Our Journey So Far . . .
In the 1980s Brainerd area ELCA pastors envisioned a congregation in the growing Baxter area. When the ELCA was unable to provide financial support, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis agreed to become a mission partner and pledged $60,000 over a three-year period. This contribution, along with the support of other congregations, enabled the start of a congregation in Baxter. In 1988 the ELCA purchased 14 wooded acres in Baxter and in 1989 a parsonage.
Pastor Darrell Pedersen was called as a mission pastor in November 1989 and began knocking on doors and meeting people. On January 21, 1990 he was commissioned at a service in the Baxter school gym attended by over 400 people. The first worship service was held on April 22nd of that year in the Baxter School Cafeteria with 125 people attending. During the summer of 1990 Wednesday evening services were held in a clearing at the future church site. Logs were used as benches. Many mosquitoes were in attendance. Having outgrown the Baxter School Cafeteria by the fall of 1990, services were moved to the gym and a Sunday School was begun. A constitution committee was formed to write up a constitution in anticipation of incorporating as Lord of Life Lutheran Church.
The first official meeting of the Lord of Life congregation took place on Sunday, February 17, 1991. Officers were elected and the constitution and bylaws were approved. On the following Sunday, February 24, 126 charter members and three associate members were formally received. NE MN Synod Bishop Monson preached. The congregation continued to meet at Baxter School using a trailer to store materials. (That trailer is now used for recycling cans in the current church parking lot.) A storage shed on skids followed and housed folding chairs and other worship materials, all of which had to be carried in and out each Sunday.
A decision was made to build a church and a capital fund drive was launched. Drive results were sufficient to secure financing from the ELCA Mission Investment Fund. Construction of the new church began in the spring of 1994. The first service in the new building was held on Christmas Eve 1994. On April 23, 1995 the new building was dedicated. Membership was over 500 and average worship attendance was 250.
As the church continued to grow, Pastor Jennifer Wilson was installed as Associate Pastor in March 1998. In 1999, as membership passed 1,000, an addition of classrooms and a multi-purpose room was made using mostly volunteer workers. In July 2001 Pastor Erika Nilsen was installed as the Youth and Family Pastor.
In 1992 Frank Barrett joined Lord of Life, followed by his wife Faye and brother LeRoy. All three were baptized and regularly attended worship. When the Barretts died, they left Lord of Life 100 acres of their family farm along the Mississippi River in Baxter. When the estate was settled in 2005, 63 acres of the property were sold to the City of Baxter for the “Mississippi Overlook Park.” Sale proceeds, along with member contributions from a capital fund drive, were used to build a 410 seat sanctuary. Ground was broken in November 2007 and, despite a long, cold Minnesota winter, the new sanctuary was completed on time and on budget in August 2008. The sanctuary dedication service took place on September 14 with newly elected NE MN Bishop Tom Aitken preaching.
In December 2011 Pastor Darrell resigned to accept a call to First Lutheran Church in Aitken. Pastor John Lundberg was called as an Intentional Interim Pastor in June 2012. Pastor Steven Rye was called as Senior Pastor in May 2014. He was installed by Bishop Aitken on September 21, 2014.
As 2015 began, we were a congregation of over 1,300 baptized members with two services Sunday (8:15 & 10:30) and one Wednesday evening (6:00). Average worship attendance in 2014 was 370.