CLB Canada: President Overland Retires

"Take it, lassie. It’s for sinners.” That line is taken from one of Rev. Jon Overland’s favorite illustrations. He tells of an older Christian man sitting in a Scottish worship service. The man had come to church feeling troubled and condemned. It was now communion time. The elements were being passed. He had decided that he could not take communion. His life as a child of God was not what it ought to be. When the tray came, he would just pass it on.

But then he noticed the young woman sitting in the same row with a couple of empty spaces between them. She had been quiet throughout the service except that, as the words of the Lord’s Supper were read, she began to sob. At last the tray was in her hand. She turned to pass the tray on without partaking. Only now the man saw her need, and in her need he realized his own. He passed the tray back to her and whispered, “Take it, lassie. It’s for sinners.” They both left worship that day believing those words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
That story illustrates the central concern of Reverend Overland’s ministry. Above all else, he longs for those troubled by their sins to believe that their sins have been nailed to the cross by their Savior and forgiven.

Jon, as I know him and call him as colleague and brother-in-law, grew up in a pastor’s home. He left shortly after high school to work in the potash mines in central Saskatchewan. Eventually he moved north 150 kilometers to the farm owned by his family near Hagen. In his first years on the farm, between fall harvest and spring work, he attended Bible School at LBS. That’s where he met Debbie. They were married in 1973.

Jon is an avid reader. It was said of him during his farming days, “He’s probably the best-read farmer in Saskatchewan when it comes to theology.” Although still working his farm, he felt himself being drawn toward the ministry. In a defining moment one harvest day, Jon recognized that it might be time to leave the farm behind when he found himself sharing the gospel with a friend instead of harvesting his crops! After receiving additional encouragement from his good friend and future professor, Dr. Eugene Boe, Jon moved his family to Fergus Falls, MN to begin his pastoral training at Lutheran Brethren Seminary.

During his years in Fergus, Jon served part-time as a chaplain at Broen Home where his father Edwin was a resident. Jon now had the privilege of preaching to the pastor who had first taught him the gospel. After one of those services, his father commented, “Jonathan, we didn’t quite make it to the cross today, did we?” From that day forward, Jon endeavored to bring his listeners to the cross of Jesus Christ whenever he preached.

In 1998, he accepted the call to serve Grace Lutheran Church in Okotoks, Alberta. Jon is a people person, and he would often study in a coffee shop where he could meet others. He wore a clerical collar to be recognized as a pastor, and often heard the question, “Pastor, can I talk to you?” One of these spontaneous conversations led to the wedding officiation of a couple in a windblown Alberta pasture. They had learned about Jesus from Pastor Jon.

In 2009 he was elected the president of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren of Canada. Under his leadership, the CLBC purchased a home in Fergus Falls to provide housing for Canadians attending LBS. They designated significant scholarship funding for the students. They supported a church plant in Red Deer, Alberta.

Jon retired from pastoral ministry in 2019, and subsequently stepped down as president of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren of Canada in early spring 2022.

Those who know Jon remember his big heart, powerful hug, and deep bass voice thundering “Right on!” Those who’ve travelled with him remember Jon as a person who could make a quick stop at a gas station and make a friend before he left. I know that, should Jon be offering me the communion tray and see me hesitate to partake, he would say, “Take it, Dave. It’s for sinners.”

Dr. David Veum is President of Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

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