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New W’bago pastor bikes with a Bible

By Staff | Sep 4, 2016

Daren Barnett is the new pastor at First Baptist Church in Winnebago. He is shown with his prized motorcycle.

Daren Barnett was 10 years old when the tornado changed his life.

It was 1986, and furniture floated for a brief moment as the trailer in which he and his recently remarried mother lived was lofted by a twister, a rarity for Cambridge Springs in hilly Pennsylvania.

No more than a few weeks later, 10-year-old Daren was depicting the scene through a Sunday school drawing when he realized the entire scenario was a symbol of his disrupted life.

A split household and a family dictated by problems of financial and physical instability was like the storm he had been thrust into. With some guidance from a deacon and a little self-reflection, however, he also realized that, in the face of the inclement weather and the equally inclement circumstances of life, God was overseeing his every move.

Thirty years later, Barnett is applying the same perspective one emphasizing a pursuit of God’s gracious guidance to his calling as the new pastor of First Baptist Church in Winnebago.

Pastor Daren Barnett, far right, and his family, left to right, wife Cameron, children Gavin, Jaydon, Braydon and Noah, leap with excitement in front of the sign for their new town, Winnebago, last week.

“This is my promised land,”?Barnett says of the rural Minnesota community he now calls home. “When we got here, it felt like we’d already been living here, and I?thought we’d be disobeying God if we hadn’t moved.”

For Barnett, “we” includes his wife, Cameron, and four kids:?Braydon, 16; Gavin, 14; Jaydon, 12; and Noah, 9. And the entire family, thanks to the help of a 26-foot U-Haul, moved from Cambridge Springs, that same place touched by the fateful tornado decades earlier.

Now 40 and sporting a dark and distinguished beard, Barnett had been a pastor for his hometown’s own First Baptist Church before trekking to the Midwest. Starting there in 2011 after a stint as an interim pastor in Lincolnville, Pennsylvania, he long anticipated an ascension to the role of senior pastor, but as time passed, he came to learn that God had other plans.

“First Baptist in Winnebago called me at the end of March, showing interest,”?Barnett says. “I?went on vacation and thought about it, and my friend asked me, ‘Are you going to wait around for your dream job or do what God called you to do?'”

Turns out Barnett went with the latter.

A one-and-a-half-hour Skype interview for Winnebago’s pastor position, which had been vacant for more than half a year, left Barnett feeling a call to Minnesota. Ditto for two other churches that contacted Barnett regarding other job offers the same week.

“One from Virginia and another from New York reached out,”?he says, “and the one from Virginia said, ‘We’re going to stop and pray for you.'”

Pray, they did, and sure enough, Barnett received his answer.

“They said, ‘It sounds like God might be moving you to Minnesota.'”

Making the jump from the East Coast was significant, but the transition to small-town Winnebago has not been nearly as unnerving as may have been expected. At last count, Barnett’s home of Cambridge Springs had a population of just under 2,600.

Plus, the new pastor, who studied at Lancaster Bible College after high school and is an avid motorcycle rider in his spare time, sees his journey into unfamiliar territory as just the latest leap of faith that God has purposely placed in his life.

“In the Bible, Abraham is called to step out and go somewhere new,”?he says. “Paul is called somewhere. We might not always like it, but God knows where we need to be.”

Now, charged with getting to know and, ultimately, building upon the congregation at First Baptist, Barnett says with utter confidence that this is where he needs and wants to be.

“This open rural area, these farms,” he says, “they’re like my version of the fields in the Bible.”

Winnebago’s church certainly agreed, inviting Barnett and his family to town in June for a sample sermon, then lining up its new hire to preach for the first time just three days after Barnett’s permanent arrival in August.

“I’ve never met a church this loving,”?he says.

Aiming to capitalize on the church’s thriving traditionality, yet incorporate the next-generation influence of his upbringing amidst Millennials, Barnett plans to root himself quite deeply into those “fields,”?too.

In his eyes, his family’s newfound home in?Faribault County will also be its longtime home.

“Whenever you join a congregation, it’s really like a marriage,” he says. “There’s a covenant there, a commitment to each other that is really biblical.”

Of course, things could change on God’s watch, as Barnett knows all too well. He recalls, years ago, after leading his wife to the Christian faith they now share, her saying,?”I’ll never be a pastor’s wife,”?and “I’ll never move.”

Until the next divine changeup, however, all eyes are on First Baptist and how Barnett can impact a community that he knows was meant for him.

“It took 12 ordinary men to change the world with Jesus,”?he says, “so if we get seven or 10 percent of the town, we can change Winnebago and change even more.”

Whatever it takes to do so, whether it means investing in after-school kids clubs, which Barnett particularly enjoyed from his time at First Baptist in Pennsylvania, or invigorating the congregation with a new worship band, he is ready to work.

Growing pains are sure to arise as he fully adjusts to the preferences of the area, which he ultimately hopes to oversee as a regional pastor. But Barnett learned long ago to counter any oncoming storms with an unrelenting faith in God.

It was in 1986, to be exact.