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Faces: Williamson finds her calling to be a pastor

Pastor Kari Williamson has been at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa for the past three and a half years. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal1 / 2
Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal Pastor Kari Williamson has been at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa for the past three and a half years.2 / 2

Pastor Kari Williamson knew when she went to college that she would work in a church someday. She just didn't know in what capacity.

After serving as a youth director and associate pastor at different churches, Williamson has been associate pastor at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa for the past three and a half years. Three factors played into her career choice:

• Her family. "Church was just something we always did. We also talked about church and faith at home," Williamson said.

• Her high school youth director. That youth director saw leadership capabilities in Williamson and encouraged her.

• Her mentors at her first job out of college. "They said, 'We need to get you to seminary to be trained to be a pastor.' I said, 'No, you're crazy,'" Williamson said.

Williamson grew up in the White Bear Lake/Shoreview area and graduated from Minnehaha Academy. She then ventured to Concordia College in Moorhead, where she majored in secondary education with a focus in history and geography. She had a religion minor and was a part-time youth director for a year and a half while in college. Williamson thought being a youth director at a church would become her career.

In fact, her first job after college was as youth director at United Lutheran Church in Red Wing for four years.

"The two pastors there said, 'You have gifts and talents and the call to be a pastor.' I'm the pastor I am today because of those two pastors and that congregation," Williamson said.

She listened to those two pastors and became a part-time seminary student while working as a full-time youth director. She resigned from her job in 2000 to study full time. She took a year of classes, spent a year as an intern in campus ministry at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and then had another year of classes. She graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul in May 2003.

Williamson's first call was as associate pastor at First English Lutheran Church in Cannon Falls for four years.

"I loved it. It was a great congregation for a first call. You're still new, figuring this ministry thing out," she said, noting congregations where a pastor interns or has a first call are special places.

"They really nurture a person in pastoral ministry. I really give a lot of credit to those places and the people," Williamson said.

In 2007, Williamson's sister and parents moved to Arizona.

"So I took a call to Arizona," she said.

In August 2009, she returned north to be a campus pastor at Minot State University in North Dakota and a congregational pastor at Hope Lutheran Church in Surrey, North Dakota, for five years.

"I absolutely loved it. It was awesome to work with young adults and be on that campus. It's just a fun environment to be in," Williamson said, adding she appreciated the beauty of the prairie.

However, Minnesota is home, and when Williamson had the opportunity to return in 2014, she took it. That opportunity came via Pastor Andy Smith, pastor at that time at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa and one of Williamson's mentors in Red Wing. Almost 14 years to the day that Williamson left her first job in Red Wing, she joined the Nisswa church May 6, 2014.

Now, Williamson is just an hour and a half from her parents' cabin, where they spend the summers. And she speaks highly of her church.

"This is a great place and good church with good things happening," she said.

The church's theme this year is "Where did you see God today," asking where God is active in people's lives.

"So I'm excited to see what God is up to in this place now that we have a full staff," she said.

When she's not at the church, Williamson is part of the Bridges of Hope Board and she enjoys walking her toy poodles — Grace and Baxter — and reading. She also enjoys time spent with family, including two nephews and a niece.

Williamson also enjoys her calling to youth and family ministry.

"I do love getting to know people and listening to people's stories and walking with people on this crazy journey of life," she said.