"I first listened to God's call to me when I was eight years old. I have never changed the focus," says Rev. Randy Cross, who currently serves as the Northeast District Superintendent of Dakotas Conference and will retire on July 1. "When I was growing up, folks would ask me, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' I would say a minister. They would kind of shy away and change the conversation."
At one point in his childhood, Cross thought about being a dentist. "The reason was that when you were through at the dentist, you could select a prize or treat. But that was the only reason I wanted to be a dentist," he says.
His life was rooted in deep practice and faith attending church, as the child of an Air Force family engaged in the chapel church. "I was in the children's choir; we sang each week and led worship. I was involved in junior protestant youth of the chapel. From third grade on, I was involved in a youth ministry," says Cross. "Everything about it, the brass, the walnut, the red carpeting, everything fit. It was just so natural. That is where I wanted to spend my life— there."
His family aligned with the United Methodist chaplains but experienced ecumenical ministry. There were seven children in the family—three girls and four boys. "Mom and dad were very involved in the chaplaincy. My parents supported my desire to be a minister because that is what I wanted to do. It is something that I claimed," says Cross.
After three-years in higher education, he received an undergraduate degree and was headed to seminary. "I remember May 29, 1977, Rev. Dwight and his wife Sig Meier invited me to be the youth pastor up in Grafton for the summer. So, I graduated, went to Texas to visit my family, flew back up to North Dakota, went to annual conference in Grand Forks, and drove to Grafton. That evening some youth came to the backyard of the parsonage, and Cheri was there. That changed everything," says Rev. Cross. "After four years of chasing, she said yes. We have been married for 39 years."
Rev. Cross attended seminary at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology, in Texas. He says, "One of the reasons I went to seminary at Perkins was because the financial aid application was much simplier. Garrett and Perkins sent the application for financial aid, Perkins was one-side, one-page. I got an 80% tuition grant."
Before his first official appointment, Rev. Cross served four churches. He was on staff at a church in Texas while in seminary. In New Orleans, Lousiana, as part of an internship, he served a church and taught at the University of New Orleans. In the Dakotas, he served at Grafton and Calvary in Fargo as a youth pastor.
Ordained deacon in 1979; married on June 13, 1981. On June 15, 1981, he began an appointment to start a new church in West Fargo. "There had not been a lot of new church starts," says Cross. "We had a three-bedroom apartment; one of the bedrooms was the church office. We operated on a shoestring. I asked the conference for an answering machine. I used my electric typewriter from college. We made it through, we struggled and had 135 at our first worship service in West Fargo. We stayed a couple of years. It was overwhelming and I got a little burned out. "
The couple went to Fairmont, Bethany, and Rosholt, where Cross served a South Dakota church as part of the North Dakota Conference. He says, "We served there three years. It was a great time in ministry, and we loved the people."
The next stop was Grand Forks Wesley UMC to serve with Rev. Dwight Meier as the associate pastor. "So, we went from an appointment in a new church start, a three-point charge, to being an associate on staff at a large member church," says Rev. Cross.
After four years in Grand Forks, working with Rev. Dwight Meier and Rev. Russ Harris, they moved to Faith Church in Fargo, as the only pastor and staff member, for six years. Two sons, born in Grand Forks, became a delightful part of the ministry.
In July of 1995, Rev. Cross was appointed to serve at Rapid City First UMC, as senior pastor of a downtown church in South Dakota. In ministry for six years, at Rapid City, he started a new contemporary service and managed a million dollar renovation to the building.
In 2000, God tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Maybe I have something else in mind for you." Cross shares that he always tells church leaders, "Don't get locked into a calling, saying this is my only calling, I can't do that. God calls us at different times to do different things."
In 2000, God nudged him to apply for, and he was selected as the Director of Leadership Development for the Dakotas Conference. He moved to Mitchell to serve the position and was also serving as Director of Connectional Ministries under Bishop Mike Coyner.
Under the leadership of Bishop Deborah Leider Keisey, he served in three roles, Director of Connectional Ministries, Director of Leadership Development, and District Superintendent for the Lower James River District.
In 2008, the Dakotas Conference endorsed Cross as a candidate for the episcopacy in the North Central Jurisdiction. He was not elected, but was invited by Rev. Mary Ann Moman, from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, to join the agency's work. He moved to Nashville in 2009 and served as the Assistant General Secretary for GBHEM.
In 2012, he returned to the Dakotas Conference as the superintendent for the Prairie Hills District, now known as the Southwest District. His wife, Cheri, had obtained her degree as a nurse practitioner in women's health and ended up working in Fargo, North Dakota.
"That started three years of living nine-hours apart," said Cross. "It was wonderful to serve the Prairie Hills District but challenging for our relationship."
In 2014, Bishop Bruce R. Ough, who currently serves as the resident bishop for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of The United Methodist Church, appointed Cross to serve the Eastern Sunrise District, now the Northeast District of the Dakotas Conference. It was an opportunity to serve the conference and live in Fargo with his wife.
Cross notes that he has served and cared for 62 percent of the churches in the Dakotas Conference as a district superintendent and supervised more than 142 pastors. His tenure as a clergy, serving in various leadership roles, beyond the local church, is perhaps one of the longest in the denomination, 17 plus years. "Now it is time to close that door," he says.
After serving 43 years, he knows he has experienced the Holy Spirit's presence during his ministry. "The Holy Spirit was there so many ways and at so many times. Being invited to seek the episcopacy was a Holy thing. Spending ten days in Israel during my appointment in Rapid City was life-changing," Rev. Cross says. "I have been blessed to write for the United Methodist Publishing House, confirmation curriculum, and adult Bible studies. It is an ongoing blessing. I love to write."
He gives thanks to God for all that has happened. "Of all the things that happened to me, the only reason that I am in North Dakota is by God's gift. His gift made all of the years and years of relationships possible. God brought me Cheri. I would have never known a young, Norwegian, farmer's daughter from Grafton, North Dakota, except through God."
Cross is thankful for the mentors like Rev. Dwight Meiers and the many enduring friends like Revs. Bill Bates, Greg Kroger, Ron Johnson, Ray Baker, and many others. He gives thanks for Bishops Coyner, Kiesey, and Ough. "There are so many people who have been there along the journey. I am thankful for lots of people like cabinet colleagues, Debra Ball-Kilbourne, and Roy Caudill," he says.
"You don't retire from your faith. I am going to retire from active ordained ministry," Cross says. "I am moving into my fourth life. My first life was growing up. My second life was serving churches. My third life was serving the denomination. Now I am ready for my fourth life. I am going to have to wait for the sun to set and see what is next. I love words. The word retirement means to withdraw. It means to go to a place of privacy, prayer, or study. I plan to do that."
In retirement, he hopes to enjoy hobbies of cooking—he makes an awesome peanut brittle, reading about people and history, and discovering things that are usually not found, like trivia and the meaning of words.
In this liminal time, of the pandemic and a potential split of the denomination, he says, "God will plant a new tree. The tree that is growing right now cannot survive. Trees die all the time. God will plant a new one. Maybe a couple of them. If there is a split in the denomination, I used to think—I can't think of that happening. There are worse things than having vibrant, vital, non-conflicted denominations. Trees that are always tied to the original tree can't grow in different directions.
Even in this pandemic, he sees God's hope. "If things crash through the floor, we are alive in Him and can handle whatever comes. This is not a time for pessimism. We have seen magnificent things happen. Folks are saying we are going to get through this. The 'we' is not me, my family, or my community. It is the world."