Clotho woman is a pastor to three congregations

When Kali Christensen of rural Eagle Bend retired from her position as a Child Protective Services social worker at Todd County Health and Human Services, she knew she would stay busy.  She and her husband, Chris, raised cattle and sheep. Kali was big on doing the chores and living an outdoor life on their 13.5 acre farm. But these weren’t the only flocks she shepherded. Three months before her retirement, on Dec. 31, 2016, the bishop of the Minnesota Conference of the United Methodist Church, assigned her as pastor, and shepherd, of the Clotho, Clarissa and Eagle Bend church families.

After Kali Christensen of Clotho retired as a Child Protective Services social worker, she began her new career as a pastor of three churches serving Clarissa, Eagle Bend and Clotho. Photo by Nancy Leasman

Kali’s transition from child protector to spiritual drover actually began many years before when her family moved to Clotho. She was four years old when she began attending the local church, growing up through Sunday school, bible school and confirmation. She and Chris were married there and continued to attend the weekly services. As time went on, Kali, who graduated from the Long Prairie High School and the College of St. Benedict, was asked to serve as a lay speaker. She put much thought into what she shared with the Sunday flock, often weaving the understandings gained from her work life into meaningful messages. She also noticed the significance of the members of a small community coming together.

“I watched how my dad always greeted the teenagers at the back of church,” she said. It may seem like a small gesture but it was big on showing the kids that they were part of the community.

Building community is an important role for a pastor, Kali has come to believe, and as she attended classes to become a Licensed Local Pastor (LLP), she realized that the call to serve is all about relationships.

“It’s about bringing Christ to the world. There are lots of ways to do that,” she said, primary among them is to “show up.”

She shows up for hay rides with the young people. She shows up for Porch Ponderings on Thursday evenings during the summer (which features guest speakers from the community on topics of interest). She shows up to work with the Clotho families to make 100 gallons of ice cream for the annual ice cream social, encourage the monthly music jams, or Friday morning coffees. She shows up for the agenda-free conversations at the Clarissa church, and the monthly free dinners at the Eagle Bend church. “Church isn’t just the 45 minutes on Sunday morning. It’s life,” she said.

“I reconciled my personality with my job and put in the number of hours needed.” she said. Her position is considered three-fourth time, which means 32 hours per week, but she knows that with three church families to serve, she can’t watch the clock.

“You have to figure out who you are and how you operate, and look for balance,” she said.

While Kali is already an LLP, she continues to take classes. “I’ll probably be taking classes until I die,” she said. “I get a lot from the seasoned pastor/professor who teaches the classes.” She also gets ongoing support from the church conference as well as a pastor mentoring group which meets every other month.

Kali also gets together with two other women who have recently become pastors of other churches in the area. “There are not so many people going into the ministry. Churches must look at who wants to serve and how they can serve,” she said by way of explanation of the trend of more women becoming pastors.

Just as Kali was adapting to retirement and a new trajectory, two events showed her again the importance of community and purpose. “I had no way of knowing my mom would pass away (in March of 2018) and only three weeks later my husband would pass away,” she said.

She learned that it’s best to not make big decisions after loss. “There’s a fog in grief. You can’t deal with the totality of it. After a year and a half, life becomes clearer,” she said.

But after six months, Kali knew she had to give up the farm animals. She couldn’t keep up with the demands of farming. “I miss them,” she said simply. She kept the barn cats and Homer, the mixed breed dog that accompanies her on daily walks.

As she reflects on love and loss, the idea of community comes up again and the need to provide opportunities for people to talk about their lives.

Pastor Kali Christensen hangs a sign of the nativity in November in preparation for the Christmas season.

“Life experience is rich, whether or not we choose to share it. We do better living in communities. We need to look at what unites us, not what divides. We do better if we have a church foundation, know each other’s struggles, give the gifts of prayer and presence,” she said. Church also helps in raising kids, assists with aging parents, and makes life meaningful.

Of life’s challenges, and counseling others through life’s trials, she said that quick fixes are overrated. “I’m a great believer in hope. I control what I can about me,” she said. “Answers come if we stay out of God’s way, but we need to be active participants.”

Kali officiates at her share of weddings, not necessarily in church buildings. She also does lots of funerals. “Everyone has the right to have their life celebrated.” She always meets with the families and delights in sharing the gifts of people’s lives.

As Kali’s church families begin the advent season, a new choir is practicing for services in all three churches. Families will pitch in to do whatever it takes to prepare the church spaces, and provide treats along the way.  Young children will hear the story of the nativity and know that they’re welcome, not in a manger of hay, but in a warm church community.