Grace Lutheran Church welcomes new pastor

The Rev. Karen Williams, an East Side native, is excited about her new position as the head pastor of Grace Lutheran Church. “It feels like I’m coming back home,” she says. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Outreach is a large part of the ministry of Grace Lutheran Church. The church provides space for a Hmong congregation which meets at noon on Sundays. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Karen Williams returns to East Side roots

Grace Lutheran Church is welcoming the Rev. Karen Williams back to the East Side.

Williams, who grew up on the East Side and attended Harding High School, took up her new role this week as the head pastor at Grace, a prominent church building off of White Bear Avenue that is a familiar sight to commuters on Interstate 94.

Williams, who lives in Oakdale, spent her childhood in a home near Beaver Lake and graduated from Harding in 1975 (where at the time she was known by her maiden name: Karen Lloyd). Some of the church’s current members were her classmates. But her East Side connections don’t end there.

Williams’ parents attended Grace when they were growing up. Many of the church members remember her oldest two sons from Boy Scouts, as well as her father, who was a Scout leader. She also has an aunt and a cousin who are part of the congregation.

“It feels like I’m coming back home,” Williams says. “Once you’re an East Sider, you’re always an East Sider. You feel this connection to this side of St. Paul and it feels so neighborly. Even though it’s changed over the years, there’s still this sense of belonging.”

After high school, Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Concordia College-St. Paul. While an undergrad, she started working as the director of music at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Oakdale, a position she held for seven years.

While working on her master’s of divinity degree from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, she interned at Zion Lutheran Church in Chisago City. She later went on to become the church’s director of children’s ministry.

After she completed her divinity degree, Williams served at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bayport as an associate pastor. She  was also an associate pastor and music director at Mount Carmel Church in Minneapolis. She held that position for three years until she was called to serve at Grace.

A match made in heaven

Grace, an ELCA congregation, began searching for a new pastor in February after its former pastor resigned.

The Rev. Christopher Duckworth left the church at the end of May to move to Indianapolis, where his wife, who is also an ordained minister, had accepted a leadership position at a church. 

The congregation at Grace was sad to see the couple and their three young children go.

“We’re very fortunate that the pastors that we get really click with all the members of the congregation, and that there’s always been a good relationship between the pastor and the congregation members,” says Carol Golder, who has been a member of the church since 1969 and serves as the church’s outreach chair.

Golder sees Williams clicking with the congregation. She thinks Williams’ knowledge of the East Side, her expertise in youth and family ministry and her experiences in parish ministry all make her a great choice.

“She likes the same things we do,” Golder says.

One of the things the church and the new pastor are passionate about is outreach. Now that she’s back on the East Side, Williams is looking forward to getting to know the community again through outreach, which is a big part of Grace’s ministry.

Reaching the East Side

The 700-member church helps deliver Meals on Wheels, supports Urban Roots’  youth programs, collects food for the Merrick Food Shelf, hosts community picnics and organizes other projects to help elderly and low-income residents. The church will also be participating in National Night Out this year on Aug. 5 at the Conway Recreation Center

Though the 96-year old church still reflects its German Lutheran roots, Golder describes it is “intercultural and interdenominational.” For instance, the church provides space and support for Good Samaritan Lutheran Church, a Hmong faith community, which has been meeting at Grace since 2010.

Williams is excited about Grace’s outreach opportunities. “I’m looking forward to getting a handle on all of those (community outreach projects),” she says. She hopes to meet with business leaders, community organizers and other locals in order to “try to discern what the needs are and how to make a difference.”

“(I want to know) how we can be more involved and be a good presence and a good neighbor,” she says.

Her first sermon on Aug. 3 was well-suited to that mission. The sermon continued the church’s series on Book 1 John.

“A lot of 1 John is about how to live in a community and how to share love and care for one another,” Williams says, making the book a fitting subject for her first Sunday back in the East Side community.

Williams will be installed at Grace on Sept. 7 at 9:30 a.m. with the Bishop Patricia Lull officiating.

A picnic will follow the service.

Grace Lutheran Church is located at 1730 Old Hudson Road.

Kaylin Creason can be reached at or at 651-748-7825.


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