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New Crossroads Lutheran Campus Ministry Director prepares to be a “bridge” for young adults

By Pastor Devlyn Brooks

MOORHEAD, Minn. -- Youth ministry has been written on Jason Baumgarnter’s heart for nearly three decades.

So much so, that despite professional detours that have taken him into various other lines of work twice over the past 15 years, the Holy Spirit seems to have patiently and steadily guided him back to youth ministry in multiple settings all throughout his journey.

Most recently, Baumgartner -- a father of three and a longtime confirmation leader at Dilworth Lutheran Church -- has been called back to young adult ministry as director of Crossroads Lutheran Campus Ministry at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Baumgartner, who married his high school sweetheart, Rachelle, 21 years ago, resides in Dilworth, Minn., and they are parents to Max, a college freshman; Benna, a high school senior; and Jace, a high school freshman. Baumgartner adds they also have two beagles named “Minne” and “Sota.”

“Yes, we are a Minnesota family and hold that very dear to our identity,” he joked.

Baumgartner took over leadership of the campus ministry on Aug. 1, following the departure of Pastor Dominique Buchholz, who guided and grew the increasingly vibrant program for the past two years.

Many may recognize the young adult ministry by its more familiar former name of Lutheran Campus Ministry at MSUM (or LCM), or others may recognize the ministry by its big “Blue House,” which has been celebrated as a place for college students to live and worship for decades in Moorhead.

Impressively, the Northwestern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA started to prioritize young adult ministry more than 70 years ago when it first created its MSUM campus ministry to elevate young adults’ experience in God’s love at a crucial time in their life.

Since then, Crossroads has been serving students as a bridge from their hometown churches to young adult experiences and connections with new local churches here in Moorhead while they are at college.

The ministry’s mission statement is to feed faith, welcome all, and create community at MSUM. In addition to worship, Crossroads also provides weekly meals, a place for economical residential leases for some, service opportunities and mentorship possibilities with adults who care.

And all of this is done through the partnering support from congregations all across the large, geographic Northwestern Minnesota Synod. Not only do congregations continue to lift up the Crossroads ministry in prayer, but they also do so with “presents” and “presence,” says Pastor Rebel Hurd, the synod’s Director of Evangelical Mission.

“This longtime young adult ministry is possible only through the generous gifts from individuals and congregations all across our synod,” said Pastor Hurd. “Remember the three ‘Ps’ of partnering ministry: prayers, presents and presence!”

Baumgartner, who has worked with youth of various ages, is sold on the concept of campus ministry being a bridge for college-aged young adults.

“We gotta figure out a bridge from youth ministry to adult faith. That’s where college ministry comes in,” said Buaumgartner, who himself has worked for years to provide a meaningful confirmation experience at his home church. “We’re a conduit from high school ministry to local church ministries. And if we don’t try to help be the bridge, we may lose these young adults from the church for 10 to 15 years. They might not come back until they have children of their own.”

Baumgartner, now sesrving as a Synod Authorized Minister or SAM, hit the ground running in August, had two weeks to absorb as much information as possible before Pastor Buchholz transitioned out of her role. And he’s wasted no time since. “It’s been like trying to drink from a fire hose!” he said. 

By day, Baumgartner is a full-time human resources and recruitment officer for a local plumbing and heating company, a position he’s held for the past five years. And before that, he served 10 years as a professional school counselor throughout the Fargo-Moorhead area.

But going back even farther you find his original roots in youth ministry.

After graduating high school, Baumgartner obtained a bachelor’s degree in youth and family ministry from Augsburg University in Minneapolis, and during his years at college, he served youth ministry programs at various churches.

After college, he moved back to the Fargo-Moorhead area, and served in youth ministry at churches for a decade before being accepted into a master’s degree program in counseling at North Dakota State University in Fargo. After completing his degree, that’s when he began his next vocational leg as a school counselor, even serving one year as a school principal. Later came his current role in human resources work.

While Baumgartner’s professional occupations may have been varied, his commitment to teaching confirmation at Dilworth Lutheran demonstrated that he never lost his vocational commitment to youth ministry. And so, given his history, the leap to young adult ministry at Crossroads isn’t a great mystery.

Baumgartner said his early days at Crossroads have been full of getting acquainted with the ministry’s student leaders, its day-to-day operations and meeting colleagues across the MSUM campus who also serve students. An interesting facet of the position is that in addition to being the director of Crossroads, Baumgartner also serves a dual role as a chaplain for MSUM students, faculty and staff, duties that Pastor Buchholz expanded into during her time at the campus ministry.

How Baumgartner finds himself stepping into this new role is nothing short of the Holy Spirit at work. … Just ask him.

Earlier this year, he said he began to feel a familiar divine tug toward ministry again. He said that while he’s enjoyed his years of work with youth in his home church, he said he felt like God was beckoning him into further service, and so he started having conversations with Dilworth Lutheran Senior Pastor Elizabeth Hiller, with whom he’d coincidentally served on staff at Luther Crest in Alexandria, Minn., 25 years ago.

Given the Holy Spirit’s cleverness, not coincidentally, soon after Pastor Grant Vanderford of Moorhead’s Bethesda Lutheran Church, who also serves as the director of Table of Mercy, a recent new ministry that serves those experiencing homelessness and housing insecurities, visited Dilworth Lutheran to present about the church’s efforts.

Baumgartner, who also served in youth ministry in Fargo-Moorhead with Vanderford before he became a pastor, said that while listening to the presentation, he was thinking about pastoral work, “I could be doing that. Why didn’t I ever do that?”

That’s when he said he knew it was time to get serious about this discussion about how to serve God in a greater capacity. That tug led to lunch with Pastor Hiller, which led to an introduction with Pastor Genelle Netland, the synod’s Associate Bishop, and a conversation about opportunities as to how Baumgartner might serve within the synod. 

Less than two weeks later, Baumgartner met with Pastor Taylor Wilson of Moorhead's Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, who chairs the board of Crossroads.

The small tug that began in the back of Baumgartner's mind some months before resulted in his entered into young adult ministry at Crossroads at a speed of which only God is capable.

“A few months ago, I felt this yearning for rejuvenation of my ministry and counseling skills,” Baugmartner wrote in a piece that introduced him to the campus ministry supporters. “After discerning with my faith and my family I decided this would be an excellent opportunity to utilize those skills.”

Baumgartner, who hasn’t ruled out eventually seeking ordination in the ELCA, has enrolled in courses at Luther Seminary in St. Paul to earn a Certificate in Ministry.

“I am encouraged and enthusiastic about where this road will lead me,” Baumgartner said. “Where the Lord guides, he will provide!”