The Rev. John Szurpicki didn't always plan on being a pastor. In fact, he's not planning on quitting his day job as a general contractor now that he's taken over the pulpit at Beaver Bay Assembly of God church.
"I’ve always been bi-vocational and entrepreneurial. I was operating as a lay pastor up in Bemidji and the conditions are similar here," Szurpicki said. "And I think the North Shore could really use someone who’s a little unconventional."
Szurpicki will be officially installed as pastor during service at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 8, but his family moved into the area about a month ago.
Originally hailing from Detroit, Szurpicki's journey into church leadership is also a little unconventional. He struggled with addiction for most of his adult life. He wasn't a church attendee until he met his wife and a loving pastor.
"When I met my wife, we met a pastor and he literally accepted me for who I was and how I was at that time," Szurpicki said. "He married my wife and I. He was the one who talked to my wife because she was afraid to marry me because I was still drinking and struggling. I wasn’t a mean or abusive drunk, but certainly self-destructive like most addicts are."
Szurpicki said the pastor felt "God's calling on my life" and encouraged the couple to marry.
"And he even said, 'If it doesn't work out, you can move in with me and my wife,'" Szurpicki said. "Which was a pretty bold statement for a pastor to make, not knowing the future. But that's how you know they must be hearing from God because that's so out there."
After some time, Szurpicki and his wife started a youth group at the church. The church only had two youth who regularly attended Sunday services, but Szurpicki felt the pull to do something for them.
"And we prayed, 'God, if you want us to do this, send in the kids.' That first night we had 13 kids. To this day, I still don't know where they came from, but they just showed up and we got started," Szurpicki said.
After a few years, the family moved to Bemidji, where Szurpicki began working with the youth group there, then became the youth pastor when the position opened up. He went through ministry training with the local church and then became credentialed through the Assemblies of God church. He also started to get involved with jail ministry, reaching out to individuals struggling with addiction in jail.
Back in 2016, the family took a vacation up the North Shore and visited the Beaver Bay church.
"We did what we always do: We were ministering to the congregation, praying for people while we were here," Szurpicki said. "One of the deacons in the church had written down in his prayer journal back in 2016, 'God, please send John and his family from Bemidji back to help us with our church.' I didn’t know any of this until we got here to check out the church for the first time for an assignment."
Szurpicki received the call about a year and a half ago asking if he'd be interested in taking on the congregation in Beaver Bay. He said he'd pray about it and soon felt the call to move and started taking steps.
As for Szurpicki's plans for the church, he said he wants to "see people freed."
"I see so many people who are in bondage and struggle with trauma from their lives," Szurpicki said. "Whether it’s the loss of someone, abuse, anxiety, fear — all that stuff. My heart wants to see people freed from the things that keep them in bondage, keep them from operating from a place of fear and worry.
"The key ingredient to see that happen is Christ. And Christ is love. So when we learn how to love people like God did, then miracles happen."