Despite a nation that boasts of having of over 384,000 congregations, 25 of which being in the city of Hudson, Wisconsin alone, there’s a new church family in town. And they aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Sten Carlson was 30 years old and had already moved across the country and back, obtained a Masters of Divinity and owned 2 houses on the day that he looked at his wife, Erica, and said “…I know we are supposed to do this.”
Sten and Erica aren’t your typical pastor and pastor’s wife. From the moment Sten showed up at a coffee shop in ripped jeans and a t-shirt and told me he wanted to do a fashion show for dads and daughters, I knew they were different. He and Erica were down to earth but charismatic, all at the same time. They had out-of-the-box ideas and spoke, with stubborn authenticity, about wanting to start a church where anyone would feel comfortable – especially those who didn’t currently attend one or had walked away from the church long ago. Dinner and wine at the Nova one night confirmed it – they were normal people, with hearts for God!
Nothing about the Carlsons’ journey to church planting was traditional either. In what he self-proclaims to be a “zig zag” career path, Sten can always be heard stating that “you don’t have to understand the plan to trust that God has a purpose.” Armed with an undergrad in Student Ministries from North Park University in 2008, Sten accepted the large role of High School Youth Pastor, for a quickly growing church of over 3500 in Colorado. Son of a retirement home administrator and librarian, Sten had taken his first step outside the safety net of family life back in Geneva, Illinois. He and his brother, Bryce, having stumbled upon their father’s old guitar one day at home, had discovered an immense musical talent which was further harnessed by churches and community. God had ignited a passion for his people in the two at a young age, and both brothers found themselves working for the same church out West. While there, Sten learned a lot and was coached by some of the best. Pastor Carl is an individual who still stands out to this day as being someone who encouraged him to take risks; to live without the regret of small thinking. The Carlsons knew there were learnings being had, but quickly felt the nudge to take on new responsibility. Two years after buying a home and driving his beautiful bride out to the foothills of Colorado in a Penske moving truck, he and Erica headed home to the Midwest.
In the Fall of 2010, Sten started his first day at North Park Theological Seminary of Chicago. Although he and Erica were back home, in some sense, Sten was confused to find that Seminary wasn’t his jam either. Thrust into a world of theological disputes and academia, he began to wonder if this was the right move, after all. The relentless voice in his head wanted him to believe that he just wasn’t smart enough, spiritual enough or theological enough to become a pastor. But deep in his core, he believed the world needed a pastor like him and a church unlike any other in existence! To this day, he credits friends and family, including Erica’s father Phil Print, of Crossroads Church, for the encouragement needed along the way.
In the Spring of 2013, Sten finished his Master’s degree and was offered the position of Worship Pastor at Cedarbrook Church in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Erica was officially pregnant and the Carlsons were officially kicked out of the cozy student housing they’d shared at North Park. Within an hour’s reach of Erica’s family, Cedarbrook seemed like the perfect move. So they bought another house and got to work, excited to make a real impact. Could it be that all signs pointed to Menomonie?
Over a glass of wine on their 7th anniversary, Sten and Erica recall the moment when they both sensed the “nudge” yet again. They were getting closer, but this wasn’t it either. Having discovered a passion for writing and speaking while at Cedarbrook and in Seminary, Sten began to wonder what else God had up His sleeve. In May of 2015, He and Erica were invited to take part in a Covenant Church Planter’s Assessment weekend. The assessors’ answer to the Carlsons was “yes.” This was it! They were meant to plant a church! But Sten said “no.” Not wanting to add another line to his zig zag path, they took a year to pray about what came next. In the Fall of 2016,, they were invited to yet another assessment weekend. This time, something in his heart began to stir.
As Sten and Erica began taking steps towards a potential church plant in Hudson, Wisconsin, God began taking steps towards them. Doors flung open and things happened quickly. On several occasions, planting in Hudson was confirmed to Sten and Erica and in many ways, their hearts were already there. From the moment when Sten heard that he would still live in Packer country, he had joy, unspeakable (Okay, that’s a lie but we will eventually convert him). Sten speaks with fire in his eyes when he explains his vision to me. He wants it more than anything in the world – wants people to encounter a real God in a church that’s authentic, relevant and genuinely influential in people’s lives and in the world. He sees a place where anyone and everyone feels welcome. A different sort of atmosphere – a new sense of what “church” could be. Something that isn’t a building or an institution, a bunch of rules or traditions, but real people, getting to know a real God and influencing the world around them. I’ll never forget the first time I asked Sten about how to manage a situation I had with my small group of young adults. He smiled and said to always have “100% truth and 100% grace.” And that is exactly what he and Erica intend to do with everyone who walks through the doors of the new Midcurrent Church of Hudson.
When I asked him how his upbringing has contributed to his motivation, Sten recalled a book his late father had given him in college. Inside the cover was an inscription that said, “Sten, you’ve got what it takes.” Although taking steps into the unknown requires constant victory over fear, Sten reminds himself and his own children of these truths on a daily basis. He describes their bed time candor, which his two year old son, Olle, is beginning to repeat back to him:
“I love you.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“You’ve got what it takes!”
Before closing, I must point out one of the most important attributes a pastor must have – more important than education, experience or raw talent. And that is a strong spouse. Erica Print met Sten Carlson in college; although she was off to Italy the semester after they met, the feelings stuck and the two picked up where they left off upon her return. Sten soon approached her father, Pastor Phil, to ask for his blessing. He then brought Erica to the Afton Woods State Park, where they hiked before his proposal inside of a pavilion. Married the November after graduation and off to the wild wild West, Erica said “yes” to Sten and never looked back. Having grown up in the church, Erica has a warm relatability and a servant’s heart. There is nothing I wouldn’t trust her with, and nothing she withholds – Her home, her family, her heart and her time are all out on the table. She and Sten are a dynamic duo that won’t be stopped, and their love for God and family is incredibly contagious and endearing. Nothing says quiet strength like having Erica Carlson on your side.
Join me in welcoming Sten and Erica to the town of Hudson. Join me in cheering them on as they continue to take big steps of faith in moving their family of four (Lucy is now 4 and Olle is 2) to Hudson. Come give their church, or, “family” I should say…a try. Midcurrent Church meets at the beautiful new building at the North entrance of the Y Camp in Hudson on Sundays at 10 am, starting January 14th. See you there!