By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, MN Pastor Keith Carlson recently retired from Dassel Covenant Church, but he won’t soon forget his 24 years of service.
“The people in Dassel-Cokato need to know that this is a great place to serve,” he said. “I’m really thankful to live in a community like this. I have a lot of friends who are surprised to hear about the kind of cooperation that happens between the schools and the churches and the acceptance of church in the community. Dassel-Cokato is a wonderful area.”
Carlson and his wife, Sue, are currently building a home in rural Dassel, where they will be close to two of their children Andrew (clerk/treasurer for the City of Cokato), and Kristin (who works at Wells Fargo in Dassel). Their third child, Tim, lives in New York, which is where Sue is originally from.
Carlson, on the other hand, grew up on a farm in north central Kansas. As a child, he thought he’d probably become a farmer someday, but that idea changed soon after high school.
“When I was in my first year of college, I was involved in Lay Witness Mission,” Carlson said.
The mission was organized by Methodists, and the Covenant church (which is the denomination Carlson was raised in) was also starting to get involved at that time.
During a weekend encounter retreat, Carlson had an opportunity to witness to others. It was then that he felt called to become a pastor.
Carlson completed his undergraduate degree in history at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, KS, and then earned a masters of divinity from North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago.
While in Chicago, Carlson met his wife, Sue, who was working for Evangelical Covenant Church headquarters.
“In 1978, we moved to Lake Bronson and started ministry,” he said. “That was my first call.”
For almost five years, Carlson served the Lake Bronson/Lancaster area, which is about 11 miles from the Canadian border. His second call was to Albert City, IA. After about four years there, he was called to a church in New Richland.
“In 1993, we moved here,” Carlson said.
Pastors often move every five to seven years, but Carlson said he was blessed to be able to stay in Dassel much longer.
“One of the reasons a person is able to stay is if they find new energy new ministry,” he said. “There have been things here that have created that opportunity.”
In his earlier years, for example, there was a Hispanic ministry, led by a member from Costa Rica.
“More recently, about seven years ago, we started an Awana program for children in the community,” he said.
A major building addition around 1999-2000 also brought new opportunities to Dassel Covenant Church. The addition gave members and visitors easy access to the facility, which includes a library, conference room, nursery, open visiting space, and a fellowship hall that’s large enough for weddings and other get-togethers.
“It was really fun to see it develop,” Carlson said. “We had an awesome building committee.”
Mission trips were also memorable for Carlson. While serving at Dassel Covenant Church, he was able to travel to Mexico, Costa Rica, Alaska, and Ecuador.
“Each one of them has been a joy, and exciting to be part of,” he said.
Whether it’s mission work abroad, or planning music for Sunday worship, Carlson enjoys a team approach to ministry.
“Ministry doesn’t happen by a sole person,” he said. “I am really thankful for people at church who love to serve and are great leaders. We’ve had so many.”
The staff at Dassel Covenant Church currently includes Dave Thompson (interim pastor), Ben Michel (youth director), Amanda Fusari (secretary/receptionist), and Paulette Dahlseng (bookkeeper). The church office is open Tuesday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and can be reached at (320)275-3315.