OLDS — Olav Traa, the new pastor St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, is a Renaissance man.
Pastoring is just the latest career for the 53-year-old who grew up in the Montreal area, the son of Norwegian immigrants. He was ordained last spring and St. Paul’s in Olds is his flock. He began serving the church this fall.
Traa’s first career was playing the French horn in various symphony orchestras in the Montreal area, which he did for three or four years, after getting his music degree at McGill University.
"I loved to play music, I love playing it, I love practising it. I still enjoy playing my French horn from time to time,” he said during an interview. “I was a symphony musician, teacher, student, gig player for recording and stuff for several years.”
Then he followed in his dad’s footsteps and got into the maritime shipping business. His father had retired by then. The company bid on contracts and dealt with shippers around the world.
“I always liked the aspect of dealing with people and negotiating contracts and stuff like that. It was kind of exciting," he said.
Traa did that work for about 10 years but became frustrated with how difficult and time-consuming it was to communicate with shippers around the world.
So he persuaded the company to let him learn about computer coding so he could create programs to do that work more efficiently.
“As soon as I started it, I fell in love with like, anything to do with database, codes and stuff like that. I thought it was the coolest thing ever," he said.
So Traa changed careers again and worked as a computer programmer for close to a decade.
“One of the programs I had a lot of fun with was for one of the big pharmaceuticals where we did market modelling,” he said.
Then the 9-11 attacks occurred in New York.
Traa decided it was time to do something really different. He recalled how much he loved to work with his hands, so he and his wife Marie-Paule decided to move to Alberta, where he got a job as an apprentice welder.
She landed a job in the library at the University of Alberta and worked as an educational assistant in Camrose for many years.
Over the years, Traa worked his way up all the way to quality control, then to management of an oilfield equipment company. That job lead him to travel not only to Fort McMurray and Saskatoon, but as far as China.
"In all my travels -- especially when I was working with people who were working on the rigs, a lot of the rigs that I made -- I got that sense that this is not it. This is not where I’m supposed to be,” Traa said.
“I got that sense that there’s a hunger for Christ out there, there’s a hunger for church. Church done right – not necessarily how we’ve been doing it this whole time. I felt almost like I was somehow placed in these spots to talk to these various people.
“It always came back to faith and, like, I wasn’t actually looking for it, to be honest.
“But this question of faith and where are we, what are we and why are we and all these existential questions came up and I – this sense of ‘OK, maybe this is where I need to be’ became clearer and clearer over the years in the oilpatch.”
He told Marie-Paule about those thoughts and they agreed he should pursue them.
“I have the best wife in the world by the way, the most patient woman in the world,” he said.
Initially, he just took a few courses online.
“There was one business trip to China where I was attending courses in the middle of my night over there. I don’t think anybody in the class knew this, but I was, at one point in southern China attending classes at seminary in Saskatoon (online),” he said.
Eventually, Traa and his wife decided he should go whole-hog and study full-time to become a Lutheran pastor.
Now the family lives in Olds and Traa says they all love it.
Their son Eli, 13 is a goaltender in the Olds minor hockey system. Their daughter Rose, 12, loves horseback riding and barrel racing.
For now, Marie-Paule is staying home as the kids transition to their new schools.
“We really enjoy Olds. I can imagine us being here for many, many years. We love the community,” Traa said.
He's also very grateful for the welcome the family received from the St. Paul’s congregation.
“This group of people here, they’re absolutely wonderful. They’ve taken me in, they've welcomed our entire family. We feel so welcomed here,” Traa said.
“In the move and in the whole transition, they were so helpful. Even like just providing meals when we were up to our elbows in boxes and stuff like that.”
He’s looking forward to getting to know the pastors and priests of other denominations in town.
Traa also very impressed with the way former St. Paul’s Pastor John Lenz looked after the church and congregation.
Lenz served St. Paul’s for 22 years before leaving in 2020 to become a pastor in Red Deer.
“John is an absolute gem of a human being and he left this church in a really good state,” he said.