“When God chooses somebody, there is no escape,” the Rev. Alfred Thiagarajan said. “I never thought I was going to become a pastor, but if you look at my life from the beginning, God has trained me in leadership from my childhood.”
On Saturday, the Queens resident will become the new pastor of Lutheran Church of Our Savior in Valley Stream.
Born in Tamilnadu, India, Thiagarajan, 55, said he was raised in a Christian home as a child. He earned a bachelor’s in English literature in 1984 from the American College in India. There he offered to be the prayer cell leader at the hostel where he and his fellow students lived. It was a volunteer position, he said, which involved leading prayer meetings and inviting people from outside the school to join. He was also general secretary for the Student Christian Moment Ministry, which preached Christian teachings in the streets of India. Additionally, he worked as a secretary for a gospel group at his school.
Those experiences, Thiagarajan said, helped prepare him to become a pastor.
“I never had a plan to become a pastor . . .,” he said. “Now I know that I am serving because God called me, and I accepted that truth.”
In 1986, he earned a master’s degree in social work, with a specialization in human resources, at Madurai Kamarajar University in India. In 2000, he immigrated to the United States and began work as a human resource specialist for an intermission technology company in Manhattan, which he continues to this day.
Throughout his time in America, he became increasingly interested in learning more about God. Every day, he said, he awoke at 4 a.m. to study the Bible, taking copious notes. He intially found many of the teachings in the holy book difficult to understand, and that led him to start attending different churches to gain a better understanding of Christian teachings.
Over time, many people, including his brother and congregants from various churches, encouraged him to be ordained. Those suggestions, he said he believes, were God’s way of calling him to become a pastor.
In 2002, Thiagarajan started studies at the New York Theological Seminary, and he eventually earned a master’s in divinity. For years he volunteered at different churches and preached as a guest speaker on many occasions at Lutheran Church of Our Savior.
He became a part-time pastor at the church in 2018, and when he becomes pastor, he said, he hopes to continue to evangelize and share with others how the story of Jesus has influenced his life, in the hope of driving up attendance at the church, which has declined in recent years.
About 300 people used to attend Sunday worship services, he said. Now that number is down to about 55.
“As the new pastor of this church, it’s my responsibility to maintain the church, to serve the people who are already members of the church, and to revive the church by bringing new people to the church,” Thiagarajan said. “As a pastor, I’m a humble servant of God and a servant of people, and God chose me to be a pastor, so I’m trying to pastor people here by preaching the word confidently and with authority.”
He has started a church bulletin that helps explain his sermons to attendees. He has also installed a TV for use during services, to display PowerPoint presentations and photos to help enhance the sermons.
Additionally, the Lutheran Church of Our Savior has a Facebook page, and sermons are now recorded and available on the church’s YouTube channel for people who are unable to attend.
Many church members said they appreciate Thiagarajan’s efforts. “We are so blessed to have him as our new pastor,” Ruth Feuerstack, 91, an 85-year church member, said. “Our church really needed an ordained pastor, and God has blessed us by sending him.”
“I’m very excited for the new pastor because I find him to be very joyful, sincere, intelligent and wise,” Audrey Conlon, 90, a 60-year church member, said. “The way he preaches the word of God has really helped me by giving me a new perspective on the Bible.”
“We have a wonderful Bible class that our new pastor leads,” Lotte Kloeckener, another congregant, said. “We understand more of the Bible because he is very knowledgeable about history, and he shows us videos during the Bible study that really explain things.”
Thiagarajan also hopes to encourage non-members to take part in church services and activities, including those who doubt the existence of God.
“For anyone who is afraid to come to church, I want them to know that the church is a welcoming place, and you don’t have to follow any rituals to go to church,” he said. “Don’t worry about the denomination or the differences between the denominations, just come closer to God and you will have a different experience.”