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Accomplished athlete takes lead as new minister at Union Church of Hinsdale

HINSDALE – He was standing on the shoreline peering out across the English Channel, ready for the cold grip of the Atlantic to do what it could to stop him from reaching the other side of the exhausting swim.

“I just thought to myself, OK, I am like a spring that through all of my training, through all of my conditioning, through all of my work, I’ve been winding-up that spring and all I have to do is let out all of that energy slowly over the next 15 hours,” said Rev. Mike Solberg, senior minister at the Union Church of Hinsdale.

It was the culmination of a 30-year dream for the minister. Like those who followed tradition before him, Solberg didn’t use a wet suit and left himself at the mercy of the current.

He ended up finishing in 13.5 hours.

“By the end it truly was like the spring was completely uncoiled,” said the 49-year-old La Grange Park resident with a laugh. “I was just glad to be done and it was over and I was glad I made it.”

Swimming the English Channel in 2009 wasn’t just a life long goal, it was also the opportunity to raise money for a school in Angola – $82,000 to be exact. But that’s just one athletic accomplishment for the minister.

He’s done two Ironman competitions and ran in this year’s Chicago Marathon. Solberg said he doesn’t consider himself a fast runner, but that he just views exercise as recess.

“It’s very relaxing to me,” he said. “The reason I do all that exercise is because it’s a great stress reliever. It gets me time in the outdoors and I really enjoy it.”

After going without a senior minister for three years, members of the Senior Minister Search Committee and the Executive Council of Union Church of Hinsdale found its minister in August when they chose Solberg, who had lived in Rockford for 23 years, 11 of which were spent practicing at Second Congregation.

Nadine Woodle, moderator of Union Church, said the search process took a little over a year for the next minister, which included meetings with congregation goers and focus groups.

“I think it was his deep faith, his enthusiasm, his ability to relate to a wide range of people and I think he’s very passionate and an exciting person really,” Woodle said of Solberg’s qualities. “He’s very dynamic.”

Coming to the Hinsdale community was the opportunity for Solberg to work with a new congregation and take on new challenges, he said. Solberg said he loved the commitment of the congregation in assisting the community, and the resources available to help others.

But being a senior minister is no easy task, even for a 23-year veteran with a youthful demeanor. In a given week, Solberg does preparation for worship, builds relationships with members of congregation, manages staff and is always ready to listen. He said exercise has been his escape from some of the day-to-day chaos.

“Pastoral ministry is a stressful occupation,” he said. “You’re always giving to other people, you’re always working to build up other people, so the stress builds up, but I find running and exercising really helps.”

Even though Solberg has only been on the job a couple months, Woodle said so far the congregation is delighted to have him.

“They are so happy to see him and they love how he’s come on board and tried to get to know everybody very quickly,” she said. “He’s been making home visits and reaching out to people and they’ve just really appreciated his worship style.”

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