Methodist. Although he was 21 at the time and a student at the University of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, he said he felt out of place.
“I told people this will be the one thing that stops me in ministry,” Sandholm said. “I just didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t feel like I could click or get the message across. I was too worried about them liking me, honestly.”
A mentor gave him a piece of advice that helped him overcome those fears and which he has applied to every moment behind the pulpit since.
“He said, ‘Don’t worry about them liking you. Just teach Jesus and the rest will come,’” Sandholm said. “I’ve taken that and I’ve ran with that.”
Any fears of not being liked have vanished after nearly three months of services in Archer. Sandholm said feedback from his new congregation on his sermons has been positive and encouraging.
“The most rewarding thing is knowing that God spoke to someone on this day because of me,” Sandholm said. “That’s everything to me.”
Although Sandholm is not officially an ordained pastor within the United Methodist Church, he has been behind the pulpit for years, filling in at various N’West Iowa churches.
His longest stint was as a fill-in pastor for Pioneer United Methodist Church in Rock Valley. He served almost every Sunday from December 2016 to June 2017, all while wrapping up a general two-year degree at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon.
Sandholm’s passion for ministry and spreading the word of God started early.
As a junior in high school, he started dating Sarah Gingerich, the daughter of the Rev. Kevin Gingerich, the pastor at Sheldon UMC.
Sandholm and Sarah were married in 2017, but Sandholm said in the early days of their relationship he attended church mostly to impress Sarah and her dad. At some point, however, something clicked and he began coming to church for church itself.
Then in December of 2015, as a high school senior, he had a strange experience while helping narrate the church’s Christmas program.
“I had an overwhelming feeling come over me,” Sandholm said. “I had a vision of an angelic figure walking down the middle of the sanctuary, motioning toward the pulpit. I was extremely confused, I didn’t know what that was about.”
After prayer and talking with the Rev. Gingerich, Sandholm’s feeling solidified into a call to lead pastoral ministry which he has diligently pursued.
He is looking forward to key milestones with his first congregation, particularly his first Christmas Eve service.
“Being able to preach about Jesus being born and then you go outside and it’s snowing, it’s perfect,” Sandholm said. “It makes me giddy. I’m really excited that I’m able to share the word of God on Christmas Eve this year.”
He hopes his presence and passion for Scripture will reach old and young Christians and be inspiring.
“The fact that older generations and the youth can see me being as young as I am and learning and reading so much of Scripture and being able to teach the actual Bible at my age, I think that can make a big impact,” Sandholm said. “My hope is that I can give them more hope as well that Jesus is still here working in young peoples’ lives like my own.”