Obituary: Donald A. Njaa

CHICAGO (October 28, 2017) – Donald A. Njaa, executive secretary emeritus of the ECC Department of Ministry, and “mentor to a generation” of pastors, died early this morning. He was 87.

Don was born March 11, 1930, in Cooperstown, North Dakota. He graduated from North Park Junior College, Whitworth College, and North Park Theological Seminary.

He married Terri Rafos on June 30, 1956.

Don served as assistant pastor at First Covenant Church in Spokane, Washington, and Bethesda Covenant Church in Rockford, Illinois. He served as pastor at the Evangelical Covenant Church in Thomaston, Connecticut; Covenant Congregational Church in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Elgin (Illinois) Covenant Church.

Don was also a nucleus builder for the East Coast Conference and associate superintendent of the Central Conference before becoming executive secretary of the Department of Ministry in 1984. He served in that role until his retirement in 1998. He was also influential in developing the current clergy pension plan. In 2000, in recognition of his contributions to the denomination, he was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by North Park Theological Seminary.

“The entire Covenant owes a deep debt of gratitude for Don,” said President Gary Walter. “He insisted on a high bar for clergy character and competence while also being a champion of caring for clergy and their families. He was a professional in every good way, a loving disciple of Jesus and mentor to a generation. Those of us around during his tenure will feel the loss of another leader who helped shape the Covenant that shaped us.”

“It was an honor and a privilege to know Don and work with him over the years, especially on the Board of Ministry,” said Garth Bolinder, superintendent of the Midsouth Conference. “His pastoral foresight about the ECC pension has blessed thousands of ECC pastors and missionaries.”

Former ECC president Glenn Palmberg said, “Don was a friend to many of us pastors and an advocate for all of us. Under his leadership, the Covenant Church clergy credentialing and care process became a model for other denominations. Don accepted God’s call to a challenging ministry. In the midst of conflict and sometimes controversy Don’s goal was always redemption and restoration. The Covenant is indebted to his faithful and strong leadership. Gratitude and condolence to Terri and family.”

Don is survived by his wife, Terri; three children Kari Hutson (John), David (Jan), and Sarah Hill (David), and four grandchildren.

Services are pending.

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About the Author

Stan Friedman

Stan Friedman is the news and online editor for the Covenant Companion and is grateful for the opportunity to serve in a job that combines his newspaper and pastoral ministry experience. He has been to 15 Bruce Springsteen concerts in four cities and listened to “Thunder Road” an average of at least once a day for 41 years.

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8 Comments

  1. He will be missed by may of us. He has done so much for the Korean Central Covenant Church in Northbrook. Thoughts and prayers for Dr. Njaa’s family.

  2. Don always was there praying and encouraging me in trouble times. He also ask for some idiomatics expressions in Spanish. His encouragement to so many ministers in ECC was deeply appreciated. May his family be conforted by the Holy Spirit.

  3. I was sad to hear of Don’s passing. We were good friends when we were young and the Njaa family lived in Spokane. He was in our wedding party when my wife Carolyn and I were married in 1953. Sympathy to Terri and family.

  4. It was very difficult, indeed, to receive the news of Don’s death. We had been close friends and colleagues in ministry for many decades. We shared many “adventures” in mutual ministry over those years. One could always depend on Don to be consistent in compassion, pastoral in ministry, and faithful in the exercise of his administrative responsibilities. Don loved the Lord and His Church that he’d dedicated his life to serving and we’ll never know how many are in that multitude blessed by his ministry. I will miss my dear friend greatly, but I know he’ll be there on the far side of the Jordan to greet me one day. May Terri know every moment, the comfort of our Lord’s arms around her. — George B. Elia

  5. Many Covenant pastors, spouses and widows have a good retirement because of the work of Don Njaa. He was a man of foresight, compassion and competence. He made life better for lots of people, which is always a good legacy.

  6. Don was not only a friend and colleague, but also one who enriched my own life and ministry in then Covenant by his profound love for the ministry and mission of the Church! The hundreds of men and women of the Ministerium, and the churches and ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church owe a deep sense of gratitude to him. Deep sympathy to Terri and the family!
    Herb Freedholm

  7. Don was serving as the Executive Secretary in the Department of Ministry when I graduated from seminary. I appreciated that he would always give a direct answer to a direct question, a practice I have used in ministry. And at the end of a conversation, he would say, “Bless you,” and mean it. He did bless me greatly.
    Steve Weihsmann
    Pastor, Harris Covenant Church
    Harris, MN

  8. We remember Don with great appreciation and admiration. He was truly a pastor’s pastor. Our heartfelt sympathy to Terri and the family.

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