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The Rev. Denise Fossen’s first call after graduating from Luther Seminary in St. Paul was to the North Beltrami Evangelical Lutheran Parish, which includes Zion Lutheran Church of Blackduck and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Kelliher. Photos by Jillian Gandsey.

Hindsight is always 20-20: The Rev. Denise Fossen makes the journey north

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Hindsight is always 20-20: The Rev. Denise Fossen makes the journey north
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

In 2006, Denise Fossen felt restless..

That restlessness led her to where she is today as the Rev. Denise Fossen of the North Beltrami Evangelical Lutheran Parish.


The parish includes Zion Lutheran Church of Blackduck and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of Kelliher. Fossen is the pastor at both churches and leads church services at both on Sundays.

Despite attending Sunday School as a child and singing in the church choir beginning at age 19, she never imagined she would become a pastor.

“I’ve worked where you’ve had jobs where it’s nine-to-five and you punch the time clock and this isn’t like that,” Fossen said. “You’re on call 24 hours a day and you’re working whenever and wherever.”

She will both the first female pastor at both congregations, aside from one woman who served as an interim pastor. The congregations also have never had a seminary graduate before, nor have they worked paired under the North Beltrami Evangelical Lutheran Parish. “So we’re all learning together and it’s going well,” Fossen said.

Fossen worked as a project coordinator for more than 10 years at Pella Windows and Doors in the Twin Cities prior to attending Luther Seminary in St. Paul beginning in 2009.

The signs

In 2006, Fossen and her husband lost four people within six weeks who were all very close to them, including her husband’s mother and his cousin who was like a second mother to him, she said.

Fossen lost her uncle, who was also her godfather, with whom she was very close. Her former employer, from a small office, also passed away..

“Whenever you have those big (losses) in your life it just kind of makes you reassess life in general,” Fossen said.

She felt like where she had been working wasn’t where she was meant to end up and the feeling of restlessness continued.

“I knew that where I was working wasn’t the end-all,” Fossen said. “I could see that there wasn’t going to be any opportunities.”

An opportunity came when Fossen overslept one Sunday. She sang in the church choir so was required to attend the service early.

“I never oversleep but I was dreaming,” Fossen said. “I don’t remember a whole lot about the dream other then there was a young black man and I’m holding his face in my hands, looking at his eyes, and telling him no matter what happens Jesus loves you, don’t forget Jesus loves you.”

Fossen said she didn’t recall much else from the dream but did think it was odd. “I don’t just go up to people and tell them that,” she said.

When she did arrive at church on that Sunday, a woman who had visited Mozambique, Africa, was there seeking interest from others to go on a mission trip.

“So six months later 12 of us from our church went to Mozambique, Africa, and it was quite an experience to say the least,” Fossen said.

The trip, in 2007, lasted two weeks.

“It was such a moving experience that I didn’t even have words for it,” Fossen said. “It took a long time to process what that was.”

Fossen still felt the restlessness but continued to see the signs such as a bible study called “If you want to walk on the water, you have to get out of the boat.”

“In the meantime I had been talking to pastors and other people and I’m thinking I should be in the church and I didn’t even know what that means,” Fossen said.

In 2008, Luther Seminary had “Ventures in Vocation,” a three-day invitational for people to visit the campus. While she was there she met other women, who like her, were middle-aged.

“One of the women there had a husband who was retiring from ministry and she was just graduating and I thought, ‘Well, if she can do it, and she’s older than me, I can do it,” Fossen said.

The journey

After the invitational, Fossen began her quest to become a pastor. She waited another year to begin the four-year program, which started with a six-week course in Greek during the summer of 2009.

The first two years were all learning and the third year was an internship, which she completed at Zion Lutheran Church in Pelican Rapids. Following that was another year at the seminary and then graduation in May 2013.

She then received her first call to be a pastor, which was to the North Beltrami Evangelical Lutheran Parish.

Fossen grew up in North Branch and lived most of her life in Ramsey, Minn. She and her husband built their house in 1978 and lived in it until her call to northern Minnesota last August.

She admits that it’s different but the change has its perks, like the traffic, for instance.

“I never imagined myself as being a pastor but I can see how all of these things have happened,” Fossen said. “Hindsight is always 20/20.”

Jillian Gandsey
(218) 333-9786