LA VISTA, Nebraska — When the Rev. Tony Serbousek crossed the stage, was blessed by Bishop David Wilson and received his stole as an elder in The United Methodist Church, it was the culmination of a 30-year dream.
“Even if you took away the Native American aspect of it, it would still be a very powerful moment for me,” said Serbousek, the first Lakota to be ordained in the Great Plains Conference, in the first class ordained by Bishop David Wilson, the first Native American bishop in the denomination.
Bishop Wilson presented Serbousek with a quilt featuring the Lakota star before the ordination ceremony Friday night.
Raised as a Presbyterian, Serbousek started the ordination process in that church while living in northwest Nebraska three decades ago, he said, enrolling in Iliff School of Theology.
In the meantime, he worked as a dispatcher and eventually 911 director for the Chadron Police Department.
He was not only active in the Chadron UMC but worked as an accompanist for the local Lutheran church.
After churches services one Sunday in 2014, he and his mother went to lunch, where she dropped a truth bomb.
“You know my bucket list is to see you go back into ministry,” he recalls her telling him. “I think you’re more fit for that than you are police work.”
Serbousek still didn’t feel like he was ready.
“I had to consider the energy and the time, and I didn’t want to have to move and uproot,” he said.
While playing during a baptism service at the Lutheran church, he said the third verse of the hymn “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry” struck him:
In the middle ages of your life, not too old, no longer young,
I’ll be there to guide you through the night, complete what I’ve begun.
“That verse, I just felt God was gently nudging me to go back in,” recalled Serbousek, who also provided pulpit supply for churches in North Dakota.
With the approval of the Chadron UMC, he re-enrolled at Iliff and was accepted — although his previous credits at the Denver seminary were not valid. Through the Iliff Journeys program, he mostly studied online, with a requirement of a few days being on campus each quarter.
While a student, he served as pastor of the Twin Rivers Parish of Genoa, Monroe and Silver Creek in eastern Nebraska from 2018 to 2020.
It was there that he met the Rev. Cindi Stewart, pastor of Columbus UMC, who was the leader of his network and became his supervising pastor for seminary and mentored him through his ordination, which she called a “powerful moment.”
“Tony is caring and compassionate,” said Stewart, who is moving July 1 to serve as pastor at Faith Westwood UMC in Omaha. “He has this amazing passion for ministry, and caring for people in a way of meeting them where they are. That has shaped his faith and shaped the way that he sees the world and can bring people along through their trials and challenges.”
Serbousek took an appointment at St. Francis, Kansas, in 2020, and will conclude his time there later this month, then becomes the pastor at Abilene First UMC.
He said he’s taken advice from Rev. Morita Truman, who also went from St. Francis to Abilene, as well as several other clergy friends who have served the church.
Serbousek looks forward to “just getting to know people, listening to their stories and getting to know them and for them to get to know me. What are their hopes and dreams? Where do they see this church in the next five, 10 years? What can we do together to make those a reality?”
He said he felt like history was being made during annual conference, with the first Native American bishop ordaining the conference’s first Lakota pastor.
“To be part of the first class of ordinands that he ordained, to me, is historic enough,” said Serbousek, ordained the day after his 51st birthday. “But to also know that I’m the first Lakota to be ordained in the Great Plains since we came together really adds something to it.”
Serbousek, who was adopted by a couple in Chadron six months after being born at Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, said he sometimes keeps Native American tradition in his thoughts.
“They may not be directly related to Native American culture per se, but I have always — ever since I started preaching over 30 years ago — thought of delivering sermons as telling a story, and storytelling is a Native American tradition,” he said. “I always see the sermon as telling a story. Any time I look at the scripture, I think of what the story is that needs to be told.”
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