From a very young age, the Rev. Gary Liker knew he was destined for ministry.
"When I was 5 or 6, my dad sat me down and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. And he was a teacher, and he expected me to say a teacher or a fireman or a policeman or something like that. And I told him - I was raised Catholic - I told him I wanted to be a priest, and he paused and then asked me again ... and I answered the same thing," Liker said. "So I guess I've always known."
Liker assumed the position of pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Pequot Lakes in June. His journey with the church has taken him all over Minnesota, but the pastor got his start in the small town of Chetek, Wisconsin, where he grew up. From there he moved to Duluth to attend the College of St. Scholastica, where he got degrees in youth ministry and religious studies.
Liker also met his wife, Brenda, at St. Scholastica, and it was through her pastor in Forest Lake that he set his sights on being ordained in the Methodist church.
"(He) helped mentor me into the ordination process and in the Minnesota annual conference, and so that's how I stayed in Minnesota," Liker said.
Though Liker was raised in a Catholic household, his desire to have a family while also serving in ministry led him to convert.
"You can't have both to be fully ordained in the Catholic church," he said. "So I talked again with Brenda's - my wife's - pastor and was converted to the Methodist church."
Liker went to the St. Paul School of Theology - a Methodist seminary in Kansas City, Kansas - after college. He moved back north in the mid-1990s after that and has called Minnesota home ever since.
From Roseau to Ellendale and Geneva, and from Barnum to South Minneapolis and Bloomington, Liker's ministry has led him to live all over Minnesota. But Pequot Lakes is his first taste of central Minnesota. The lakes area is a big change for Liker, especially since he just came from Bloomington, but the pastor is learning to adapt.
"Each church is different and has unique pros and cons but wonderful people. And we've learned and loved a lot from each church," he said. "The folks that we have come across so far have been fantastic, and so that's really good. It certainly has made us feel welcome."
The biggest challenges Liker said he has had to overcome is that much of his family still lives in the Twin Cities and the dynamics at Grace United Methodist are much different because of the influx of people in summer.
"Whereas in the Cities, it's quiet in the summer ... but people (are) back in the winter," he said, adding that he doesn't mind the change and actually welcomes the challenge.
Liker is still getting acquainted with his new church and is trying to make the transition smooth for both himself and his parishioners.
"At the moment, I'm still learning," he said. I still need to understand how things are done here, and that takes some time. I'm not one to come in and immediately make changes because that ... takes away from what they've been doing."
The pastor said he likes what he has seen at Grace so far.
"Is there always room for changes and improvements and so on? Yeah, but it doesn't have to be today," he said.
In the meantime, Liker is learning to enjoy all that the lakes area has to offer and is hoping to get back into fishing, a hobby he hasn't pursued in a while.
"Up here there's no excuse," he said with a laugh.
Travelling - especially cruises - also take up his free time, along with spending time with his wife, two grown sons and grandson.
Though Liker doesn't know how long he'll be in Pequot Lakes - as the church leadership occasionally changes clergy appointments based on parish needs - he's excited to continue his journey here.
"I think this is going to be a great place to be, to minister," he said. "My wife and I are looking forward to our time here, however long that may be. But we hope it's a good, long time."