'Gentle giant' Moorhead journalist is now a patient pastor
"Faith Conversations" writer Roxane B. Salonen catches up with the Brooks family to learn how the former journalist switched roles in his new career as a pastor.
MOORHEAD — Conversing with her husband, Shelley Brooks necessarily looks up to the heavens. “I call him my Gentle Giant,” says Shelley, who, at 5 feet, 2 inches, stands a foot below the Rev. Devlyn Brooks.
“He’s just so kind and so mellow. There’s nothing that really rattles him,” Shelley continues. “In the 10 years we’ve been together, I’ve maybe heard him raise his voice one time. Maybe.”
It’s a rare quality, perhaps, for the profession Pastor Devlyn initially chose — journalism — but well-befitting his new role as pastor for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Deb Byers, who worked alongside Pastor Devlyn for four years as a council member at Faith Lutheran Church in Wolverton, Minn. — including at the outset of the pandemic — agrees.
“I don’t think if you kicked him hard you could make him get mad at you.”
But a calm demeanor doesn’t ensure a smooth pathway. As with anyone who walks the road of Christ, Devlyn’s history is strewn with rough patches needing grace.
Seeking an anchor
Pastor Devlyn grew up the youngest of nine children in the early 1970s in Crookston, Minn., attending the Church of Christ. At age 4, his parents divorced, at a time, he notes, when such a parting was rare.
“My mom was a waitress who hadn’t graduated high school, so we were very poor, and there was not a lot of time for her to fight the faith battle,” he says. “She was tired, and it was not worth it to drag three young kids to church.”
Though he didn’t leave the faith, he says, he quit practicing it in any meaningful way.
After college and marrying, Devlyn became the father of two young boys. The family moved to International Falls, Minn., where Devlyn became editor at the Daily Journal.
It was a time of trial for the couple, but a Lutheran pastor who was invited in to help stabilize the family left an impression on Devlyn.
“I was inspired by his pastoral care for us,” he says. “He was just living out being Christ. Not forcing anything, but just being there for us.”
Observing him, Devlyn thought: “I think I could do that.” But it passed by.
A new life
Ultimately, Devlyn became a single father, and in 2007, relocated to Fargo-Moorhead with his sons to work for The Forum newspaper.
He soon noticed gaps in his sons’ lives, however, and one day, driving home from school, a sign at a nearby church announcing a Boy Scout meeting caught his eye. Devlyn signed up his oldest son, and through that, soon began interacting with Pastors Matthew and Kathy Valan at Christ the King Lutheran Church.
The couple “thoughtfully and carefully” started ministering to his unmet needs, he says. “They saw a single man who was devastated, had gone through a divorce and moved, and needed a social network.”
In time, the Brooks family found a church home there.
Devlyn’s transformed life continued to take on new dimensions when, in 2013, he reacquainted with a college friend. They later married, turning his bachelor pad into one that would accommodate Shelley and her two daughters.
Several years later, in 2016, Shelly, an administrator of the Lutheran campus ministries at Minnesota State University Moorhead, invited Devlyn to lunch with a group of visiting representatives from six Lutheran seminaries. She didn’t know about his long-ago thought of becoming a pastor.
But the conversation held him bound, and in April 2017, Devlyn visited Luther Seminary in St. Paul. “The moment I stepped on campus, I just knew that I was called,” he says.
With Shelley’s support, he quietly entered seminary.
A hidden life
Still employed at The Forum, Devlyn was reticent about explaining his new course to his
“I had to work full time while doing seminary. It was a challenge,” he says. “I worked all day, got home, helped with kids, got them off to bed, then at 10, 11, started my homework until about 1 a.m.”
“Cheating homework on the back end,” he says, often left him like a zombie the next day, but he was determined to finish. Though much could be done online, Devlyn attended, twice yearly, a weeklong, in-person, intensive residency for over five years.
Chavaleh Forgey, of Federal Way, Wash., was among his seminary friends keeping him focused. Since the two entered their pastoral studies as a second career, she says, they seemed to have a different outlook than some.
“We really knew what we were getting into, for good or for ill, and had that connection from the beginning.”
Additionally, Devlyn “epitomized to me the type of person who needed to be a pastor,” Forgey says. “He’s very grounded, and certainly a person of very deep faith that’s also unshakable, no matter the circumstances.”
Those gifts rub off in a good way, Forgey adds.
“If there’s a situation where people are distressed or feeling shaky about anything, you borrow all that steadfastness from him. It’s just an incredible quality about a pastoral candidate.”
She sees Pastor Devlyn as “a real human,” and someone who is “just wholesome to be around.”
Called to ‘fill in’
While still in seminary, Devlyn’s local synod called him to help out a rural parish about 20 miles south of Moorhead, Faith Lutheran, whose longtime pastor was retiring, asking him if he'd fill in temporarily. He never left.
“He really connects with the kids; they just love him,” says Byers, noting that, if they could, the children would “follow him around like little puppies” all day long.
And he’s just as attentive to the elderly, she says, including those in nursing homes. “He’ll give them a call and if they need counseling, a visitation or Communion, he’s more than happy to do that.”
Byers says Pastor Devlyn has not only helped strengthen the congregation as a whole, but her own faith and connection to her faith family.
Expressing mutual gratitude, Devlyn says Faith Lutheran became his seminary training ground as he attended to his first funeral and baptism within the first month, quickly jumped into writing two sermons a month, and navigated a new way of doing church during a pandemic.
“The church gave me so much grace and latitude to grow my wings,” he says, “so I ended up staying.”
In October 2021, after nearly six years working full time and attending seminary, Devlyn was ordained a pastor. In November, he accepted a permanent, half-time position in Wolverton.
A new column
Eventually, he shared his secret endeavor with his work colleagues. “There was a lot of fear,” he admits, “but there was far more encouragement and support” than anticipated.
Devlyn says it reminds him that whenever we enter a life of faith, we need to trust.
“We’re asked to live that life in every arena,” he says. “I realized that I had to be Pastor Devlyn now, whether on the street, at the grocery store or walking into The Forum… I couldn’t be one person here, and another there.”
When asked to consider writing a faith column to share about his experiences as a pastor, after some hesitancy, Devlyn agreed, and The Forum launched his “Finding Faith” a week into his pastorship.
Pastor Devlyn says his journalism background was a fitting prelude to his ministry, and that he’s honored to be able to utilize his gift of writing — and, in a sense, continue preaching, but just from a different platform.
Despite the sacrifices of the past years, he adds, it was all worth it, recalling special moments, like at the Christmas service this year when a couple shared joyfully about their first great-grandchild.
“Being invited into people’s lives is the greatest privilege I will ever experience,” he says. “As weighty as it can be at times, it’s no burden, because God’s there carrying it with you.”
Salonen, a wife and mother of five, works as a freelance writer and speaker in Fargo. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, and find more of her work at Peace Garden Passage, at roxanesalonen.com .