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Feeding the flock: Different pastors, different faiths — but the same love of God and his children

Published: Saturday, Jan. 28 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Father Omar Ontiveros records on the radio.

Brian Nicholson, El Observador

On the surface, it would seem Dave Nelson, Omar Ontiveros and Steve Barsuhn have little in common.

Dave is in his 40s, an articulate, personable father of five. Omar is a handsome, young, single Latino. And Steve is … well … older, an empty-nester with less hair than the other two, but a lifetime of great stories to tell.

But those differences are just superficial. Dig a little deeper and you'll find that these three good men are practically the same person. They are all bright, caring and well-spoken. They are all men of profound and passionate faith. They have all experienced the life-changing "call" to the ministry. And they all devote their lives to the care and keeping of their respective ministerial flocks, feeding them with equal doses of sermonizing, service and the love of God.

"I was taught in the seminary that part of the role of a priest is to be in the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd," said Father Ontiveros, who is two years in to his first pastoral assignment as the pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church in West Valley City. "Like a shepherd, it is our job to be there for the flock, to walk with them in the good and the bad times, too."

And that isn't always easy, Pastor Barsuhn said.

"It takes a lot out of you," said the pastor of Rocky Mountain Bible Church, a non-denominational congregation in Brigham City. "You really care about these people, and so when they feel pain and anguish, you feel it, too. You're not going to do much good if you don't really care about people."

Besides, Pastor Barsuhn continued, "there's more to being a shepherd than just feeding. There's leading, there's teaching … and there's also protecting the flock. There are a lot of things going on in the world, and some folks are more vulnerable to that than others. It's all part of being a shepherd."

And for all three of these Christian men, being a shepherd to the flock means one thing: "I try to be the kind of pastor Jesus would be," said Pastor Nelson, the lead pastor at Salt Lake City's K2 the Church.

"I love this about Jesus," Pastor Nelson said, warming to the subject. "He comes as the son of a peasant woman and man, only announced to shepherds, not even known for 30 years, just a teacher. He walked like everyone else walked, wore the clothes everyone wore. He came right to the people and talked to them where they were.

"I think if Jesus was here, he'd try to meet everyone where they are," Pastor Nelson continued. "And so our focus here at K2 is, let's do what Jesus did."

For Pastor Nelson, that focus wasn't always so clear. He started his college career with the intention of becoming a high school teacher and football coach.

"I knew that teachers and coaches have great influence on high school kids, and I wanted to be able to have that kind of influence," he said. "I never really thought about being a minister."

Then one night, during the summer between his junior and senior year of college, the call came.

"I spent the summer driving around in a van and working with youth groups," he said. "I was out by myself taking a walk one night when I felt God saying, 'This is what I created you for.'"

Soon an opportunity presented itself for him to be a youth minister, and the course of his life was set.

Similarly, Father Ontiveros didn't start out wanting to be a priest. In fact, he doesn't remember even going to church as a child or teenager.

"My parents were not very religious," he said. "I was baptized as a baby, but we never went to church. I was studying chemistry in college — the thought of being a priest never entered my mind."

Until his mother, who had since returned to activity in the church, persuaded him at age 20 to participate in a spiritual retreat for Catholic young people.