From prodigal to pastor, Erich Siemens

Pastor Erich Siemens stands outside Calvary Chapel of the Springs, where he has ministered to his congregation for eight-and-a-half years. Daily Record photo by Denise Cathey

If you meet Erich Siemens on the street, your first impression might be he’s a drifter. He drifts from bartending, to mowing lawns, to another semester of college — changing his major, of course — and back to bartending.

This interview began in a slightly different fashion than most. “Where are we,” was my first question.

“We are in the old library, right in the heart of San Marcos – about 200 yards from Texas State, right by the square, heavy traffic.” All this punctuated by a hardy laugh from Siemens, as if to say: “I know what you are thinking: How in the world did you get here?”

“I had nothing to do with getting into this building. I started going to this church when we were meeting at Aquarena Springs in the old buildings that were once the museum — near the old submarine and the visitor’s center. Before that, we were in a number of places around town. I believe we started at the Howard Johnson Inn.”

Siemens related that he started going to the Chapel of the Springs in January 2004, when he moved to San Marcos from Arkansas. Not to a new job. Not to go to school. Not to follow a fiancé. He had friends who lived here and thought it would be a good idea to join them. Maybe that drifter you saw at first sight was actually there at one time in his life.

Siemens is quick to admit that he was “pretty much a prodigal” when he started going to this church. “That is when the Lord started working on my heart and I dedicated my life to Jesus. I was 27 at the time.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I ever see myself as leading this congregation.”

“So, how did you get to this position?” I asked. “Many have a call and know from a young age, that their career is to be a minister. Others tell me how they have slowly realized that their comfort is with the church; they love doing the work of the church; still others are sons or daughters of ministers and follow their parent’s path. Tell me about your ascent to this leadership position.”

Siemens’ response to the question: “The ‘call’ was gradual. Actually, as I returned to the church, Jesus simply said, ‘I welcome you back.’ I said, “Really, I don’t have to earn my way back?’ ‘No,’ Jesus said, ‘I welcome you back.’

“From that point on, I just wanted to serve Him anyway I knew how. If working in this H-E-B warehouse as a forklift driver is where you want me to be, that’s fine.

“Then someone suggested I work with the kids at Chapel of the Springs, playing guitar and singing,” Siemens said. “ I’m happy to do that. I quit saying ‘no’ to these opportunities that came up in the church. Little did I know that I would serve as the pastor, years later.”

I can see that leading the kids was an ideal job for Siemens. There is so much kid in him, even at 42, he reminds one of a gangly teenager.

“I just kept saying yes to opportunities that the church presented,” Siemens said. “I taught Bible studies to the college students and that went well. I enjoyed it and it led to our pastor suggesting I work with the youth group. I thought it was over my head — out of my pay grade — but I said I’d give it a try.

“Three years later the pastor was called to Austin to assist a struggling church. He approached me and said, ‘How would you feel about pastoring this church?’”

“I told him I would pray about it,” Siemens said. “Finally, I said yes, and I have been here since.”

I suggested that he refers to Jesus as a friend, rather than a deity, or a mystic whose life, death and resurrection are the basis of the belief of Christianity. “What’s that about,” I questioned.

“That is an interesting question,” Siemens said. “I know that he is talking directly to me when I open my Bible. I have the Holy Spirit in me, and he speaks to me in that way as well. But I know for sure it is he when I open my Bible. And I try to stay sensitive to the message. I hope that answers your question.”

I wondered about Siemens’ formal training in religion. “Have you been to seminary?”

“The closest I came to seminary was when I graduated from high school, a 19 year old, I went to England for a year and attended a Methodist Bible School,” Siemens said. “At that time, I realized there was something about the Bible that gripped me. It resonated on my heart. Little did I know that would come into play as a minister. I had no intention to follow that path.”

“So, when did you become a pastor?”

“Let’s see. I became a pastor here when I was 33.”

From his appearance, I guessed he was not yet 40.

“I’m 42,” he corrected, “so, I have been pastor here about 8 and a half years.

“This was not a career path that I chose. It was more like God picked me.”

“The name, Calvary Chapel of the Springs, are you associated with any denomination, or do you function as a nondenominational, independent church?” I asked.

“There are many Calvary Chapels, but we do not answer to a higher headquarters. I go to conferences of Calvary Chapel pastors, but we consider ourselves to be nondenominational,” Siemens responded.

“You are 42, you felt this pull at 19. So, you’ve dealt with this on your heart for a while,” I stated.

“Yes. I did not know what it was at first. I felt a pull to God’s word. It intrigued me—it was the primary pull. I knew that I could open this Bible, that it was true and that it would speak to me.

“However, in my 20s I backslid. I became a prodigal, but then I came back. And that is God’s Grace.”

Siemens’ use of prodigal intrigued me. “What was that about?”

“I was angry. I was running from God. I didn’t know the specific things He had for me in the future. I saw myself as my own god.”

“You were single. You were 27. You had no real responsibilities,” I asserted.

“Yes, I got the forklift job — by God’s grace — I certainly did not deserve it. I stayed with the forklift, because that’s where God had put me. But my heart was at the church. The forklift operator paid my bills, but I knew I was doing that work for Jesus.”

I suggested that the church had a powerful hold on Siemens and it was almost surreal to hear him describe his attraction to this particular church.

“Yes, the Lord has put me in this place and I couldn’t leave,” Siemens said. “I love these people. I was where I was supposed to be. I couldn’t leave. I would pay to be here. That has been my feelings ever since I entered this church.”

Drawing on my own leanings, I pointed out that his description of his relationship and feelings for the church, sound as if he is describing a beautiful woman with whom he is in love.

With another of his hardy laughs, he admitted his love for the people, the institution, and the knowledge that he was doing God’s work drew the analogy of “He’s not heavy, He’s my brother.”

“So, how do you relate to your congregation? What is your feeling as you face the congregation while you preach?”

“First, they are God’s people. I don’t want them to hurt. I feel responsible to help them through the pains of everyday life. The church is Christ’s bride. You would not want your wife to suffer. You don’t own her, but you have responsibility — a form of stewardship. Well, I am a steward to this church. I am charged with helping them in whatever way possible.

“At the end of the day, I want to hear Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful Servant.’

“I preach to the people who are here, I don’t preach to those who aren’t here. We are 200 yards from the campus of a sizable university – shouldn’t we be recruiting students? We have students who come and all of them are on our heart, but I am content with whoever God brings through the door.”

Among the ministers/pastors I have interviewed as a part of this series, there have been many seminary graduates, masters level college degrees and higher. So, I queried Siemens about his relative lack of formal credentials. Is he ever intimidated by that lack?

“It doesn’t bother me very much. I have so much to do here, I don’t have time to worry about who is in the other churches and what they doing,” Siemens said. “Yes, I still get nervous as I head for the pulpit. I know that my training and experience are lacking, but I’m here for the people. I do want to get the text right and I want the people to have a better relationship with the Bible when I get through preaching. My ultimate goal is to do it the way God would have me do it.

“The people have been very accepting. They are patient with me.”

I related to Siemens that Pastor Benn, Greater Bethel Baptist Church, said he aims for the “aha” instead of the “amen.” That got Erich even more excited, as he blurted…”I have never heard that before. I love that.”

My suspicion is that the Calvary Chapel congregation will begin to hear those words in the next few weeks.

Do you have a choir, I asked.

“We have a worship team,” he said. It is more of a contemporary musical group with the drums, horns and band instruments.”

“Do you play?”

“I have played, but I don’t now, I don’t want to complicate matters for me.”

A further discussion of music aroused Siemens’ enthusiasm almost as much as his enthusiasm for the people of Calvary Chapel; his devotion to the Bible; and his awareness of and deep respect for the influence of God and Jesus Christ in his life.

Author’s note: Siemens is also a veteran and a paratrooper and we exchanged a few war stories, as well.

San Marcos Daily Record

(512) 392-2458
P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666