NEW ULM - After becoming a pastor in 2002, New Ulm native Chris Christenson thought he had his life pretty much figured out.
But soon after, Christenson had a second calling, and that calling was writing and performing Christian music about his own personal experiences in life.
Christenson, who graduated from New Ulm High in 1990, is now a pastor in La Crescent, Minn. He'll be performing at 9 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 16 at Martin Luther College with his band Cross to Glory, and it's the first time he'll be back home performing in front of many of his friends and relatives.
Christenson and Gary Miller (right) play Christian music as the band Cross to Glory.
Chris Christenson took guitar lessons from Bruce Jacobs at Jacobs and Meidl in New Ulm before working there in high school. Christenson painted the piano keys on the sign when he was an employee at the store.
The music they will perform is from their album Life’s Song.
He'll be performing tracks off Cross to Glory's album "Life's Song" and some others that he's recorded at MLC. The concert is free and open to the public.
Christenson's music career began as a teenager when he started taking guitar lessons from Bruce Jacobs, the owner of Jacobs & Meidl music store.
There, he took lessons, but not for long. Soon after though, Jacobs offered him a job at the store, and Christenson got more than a foot in the door as far as music is concerned. He worked there all through high school. Christenson also sang with the New Ulm Menagerie, something that Christenson says helped with his music skills and it made him less shy.
If you go...
Who: Christian duo Cross to Glory
What: Free concert open to the public
When: Thursday, Sept. 16 at 9 p.m.
Where: Martin Luther College in New Ulm
After high school, Christenson attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he played college football for the Bulldogs for a year before joining the Army.
After a three-year stay in the Army, he came back to New Ulm and finished his degree at Mankato State University before deciding he wanted to become a pastor.
He enrolled at Martin Luther College before attending Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Wisconsin. He became a pastor and was called to Lake City, which is where his musical aspirations picked up again.
Although he's not exactly sure how or why he started getting interested in music again, he said it seemed to come easier the second time around.
"Once I became a pastor, all of a sudden, I could write music," he said. "It was crazy. I was hearing tunes in my head, and then forming the text around the music. I just don't know how to explain it."
As a fan of music, Christenson started to take his new-found talent a little more seriously. As a pastor, he found himself more involved with music on a weekly basis, and that may have been the big reason why things started coming to him.
"Music has always been a part of my life, but maybe I was just forced to use my guitar and apparently some of the gifts that I had with the kids in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, that sort of thing.
Christenson said that he did a concert for the kids in a Vacation Bible School when he started hearing the music in his head that he would later write and play on his first album.
Although becoming a pastor was a more natural choice for him, he said he never dreamed that one day he'd be in front of people performing music.
"Never. That's why this is so crazy. I wanted to be a football player like most kids," he said. "I never was like 'someday I hope to be in a band.' I never really had that desire."
The first song he wrote was called "Thy Will Be Done." It's about a situation about his father told him about one day. He wrote the song in 2003, unaware at the time that it would be the first of many songs he'd write. There, Christenson went into his office at church and began putting into verse what his father had been talking about.
"It just progressed from there," he said. "I would just sit in my office in between studies or doing things, I'd pick up my guitar and pluck around with chords, and next thing you know I've got a song in my head."
Another song, "It's Alright With Me," took about five years before he finished it. He got the inspiration to write that song after his grandmother lay in the hospital near death.
"The idea for the song was there, but it didn't come to me until I got the tune in my head," he said.
His music is best described as Christian music, although he says it's hard to classify a specific genre for what he writes.
"It wouldn't probably be classified as contemporary Christian music like you'd hear on the radio today," he said. "But it is all Christian. The basis of every song goes to our salvation, goes back to God, in the general sense I suppose. So in essence, it is all Christian.
"But there's everything from country to folk to Christian rock," he said. "We don't do a lot of Christian rock right now because the band is starting to develop - this all happened so fast as far as the CD coming together."
And the music he writes and performs isn't strictly for special shows that Cross to Glory performs. He said he even uses his music at church and has some stuff that he's written for church that he doesn't necessarily perform at concerts.
He's even written Christmas music and an Easter song, and he may someday venture into doing an album of just Christmas songs if he has enough material written for that.
In 2009, Christenson and Gary Miller, who played guitar with Christenson on many of his songs, decided it was time to record an album. The two got together before Christenson moved back to Minnesota and quickly recorded some tracks that Christenson had written in a studio in Appleton, Wisconsin.
"It was a weird situation," Christenson said. "I'd been serving in a congregation in Appleton, Wis., and I'd received a call to a church in LaCrescent. Gary Miller was working there, and we decided that we needed to lay some of these tracks down. We weren't necessarily looking into the future at that time, our goal was to record some of the music.
"We grabbed 12 original songs that I had written, and we had three weeks before I was moving," Christenson said. "He suggested that we get a full band, but that didn't seem very realistic, so we grabbed two acoustic guitars and we figured that would take the least amount of time. The recording in itself was just amazing. How we came together in such a short period of time to record these 12 songs together ... it was a little stressful at first but after awhile we just let the music take over."
Christenson had more than 30 songs that he had written prior to going into the studio. Although the selection process was difficult to pick as far as recording the tracks, he finally went to the acoustic tracks because that's how the album was going to be recorded.
"Once we decided it was going to be acoustic, then I started pulling songs that I knew would sound best in that matter," he said. "There's a couple songs that we do acoustically and work great acoustically, but when we go full band with drums and electric guitar, it takes on a new life."
After recording the album was complete, Christenson found himself playing the role of the promoter, trying to get the word out on it to as many people as he could. It was tough to find time to do it, but he managed to find some extra time in some of his days.
"As far as time goes, it was moments here and moments there," he said. "You take little bits and pieces of time to work on the music and the promotion."
From there, Cross to Glory had its first concert in February and played to a group of about 150 people.
After that, they've played a total of 12 shows, and Christenson said he's getting more and more comfortable on stage performing his music.
This Thursday, Cross to Glory will play at MLC, an event Christenson is looking forward to.
"To be at the point where we're playing at MLC, I think it's a great step for us," he said. "Not only do we let the community of New Ulm have the opportunity to come, but we get to play for the students up at the college too. This is a great step for us and we think it's important also. I think an older generation like my parents, I think they like this sort of thing. I think it's important for us now to share our music with the younger generation and see how they take to it."