The Rev. Mark S. Bollwinkel, senior pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church, and his wife, Bonnie, are set to leave the large congregation to minister in a small Methodist church in Carmel. Bollwinkel has presided over the local church for 15 years, since Feb. 1, 1999.
Bollwinkel graduated from the Claremont School of Theology with Doctor of Ministry and Master of Divinity degrees. He chose Claremont because its department focused on international development, in which he had a strong interest. Subsequent assignments and events confirmed the wisdom of that decision.
Bollwinkel and Bonnie, married for 39 years, met on a plane in India and married in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Together they have become an indomitable team as they work and support one another in their ministries, adding sons Dan and Matt to their personal congregation.
Their first assignment was in a small church in Sarawak, East Malaysia, with a diverse membership. They had to leave after three years and return to the United States because of a typhoid fever outbreak.
Bollwinkel’s first assignment in the U.S. was a small church of 220 parishioners in Reno, Nev. Diagnosing what he thought was depression, the young pastor saw a counselor who, using depth-oriented “brief” therapy, announced that it was the opposite – he didn’t have enough challenges. He was “underemployed and underpaid” in the small community, according to the counselor.
Coincidently, only 10 days later, he was called to Los Altos to replace LAUMC’s beloved pastor, John Dodson, who had been at the church 22 years.
After 15 years in Los Altos, the Bollwinkels are transferring to a smaller, less stressful parish in Carmel. From a parish of 2,500 active parishioners of all ages, they will transition to a small church with a congregation where 90 percent is older than 65 – no youth group, no choir.
Bollwinkel not only expresses his personal beliefs and those his church espouses through sermons and discussions at LAUMC, but he also has shared his viewpoints with the local community through his regular contributions to the “Pastor’s Perspective” column in the Town Crier.
Using wit, personal experiences and his strong convictions, Bollwinkel has never hesitated to express his opinions, addressing many important community issues.
He easily identifies the current friction between the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School as one of the most serious and problematic in the community. Parishioners have come to him in tears, children have been bullied, he said, and it continues.
Rather than dismiss the conflict as not his problem, in August 2012 he enjoined a group of local pastors, including the Rev. David Moore of Union Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Malcolm C. Young of Christ Episcopal to embark on mediation. Bollwinkel said he would “like to think it helped,” but the situation is far from resolved.
One of the highlights of his service in Los Altos followed the destructive arson fire at Antiochian Orthodox Church of the Redeemer. Representatives of the faith communities joined in raising money, offering facilities and supporting the Rev. Samer Youssef during the difficult time. In addition to the local Christian churches, Congregation Beth Am sent a cantor, an Iman attended and the “Island of Hope” in 2002 raised $25,000. Bollwinkel remains proud of “their working together.”
The Bollwinkels’ sons Dan and Matt approve of the transition. Not only are they happy because the assignment will be less stressful, but Carmel just happens to be convenient for the fishing and water recreation the family enjoys together.
Although the community will certainly miss their presence, the Bollwinkels are quite emphatic that transition does not mean abandonment.
Bonnie will commute from Carmel to continue her work with the Alzheimer’s Association and the Community Services Agency.
Her farewell message: “Thank you. Los Altos is a wonderful place to live and grow. I love that most people are so service-oriented.”
Mark’s sentiments are similar. LAUMC is an open church, he said, that “embraces everyone – including us.”
To read Bollwinkel’s “Pastor’s Perspective” columns, visit losaltosonline.com.