Called to the North Shore
One of the first things John J. Szurpicki did after moving to the north shore of Lake Superior was start a Celebrate Recovery group.
Szurpicki, recently installed as pastor of Beaver Bay Assembly of God in Minnesota, knows the importance of helping others out of addiction. Years ago, when dealing with his own alcohol issues, pastors who believed in John and his wife, Holly, were instrumental in bringing him where he is today.
“When somebody says, ‘I’m willing to invest in you’ — and at that level — it gives you self-worth,” says Szurpicki, 54.
The call to the ministry came gradually for Szurpicki, who worked through an addiction to alcohol for several years. While he says he wasn’t a “mean or abusive” alcoholic, he struggled with drinking and fell away from Christianity. Szurpicki, raised in a Catholic home in Detroit, felt he wasn’t living up to his full potential.
One night, he started praying for guidance.
“I said, Lord, I know you’re not happy with my life, but You need to send me somebody who can help me with my spiritual walk,” he remembers. “I prayed to God, You need to send me somebody who’s not as messed up as I am.”
Szurpicki prayed that for six years. In 1996, he met Holly, and the two began dating and refocusing on their relationship with God. The couple rededicated their lives to Christ and followed the pastor’s advice to marry.
The Szurpickis moved to Bemidji, Minnesota, in 2008, where they began attending Crossroads Church. By that time, Szurpicki says, the appeal of alcohol began to wane.
“It wasn’t flipping a switch,” he says. “But as the hymn goes, the things of the world grew strangely dim. So I started to pull away from that stuff, until the desire had left.”
John and Holly became heavily involved in the church. They served as youth pastors, as well as led a jail ministry and a community prayer group. John earned his Assemblies of God ministry credentials in 2017. The Szurpickis vacationed to the north shore and had an interest in living there, so when the Minnesota District Council alerted him about the opening at Beaver Bay, he found it appealing.
Szurpicki was installed in December at the church, which has about a dozen adherents in a town with fewer than 200 residents.
Without knowing it, the couple answered one of the congregant’s prayers.
John and Holly had brought their family to visit the church while on vacation in July 2016. That visit impressed Kevin Klemmer, a member who has been attending the church for 47 years. At the time, Klemmer thought the couple would be a good addition to the congregation. He wrote a prayer in his journal that they would return some day.
“I had it on my heart that maybe they would be people that would come here and help us as laypeople in the church and give us a boost,” Klemmer says. “And God answered.”
In June 2018, when Szurpicki revisited the church as a pastoral candidate, Klemmer told him the story.
Szurpicki now pastors the church in addition to working full time with Provision Contractors, a faith-based contracting business he started with a partner in 2014.
The Wednesday night Celebrate Recovery group that Szurpicki started earlier this year is designed to grow into a community outreach.
It’s already making a difference, Klemmer says. On a Wednesday in February, during the third meeting, one of the attendees dedicated his life to Christ.