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Planting in the Iron Range

Former nurse and mom to four children answers call to pastor.

As Brianna C. Holland graduated from Minnesota State University in Mankato and married her husband, Brett, she embarked on a nursing career. She didn’t foresee returning to the Iron Range region of Minnesota where she grew up and eventually planting a church there.

After graduation, the Hollands returned to the area near Lake Superior after all. Brett taught high school math, and Brianna worked as a surgery nurse. They attended the church where she grew up, Abundant Life Church in Hibbing. In 2011, Brianna took a break from the demands of full-time nursing to be a full-time mom. The family includes Liam, 11; Carter, 9; Henry, 8; and Hazael, 5. Brianna, now 35, took a more family-friendly position as a school nurse in 2017.

During the time at home, Brianna started to sense a call to ministry.

“I did more Bible study and reading, really diving in spiritually,” she says. Brianna and Brett began discussing ideas with Dave M. Oler, then lead pastor at ALC. Oler suggested she start with a small step, such as taking an Assemblies of God district-level ministry class.

She enrolled in Minnesota School of Ministry, earning credentials in 2015. Oler also encouraged her to preach occasionally.

“That was intimidating, but amazingly, it clicked,” says Holland.

“As a nurse, Brianna was trained to care,” says Oler, who now pastors Life Assembly in St. Cloud, “She definitely has a gift for shepherding others.” Holland started a mothers of preschoolers group, speaking intentional encouragement into the lives of women.

Holland continued her studies, thinking of doing women’s ministry or maybe being a campus pastor. Abundant Life Church, historically committed to church planting, had been exploring ideas for ministry in the Iron Range Quad Cities — Mountain Iron, Gilbert, Eveleth, and Virginia — north of Duluth.

When Oler transferred to St. Cloud in 2016, resulting in an 18-month interim for ALC, the Hollands continued to pray. At Lake Geneva family camp that summer, district church multiplication director Roger Stacy spoke prophetically: “Someone here needs to lean into the leadership level God is calling you to.” The Hollands knew the message was for Brianna, as God already had been preparing the way, including Brett’s teaching job and a house at the right timing and price. With leadership from new pastor Dan M. Scally, Abundant Life prepared for a parent-affiliated relationship and began planning for Legacy Church in Virginia, Minnesota.

“It was hard during COVID, but Brianna and Brett are hard workers,” says Scally, 37.

Brianna spent a year assisting at another AG church in the Quad Cities area to build practical ministry skills. True Hope Fellowship has been supportive, viewing the newer congregation not as competition, but as a way to reach more families. The area is divided geographically by water and has different target demographics.

Brianna engaged with the AG’s Church Multiplication Network through state director Doug W. Vagle and also attended a Launch Training event and received Matching Funds through AGTrust.

Holland received help from her conference table coach, Elizabeth A. Farina, in setting goals and addressing hesitations about leading just as the pandemic got underway.

“I’m a millennial with four kids, so prioritizing kids and families was important,” Holland says. She wanted to reach the many area parents in their 30s and 40s not engaged with church, some from bad past experience, but mostly from seeing the institution as irrelevant.

Legacy Church started as a home Bible study with time for families to interact, as well as separate kids’ activities while the adults studied together. That group became the core launch team.

The church started in 2020, with 10 in-person services before going online for 10 weeks. Favorable provision included not being charged for rental space in a city hockey arena during the shutdown.

However, the city decided to tear down the facility to expand parking for a new convention center, so Legacy Church had to relocate. Again, God provided. The church secured a location in Plaza 53, a mall easily accessible to Highway 53 through the town of 8,300. With help from parent church Abundant Life, remodeling finished last summer, with a grand opening in September 2021.

In spite of pandemic-related ups and downs, Legacy is experiencing continued growth, blessed with a flexible lease in case space needs change. Scally says the parent-church relationship is one of mutual support, sharing community outreach ideas. “The progress at Legacy, adapting and growing in the new space and staying on budget, encourages our Abundant Life congregation in their vision as well,” he says.

Holland is thankful for continued encouragement from district and national CMN staff. Meanwhile, Brett Holland serves on the church’s kids teaching team, assists at the sound board, and creates YouTube videos. “He heard that prophetic word at camp,” Brianna says, “and has obeyed God’s leading and followed that call with me.”

The calling has also included becoming licensed foster parents. Although the Hollands have plenty on their plates with church responsibilities, they have taken one placement. The training and experience opened their eyes to a real need and ministry for the church. Legacy hosted its first foster family appreciation event in August 2021, and has built relationships with area social workers, who reach out with tangible needs with which congregants can help. The church engages with other community stakeholders by providing snacks at schools.

Ordained in 2020, Holland participates in a female church planters and pastors group funded by a grant from the Lily Foundation through Northwest University.

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.