Lutheran Church of the Cross Pastor Drew Bakken considered a career serving others at a very young age.

The Stillwater native first considered a life of ministry in the fourth grade. The feeling stuck with him through school, but he also developed an interest in law.

“I remember talking with God and saying, ‘If you want me to go into ministry, just let me know, but as I go to college, let me explore other options.’”

He graduated with a degree in criminal justice from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, but did not decide on a life devoted to God until an internship at a drug and alcohol abuse center made him realize how he could serve others best.

“As I was listening to my clients and their stories, I realized the law wasn't something that was going to help people, and that there needs to be a message of grace, love and support, and it wasn't something that I could do at a state facility,” Bakken said. “It kind of opened my eyes that I really was called to go into the ministry to preach a message of hope, grace, love and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ.”

Eighteen years later, Bakken has served as a pastor in Illinois and the Twin Cities area before coming to the Nisswa church in 2017.

At Lutheran Church of the Cross, he has found many individuals as eager to serve as he is.

“What I love about our congregation is that we are a serving church, and that we're looking outside of the box on how we help our community,” he said. “We have a rummage sale that we have every year, which we raised close to $70,000. Probably 70-75% of that goes back into the community.”

The congregation has also been active with local food shelves and serves at Sharing Bread Soup Kitchen in Brainerd on a regular basis.

His in-laws actually bought a cabin in the area nearly two decades ago, and Bakken - with his wife, Colleen, and their three children - would spend vacation days in the area before moving here permanently. He called it a wonderful opportunity to be able to give back to a community that had given to him when he was a guest.

“I enjoy the aspect of getting to know people - having the ability to walk with people in every aspect of life from cradle to grave, and to be able to share in those experiences of baptism, First Communion, wedding, confirmation, funerals and all of those stages in life,” he said. “I like just walking with people and seeing how God is alive in their lives and how He is alive in this world. It’s fascinating to see.”

As a pastor, Bakken was surprised to learn that he needed to be a sort of “jack of all trades.” With construction set to begin on County Road 13, where the church sits, he is learning the ins and outs of architectural plans, as well as working with the city of Nisswa and Crow Wing County to insure the church is as accessible as possible. Over the years - and especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic - he has learned to be a passable videographer and run a sound system effectively.

With Easter just days away, Lutheran Church of the Cross, like many other churches locally and worldwide, will have an online worship service in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The service will take place at 10:30 a.m. and can be found both at lccnisswa.org and the Lutheran Church of the Cross Facebook page.

“It will still be a service that is very familiar to people,” Bakken said. “We will have three or four singers that will be coming in. We have our organist that will be playing and I’ll continue to preach that message that Christ is alive in the world - that our hope has not left us, but that God is alive and still creating new things.”

Despite being physically separated from his regular church goers, Bakken has been pleased with how his church has been able to reach out to them and how his congregation has responded to the changes.

“I think that's probably one of the things I love about our churches is that in the midst of all this, within a time span of just a couple of days, that we've been able to continue to provide ministry to the members of our church by moving to an online presence and trying to figure out new ways of reaching out,” Bakken said. “I think that's just the hands of God in there, trying to make sure that we are still reaching out to people in the midst of social distancing. God still hasn't distanced himself away from us.”

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.