LYNNHURST — Paul M. Youngdahl, senior pastor of 13,000-member Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, died on Monday, church officials said. He was 73.
Mount Olivet is considered the biggest congregation of the Evangelical Luther Church in America, but Youngdahl’s personal touch made it feel like a family instead of a large congregation, said those who knew him.
“He was larger than life,” said Pastor Stephen J. Cornils. “He had the ability to lead a very large congregation and several of our affiliated ministries.
“He could handle the big picture but never lost track of detail. He never lost track of people and personal lives and needs.”
Many of Mount Olivet’s ministries focus on youth because of Youngdahl’s love for children and young adults. Youngdahl spent 10 weeks every summer at Cathedral of the Pines Camp in Lutsen on Minnesota’s North Shore.
“He was at a place he loved with people he loved on the day he died,” Cornils said.
Youngdahl was at the camp with a group of 5th and 6th graders and staff when he fell ill and went to the local hospital in Grand Marais. He was airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale where he died unexpectedly from an existing thoracic aneurysm.
Youngdahl started developing new congregations in 1963 at Lover Lutheran Church of New Orleans. By the time he left that church, in 1966, it was the largest congregation in Louisiana.
He moved onto our Redeemer Lutheran Church in St. Paul and from 1966-68 he baptized 1,450 members.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Youngdahl began his career at Mount Olivet as associate pastor in 1968. He earned the title of senior pastor in 1974. Youngdahl led his flock for 43 year, 37 as senior pastor.
“Things were managed and shaped with a bias toward excellence and efficiency but always with warmth and love,” Cornils said. “No matter how large the organization it was always a very personal experience.”
Youngdahl also developed Mount Olivet Day Services and expanded his church by creating the West Campus in Victoria.
“He truly believed what he preached which was a message of grace and forgiveness and a promise of life everlasting,” Cornils added. “We are all very confident that he is now living into the fullness of his faith.”
Church leaders said Mount Olivet was developing a succession plan. No announcement was expected until after the funeral.
Funeral arrangements and the memorial service are set for this weekend. Youngdahl is survived by his wife Nancy, sons Aaron and Peter and daughter Heidi.