Culture shock came in full force for Pastor Frank Milo when he first came to Minnesota.
A native of the Bronx, New York City, Milo - pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Pequot Lakes - had quite the adjustment period when he moved to rural St. Francis for an internship during his seminary years.
"I remember my ears hurting from the silence because I was so used to hearing the din of the city," he said.
Minnesota also welcomed Milo with a record-breaking winter of 35 straight days of below-zero temperatures. But somehow during the year-long internship he became accustomed to both the quiet and the cold, which would prove beneficial for his future years in the Midwest.
Before moving to quiet, wintery Minnesota, Milo studied at Hunter College in New York City, where he tried both chemistry and psychology before realizing his call to be a pastor.
"I had become a Christian in college. Before then I wasn't very religious," he said. "I grew up in a Christian denomination, but I kind of abandoned it, as many high school kids do. Then I became part of Hunter Christian Fellowship. And in that fellowship, I got to meet some Christians, and I was impressed with their joy and their love. And I kind of wanted to know more about that. And they told me about the Lord, about Jesus, and, well, one thing led to another, and I became a believer as an adult."
Milo's math professor at Hunter College also played a role in furthering the future pastor's journey to the church.
"When she heard that I wanted to enter the ministry, she purchased for me a book that I still use today; it's a Greek lexicon," he said. "It's for the Greek New Testament, and it's just neat that there's that connection with my college, that book and using it in the seminary. ... It's pretty cool just that she cared enough to give me that gift."
Following his decision to become a pastor, Milo moved to St. Louis, where he went to Concordia Seminary. After three years of studying there and his internship in St. Francis, Milo returned to Minnesota. He spent four and a half years in Breckenridge and Mitchell Township before coming to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Baxter, a decision that wasn't easy to make.
"I was fearful of making the wrong decision," he said.
But Milo's district president - one of the authority figures in the Lutheran Church - gave him helpful advice.
"He said to me, 'You know, Frank, even if you make the so-called wrong decision where you find out that this was not the right thing, God's grace is still going to go with you. God's not going to abandon you just because maybe you made a misjudgement,'" Milo said. "And that really meant a lot."
The pastor spent 13 years in Baxter and then another 21 at Gloria Dei in Pequot Lakes, from which he is set to retire May 13, his 65th birthday.
"I really like the spirit of the people here," he said of his Pequot Lakes congregation. "It's been a blessing."
But when Milo retires, he and his wife of 43 years, Sue, will leave their Gloria Dei parish behind.
"We'll probably find another church home to worship at because I think it's only right to give the next pastor plenty of space and not interfere with what the new pastor wants to do," he said.
Leaving, though, will be difficult.
"I think I'm going to miss the closeness you can have with people. There's a certain closeness of the things you do together - the singing in the choir and the relationships that form," he said.
Another gratifying aspect of his time spent as a pastor, Milo said, was being able to meet people during both the happiest and saddest times of their lives, like weddings, baptisms and funerals.
"They're opening their lives to me and trusting me with those moments," he said. "And that's very special when you can be part of their life."
Despite retirement, Milo said he still has the option to fill in for pastors who are on vacation or fill interim positions for churches in transitional periods.
Knowing he can still be involved is comforting, as the soon-to-be retiree doesn't want to sit back and be inactive. That shouldn't be an issue though, as Milo already has a decent list of activities to pursue, including spending more time with his three children and seven grandchildren and working on his 1932 Chevrolet.
Music will definitely be on the agenda as well, as he is a member of the Central Lakes College Community Band and can play clarinet, alto saxophone and baritone saxophone.
"I've been playing in this band for about 22 years. ... That's a big part of my life," Milo said. "And thanks to the band...we've been able travel to Budapest, Prague and Vienna."
The band also made stops in London, Edinburgh and Dublin, and Milo got to bring his wife along each time.
"We enjoyed it together," he said.
Milo said he and Sue hope to visit more travel destinations upon his retirement, and he is considering joining more community bands in the area.
But among all his traveling, music and family time, Milo will always thank God for his years as a pastor.
"Because who am I? I'm a sinner," he said. "It's all by (God's) grace that it's all made possible. I'm humbled by the fact that He used me in spite of me."