Rev. Robert Blackburn, the new pastor at Parfreyville United Methodist Church, had just graduated from college with a degree to teach high school when he first felt the calling to be a minister.
“I was doing a lot of work with the youth, teaching Sunday school,” Blackburn recalls. “In faith, I sensed that God was calling me.”
Originally from a rural area outside of Fond du Lac, Blackburn graduated from Horace Mann High School in 1967. Majoring in history and minoring in math, Blackburn earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education from Eastern Montana College.
After a year of substitute teaching and volunteering at his community church, Blackburn attended Evangelical Theological Seminary in Napierville, Ill. The year before Blackburn graduated, in 1975, the seminary merged with another institution to become Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, located on Northwestern University’s campus in Evanston.
For the next three decades, Blackburn served as pastor or associate pastor of eight different congregations throughout Wisconsin.
Most recently, he was pastor for 14 years at the United Methodist Church in Berlin and pastor for six years in Clintonville.
He arrived in Parfreyville on July 1.
“My biggest goal is to build relationships, to encourage open and honest communication and let people know that I care about them,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn has become part of the Waupaca Minsterial Association, in large part because he firmly believes in the value of an ecumenical approach to spiritual growth.
“United Methodism has its own unique tradition, but we can all learn from each other and work together,” Blackburn said.
He believes that ecumenical relationships can also be built with other religious faiths. While pastoring at a church in suburban Milwaukee, Blackburn was active in the Milwaukee Association for Interfaith Relations, where he worked with Jews, Buddhists and Bha’i, as well as other Christians on projects such as the Crop Walk.
“My own life and spirituality have been profoundly enriched by being in dialog with people of other faiths,” Blackburn said. “I don’t believe Christianity has a monopoly on God’s grace and truth. I believe other religions also contain truth.”
Blackburn, who has two adult children and three grandchildren, said he appreciates the outdoors and likes to study birds, hike, canoe, fish and read.
“The Crystal River is in my backyard and Hartman Creek State Park is nearby,” Blackburn said. “I’m really grateful to be here.”