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Life Story: Christopher Nelson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The longtime leader of a Twin Cities church is remembered as man who was a mentor and a teacher.

Christopher Nelson served as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Minneapolis for 23 years. In his preachings, Chris wanted the Bible, the faith, to make sense and be significant in people's everyday life.

Chris lost his battle with pancreatic cancer this past Sunday. During his years as a minister, he inspired others to become leaders in the church.

In this week's Life Story, Chris's colleague and his wife share the lessons they learned from him.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church has more than 4,000 members, yet somehow the senior pastor made everyone feel at home.

pastor christopher nelson
(credit: CBS)

"He had this amazing ability to recall and remember names," Executive Pastor Ben Cieslik said. "If he met you once, he knew who you were."

Cieslik worked closely with Chris and says he learned how to lead by observing him.

"He wanted the words he shared from God to live in people's daily life," Cieslik said. "So he worked hard to make the Bible and faith come alive for people."

His family and colleagues say Chris relied on his faith to get him through his cancer diagnosis and treatment.

"One of his favorite lines he would say over and over again is, 'God's promise to you is not an easy and pain-free life. But God promises to walk with you and journey with you even in the midst of the darkness," Cieslik said.

At home, his wife says the pastor liked to go for walks, play tennis and like any adoring grandpa, spend time with his family. The two were married for 36 years.

"He was an extrovert. I am an introvert. And I think he brought me out of that in many regards and that was very useful for me," she said.

A trip to India a decade ago ignited a passion in her husband to help pastors there expand their churches.

"Our calling now is to continue the good and faithful work that Chris began, because he'd be mad if we didn't," Cieslik said.

A memorial service for Christopher Nelson will be held tomorrow night at 7 at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis.

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