"My favorite thing to do is lead worship. That is how I serve my Lord, and I love it," says Pastor Kris. "I thank the Lord that he persisted when I was dragging my feet. I didn't think I could stand in front of people and preach. But people do want to listen to God's word."
Kris Larson is a southern California boy who journeyed to South Dakota, after serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. When he returned from his service duty, his dad said he needed to do something. So, he decided to visit his grandparents' farm near De Smet, South Dakota, for a couple of weeks.
Back in the 1950s, Larson's dad put the farmland in set-aside acres, known as CRP—Conservation Reserve Program, temporarily for ten years. The family headed to California, and Larson's dad got a job. The family stayed in California, while back in South Dakota a neighbor farmed the land.
"I decided I wanted to take a trip and see my grandparents," says Kris Laron, who is retiring and will serve the parish in Lake Preston part-time. "I came for two weeks and stayed for forty plus years."
When he arrived in South Dakota, he stayed at his grandparents' house in the town of De Smet and helped on the farm, 11 miles north of De Smet. Larson met a girl who lived across the street from his grandparents. Denise became his wife. The couple stayed on the farm, and Kris took over the farming operation.
"The neighbors joked that this California boy had no clue what he was doing on the farm," says Larson. "It was income, and I leaned on God."
His called story begins at birth. Larson grew up going to the Catholic church. His mother was a very devoted Catholic. His mother told him that when he was born, she saw a vision of a cross above the crib. He attended parochial school and thought about being a priest. Kris said that he didn't think that would work because he knew he was not God. "I thought priests were God," he says. "I knew I wasn't God. I was just Kris, not anything special."
The time he spent in the Vietnam War was very troubling for his Catholic faith journey. Kris and Denise were married in the United Methodist Church in De Smet. He found himself, at the encouragement of his wife, involved in the United Methodist Church. Larson was the coordinator for the youth, a leader of Bible study, the chair of an administrative council, and a member of the pastor-parish relations committee. He spent time delving into who John Wesley was and what he did.
"I chose to be a Methodist. I was lost spiritually and emotionally during the Vietnam War," he says. "I had given away my car and my motorcycle before I was in the service. I borrowed my dad's car to come out to South Dakota. Denise, the cute girl across the street, was a Methodist. I was going be lone ranger Christian out on the farm. I did not want to be involved with churches and people. I just wanted to do my own thing."
Experiences in Larson's faith journey deepened his faith. He attended Lay Witness Mission, which was led by a group from Nebraska. He distinctly remembers the stories and faith journeys that were shared during the event. He was introduced to Discipleship Bible Study and volunteered to be trained to lead a group through the study. His call was affirmed.
"I was in a meeting where there were talking about Discipleship Bible Study. Someone asked, 'who is going to be trained to lead this study?' I looked around, and no one volunteered. I raised my hand; I don't know how that happened," says Larson. "I was leading the Bible Study, and that is when people told me I should consider being a pastor."
The Walk to Emmaus (WTE) was instrumental for Larson. He shares that he has felt the Holy Spirit as a pilgrim on the WTE and working with various walks. The enthusiasm and passion at WTE nudged Pastor Kris' call.
Farming hardships of drought and hail led Kris to sell some of the farmland and seek employment off the farm in 1981. He landed a job at Raven Industries in Sioux Falls to supplement the farm income. Raven produces commercial and recreational hot air balloons, electronics, large plastic storage containers for use in agriculture, pickup toppers, and winter outerwear.
In 1996-97, Rev. Penny Eberhart, who served as a district superintendent, called Larson and asked if he would consider serving the Iroquois Larger Parish as a lay minister.
Larson says. "I had been praying about this. Other people had said that being a pastor is something that I should do. I told them that this was the last thing I wanted to do, stand in front of people and preach. I gave in and said, 'OK, Lord, how and when?' I thought I could probably be a visitation pastor. I told my wife, and she said that if this is something that the Lord wants, you will get a sign. The next day I got a call from the district superintendent."
He thought that he could give 20 hours a week to help with the pastoral duties at Iroquois Larger Parish, which includes churches in Carpenter, Esmond, and Iroquois. There were lay four people assigned to serve the congregation. It ended up requiring 30-50 hours a week. It was a busy time for Larson.
"I was working full-time at Raven Industries in Sioux Falls, farming and serving the churches in Carpenter, Esmond, and Iroquois," says Larson. "There was a little bit of conflict time. I couldn't be spread out thinner."
He attended licensing school, to become a licensed local pastor, and entered the course of study but, took a step back from ministry, and became a manager at Raven. In 1999, after Larson completing 16 years of employment, the Sioux Falls plant closed.
"I was excited. I knew God had something in store for me," Kris says. "I didn't have a new job right away, and I prayed, "God make that new and exciting thing happen soon.' I called the district superintendent, but nothing was available in the area. So, I took a job managing the theater in Huron, South Dakota."
Each week Larson would travel 45 minutes to Huron and be gone sometimes for 24 hours to manage the employees, movies, and patrons. Kris and his wife Denise were foster parents, so the income was needed, but the time away from family was not appreciated.
"I was gone on weekends a lot. One of our foster kids asked, 'Dad, what day is it that I am going to see you again?' I spent time showing movies that I didn't want to show. I had to manage to keep kids out of R-rated movies," says Larson. "I prayed one day, 'Lord help me, I am spiritually dying here.' I got a call asking me to serve at Iroquois and Esmond."
He has served at Iroquois, in combination with several other churches, for the past twenty years.
The role and training for licensed local pastors have become more defined since Larson started in ministry. Larson attended one of the first Dakotas Licensing Schools, led by Rev. Teri Johnson. When he entered the ministry, there was only one other licensed local pastor in the conference. Pastor Kris completed his Course of Study at St. Paul's in Kansas City.
Kris and Denise Larson were foster parents. So, the time away at Course of Study was challenging. Through the span of 25 years, the Larsons have fostered 125 children. For Course of Study, Pastor Kris chose to attend two weeks in the fall and two weeks in the winter.
"It was important to break up the time away from home to complete the Course of Study. Otherwise, our foster children would think that I was abandoning them," says Pastor Kris.
This summer, he marked one thing off his bucket list– to kayak the Missouri River headwaters. In retirement, Denise and Kris plan to travel and spend time with their three children and eight grandchildren. Two of their children and their families live out of state, and one lives in South Dakota. They hope to visit their siblings, too. Pastor Kris will serve Lake Preston part-time.
As we face uncertain times, Pastor Kris prays for healing. "Sometime during great conflict, we can grow and understand each other more. I pray for healing. The foundation and rock is Jesus."