By: Christa Meland
After six years as North Star District Superintendent, Rev. Mark Miller is preparing to return to a local church setting—and Rev. Laurie Kantonen has been appointed to succeed him in that role. The transition will take effect Sept. 1, at which time Miller will become lead pastor at Resurrection UMC of Hastings.
Kantonen has spent the past nine years at Hubbard UMC—a growing congregation that worships between 80 and 100 each week for most of the year and roughly 250 in the summer. Before that, she served Finlayson UMC and Sandstone United Church of Christ.
Dakotas-Minnesota Area Bishop Bruce R. Ough said Kantonen is uniquely gifted for her new role.
“I have come to know Laurie as an innovative pastoral leader who is passionate about congregational vitality,” he said. “This is evident in Hubbard UMC, which has emerged as a ‘teaching church’ for the North Star District and beyond.”
In 2017, Hubbard UMC planned and hosted a two-day “Breakthrough Renewal Institute” that drew 200 people from 70 churches and offered 11 workshops along with dynamic worship services. The event will return to the church this fall—Sept. 12-13.
“What has brought me great joy is seeing people claim and use their gifts for ministry,” said Kantonen, who describes her congregation as invitational and notes that every single member has invited someone to church.
Kantonen was a social worker in Kentucky when she received her call to ministry. Many people in her life had hinted that maybe she should become a pastor, but it wasn’t until she heard God say “Why won’t you do this for me?” that she took notice, eventually embracing that call and going to seminary. But when she was just a year away from being ordained in the Free Methodist Church, her husband Lee Kantonen—also a pastor—was recruited to the Minnesota Conference. Upon moving here, she discovered that The United Methodist Church was actually a better fit for her as well, so she started the candidacy process over again in Minnesota, becoming commissioned in 2005 and ordained as an elder in 2008.
Kantonen—who is currently co-chair of the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry—looks forward to stepping into her new role and working with churches and colleagues in the North Star District.
“I grew up in a small town—I enjoy rural ministry,” she said. “I want to help churches be vital and thrive in their setting. I see my job as being a resource and doing whatever I can do to help pastors be successful wherever they are at.”
Kantonen acknowledges that she’s entering her new role at an interesting time in the denomination and hopes to bring a calm, non-anxious presence to Greater Minnesota and beyond.
“What I hope to bring to the district is a resolute focus on our mission because that has not changed and it will not change,” she said.
Miller describes Kantonen as “very capable, very accomplished, and very humble.”
“She will come with a big heart for all of the pastors in the district and the conference,” he said. “She will love churches where they’re at but not settle for them to stay stagnant or die—she will help them as they envision new life.”
Case in point: When Kantonen came to Hubbard UMC, the church was almost exclusively focused on ministering to people over the age of 50 because the area is somewhat of a retirement haven, said Miller. While that focus was initially key to Hubbard’s growth, several years ago the congregation started to pay attention to the area’s young families and children. It now has a strong ministry for children and many older members have come to think of themselves as grandparents to the community.
Meanwhile, Miller said what he’s enjoyed most in his time as a district superintendent, and what he’ll especially miss, is being able to experience life and worship at so many churches in the North Star District—and journeying with congregations through revitalization, mergers, new ministries and buildings, and other significant milestones in their life cycles. He’s also enjoyed helping gifted individuals in his district hear and embrace a call to ministry, and recruiting excellent leaders to the Minnesota Conference.
“What will stick with me is the blessing of having the opportunity to meet so many faithful Christians in so many different locations,” he said.
Bishop Ough praised and expressed gratitude for the gifts Miller has brought to the conference and the North Star District.
“Rev. Mark Miller has served the North Star District and Minnesota Cabinet with distinction, providing strong spiritual and administrative leadership,” he said. “He has set a high standard for what it means to come alongside pastors and congregations and encourage them to greater kingdom fruitfulness. His collaborative leadership style and heart for our evangelistic task will be missed at the cabinet table and across the North Star District.”
GET TO KNOW REV. LAURIE KANTONEN
Here are some fun facts about the incoming North Star District superintendent:
Family: Husband, Lee; five adult children who live in New Hope, Duluth, and Grand Forks, North Dakota; and an Airedale named Kihara (“Curly” in Finnish)
Favorite scripture: Ephesians 3:20
Ministry passions: Preaching and mission work (Hubbard UMC has raised money to build more than 30 wells in Africa and committed $50,000 to that cause over the next five years)
Gifts cited by colleagues: Capable, accomplished, humble, servant leader
Hobbies: Reading, making quilts, going for walks, baking (for stress relief)
Favorite food: Anything chocolate
Someone she admires: Her mother-in-law, who “has always had her priorities right, is strong and steady, and has loved her grandchildren” in a most amazing way
Places she likes to go: The Boundary Waters and Kentucky to visit friends
Something people might not know: She is a huge University of Kentucky basketball fan—and she once got to watch a game from the second row of Rupp Arena, sitting right behind Dick Vitale
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church