Mike Grabenstein changes personalities as often as shirts. One minute he’s a Jewish kidnapper, the next he’s a black-hearted farmhand or an aging baseball player.
Most often, he’s the 50-year-old pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Hayden.
But even then, he sometimes subdivides into Noah or Matthew.
“I’ve become a better preacher since I’ve been on the stage,” he says. “Acting’s given me confidence, permission to be who I am.”
Mike hit the stage nearly 20 years ago, but he wasn’t new to the spotlight.
He’d sung his way through his U.S. Army service. Instead of fighting in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969, he toured Europe’s songfests as a tenor with the Seventh Army Soldier’s Chorus.
College led to teaching, which landed him a job as a church youth director. That job taught him that he didn’t want to teach and introduced him to the pastor who attracted him to preaching.
Mike was a lifelong Lutheran who viewed pastors as distant. He believed he belonged in the masses and never considered preaching.
But, “This pastor was approachable, authentic,” Mike says. “I figured I could do this job.”
Four years in the seminary led to his first congregation in North Dakota. On a whim, he answered a casting call for a musical at the local college during his first endless winter.
The theater taught him to captivate his audience with movements and voice changes. It revealed to him who he is.
“People want to hear a story of love, hate, death, life - the same themes the Bible covers,” he says. “Preaching and the theater are both really telling a story. I’m a storyteller.”
Soon after St. Mark’s hired Mike in 1990, he found the Lake City Playhouse community theater. He’s recognized in public now for his portrayal of the Cowardly Lion in “The Wizard of Oz” or Slimy the Rat in “Rapunzel” more often than he is as Pastor Mike.
Some parishioners joined his congregation after seeing him perform in the theater and were treated to his intimate and animated sermons.
“That’s a byproduct of my theater work - it draws people to my church,” he says. “But I do it for the interaction, for the response I get from people.
“I like it when I connect.”
A cultural garden
Remember the Coeur d’Alene Garden Club’s Garden Tour last July? People flocked to gawk at the posies and veggies raised by amateur gardeners with exceptionally green thumbs. The club raked in $1,800 and handed it to the Coeur d’Alene Cultural Center last week.
Coeur d’Alene lawyer Robert Fasnacht figured he’d pay one way or another for a logo for his office. So he decided to spend his money wisely.
He’s holding a design contest for high school students and offering $500 toward the winner’s advanced education.
It’s a top-notch deal. Students may enter as many times as they want. The contest is open to private, public and home schools. All the entries will be exhibited at the Coeur d’Alene Cultural Center Nov. 8.
Applications are in school counseling offices and at the Fasnacht law office, 1250 Ironwood Drive, Suite 310, in Coeur d’Alene. Deadline for entries is Oct. 29. Call 665-9664 for details.
Terry and Frank Martin, the new owners of Crosby’s Floral and Gift, know how to impress folks. They gave away 2,000 roses earlier this month to customers to spread around town. People used them to snag dates, offer peace, bring smiles and make friends.
How did North Idaho welcome you when you moved here? With flowers or an ice storm? Search your memories for Cynthia Taggart, “Close to Home,” 608 Northwest Blvd., Suite 200, Coeur d’Alene 83814; FAX to 765-7149; call 765-7128; or e-mail to email@example.com.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo