ABERDEEN, S.D.- At 96, one would think a pastor would be long retired. However, that's not the case with a staple on Sunday morning television in the three-state region.
Pastor Harold Salem is still preaching weekly during his "Christian Worship Hour" carried on 12 television stations in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota and almost 40 others nationwide.
And his long career has just taken another turn. A 58-minute film about Salem and his work has been produced and is set to premiere on May 5 in his hometown of Aberdeen, S.D.
The film is called "Heart of a Shepherd" and details Salem's call to the ministry in 1943, his transition to television ministry in 1979 and his continued work as he approaches 100 years old to reach "90 percent of the earth from a production studio in Aberdeen."
The film was produced by Mark Seignious who is with Slate and Main video production and marketing company in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills.
"His restless passion for serving the Lord manifested itself through a simple, low-tech ministry hour," said Seignious. "He just wants people to know Jesus."
The film talks about the South Dakota native beginning his career at First Baptist Church of Belle Fourche, S.D., in 1944 and then accepting the call to First Baptist Church of Aberdeen in 1958 where he served for 52 years.
In 2010, he resigned from the Aberdeen church to commit full time to the "Christian Worship Hour," which he founded in 1979
Salem's goal was to offer a worship service to those who are housebound and to minister to those who were lonely, elderly and shut-in.
In a telephone interview Friday, April 13, from his offices in downtown Aberdeen, Salem said he simply wants to help others spiritually.
"You just can't get that at Walmart," he said. "And there is such a need for it in the world today."
Salem didn't know how many sermons he's delivered over the years, but said he will have been preaching for 75 years in June when he turns 97.
One of his board members, Bill Edwards, said they just thought Salem had such an "amazing, amazing story," and they wanted to either write a book or do the film.
"He has just influenced so many people over the 75 years," Edwards said. "What's so amazing is the way he connects with people and makes the Scriptures understandable."
Edwards said the program has "kind of exploded" over the past eight years since Salem retired from his longtime parish at age 88.
The weekly program, which simply includes a sermon by Salem and a few worship songs, is recorded every other Saturday morning at the KSFY-TV substation in Aberdeen where the barebones background set is found. Edwards said they record two programs at a time about six weeks in advance. Salem also does two half-hour shows on the other Saturdays that other television and radio stations want.
A staff of seven people and 50 volunteers help with the technical, organizational, musical and other parts of producing the shows.
The program reaches homes across the world via TV, radio and the Internet. In addition, Salem reaches remote parts of the world-or 90 percent of it as he said - through a shortwave radio that allows people in those areas to hear his sermons.
"We want to be able to reach people in countries where they are persecuted for their beliefs," Salem said.
The services also can be viewed on the internet via desktop and laptop computers, along with tablets and smartphones.
Not only does Salem try to help people spiritually through his program, he also has preached in more than 70 churches in the U.S., as well as at services in Canada, England, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The pastor, who doesn't travel much anymore, did go the funeral of another televangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham, in North Carolina earlier this year.
As for the secret to his longevity, just like Graham, Salem said his mother told him to never smoke, drink or gamble.
"But God must have given me some good genes, too," he said, noting that his mother lived to 99 years and five months and one of his grandfathers to more than 100 years.
"I still have a lot of energy," he said.
The good-humored Salem said he won't retire until "three days before my funeral. I have to give people a little time to get ready."
Edwards said the board wants Salem to preach "as long as he can go." After that, they may simply play archives of his sermons as many are "so timeless."
Salem himself said "there will be a better man" that will come along, too, to take my place. God will take care of that."
The film will premiere at the Capitol Theater in Aberdeen on Saturday, May 5, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the door. The 440-seat theater is expected to sell out, so five additional screenings are scheduled for 7 p.m. May 5 to May 8 and May 6 at 2 p.m. The movie will be available after that time on the Internet at www.christianworshiphour.com.
Among those planning to attend the premiere are his four children-Sharron, Daniel, Patty and Michael-12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
His wife, Beulah, passed away on Christmas Eve of 2005. Of her, Salem writes, "If I have attained any good in this life it is because of the help of Jesus Christ and my dear wife, Beulah, who stood by me, believed in me, encouraged me for 59 1/2 years and without whose loving help I could not have run the race."
Stations that air Pastor Harold Salem
Television stations in the Dakotas are:
KSFY-Sioux Falls, SD
KOTA-Rapid City, SD
WDAZ-Grand Forks, ND
Minnesota TV stations are: