The Rev. James Leonard and his wife, Emily, recently relocated their young family to Spring Valley and are excited to begin their new adventure with Valley Christian Center. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
The Rev. James Leonard and his wife, Emily, recently relocated their young family to Spring Valley and are excited to begin their new adventure with Valley Christian Center. PAULA VAGTS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
It has been a journey many years in the making that brought the Rev. James Leonard to Spring Valley's Valley Christian Center.

Leonard's parents divorced when he was young, so much of his childhood was split between his mother who is a devout Christian and his father who is not.

"For me at an early age I got to see the contrast between what life is like serving the Lord and what life was like not serving the Lord. By the time I was 13 I had decided I wanted to be a Christian," said the Falls Creek, Wis., native.

Later that same year he attended a youth convention in northern Michigan, which would prove to be a pivotal point in his life.

"When I was there I got a sense that I was supposed to be a youth pastor," he said.

Since that time Leonard has been focused on pursuing that goal.

He began to take speech classes to become more comfortable speaking in public and continued to participate in his church's youth group where he met his wife, Emily.

After graduating from high school Leonard moved to Minneapolis to attend North Central University where he studied youth ministries.

For the past nine years he has been fulfilling his goal as a youth pastor with many of those years spent serving New Life Community in Maple Grove, Minn. It was there he would realize his next path in life.

"About five years ago, I began to think that maybe this calling goes beyond youth ministry, maybe there's something more to it," he said.

Though it took time for him to process his new calling, Leonard began to look for lead pastor positions last December.

"We didn't want to get too far away from family, so we were looking in Minnesota and Wisconsin and Spring Valley is what fit best."

So, Leonard took the next step in his journey, accepting the lead pastor position at VCC, and over the Memorial Day weekend he and Emily, along with their young sons, Asher and Clayton, moved to Spring Valley.

He may just be getting started at VCC, but Leonard already has goals for the church.

"My goal is something I took from a video I saw of a guy who works for National Geographic, and he was talking about his goal when working, which was to celebrate what was right with the world," Leonard divulged. "I told the church that is my goal coming down here; I just want to celebrate what's right with Valley Christian Center. I want to come in with my eyes open to observe what this church is doing; what strengths it has and how it can be a blessing in this community."

He strongly believes everyone is blessed with gifts we can use to help advance Christianity or to help other people out and is focused on helping his congregants find their gifts and help teach them how to use those gifts.

The church's annual Vacation Bible School, running from June 23 through June 27, will be Leonard's first big event as lead pastor and he is eager to meet members of the community and their children.

"That's the first big opportunity since I've been here to be open to the community; I'm excited to meet new people," he said. "It's something for their kids to show that we care about them and it gives them something to do, too."

When they aren't at the church, the family has been able to venture out, taking trips driving through the countryside and seeing local attractions such as Forestville State Park.

"We like it. It's quiet, the people are kind and it's just beautiful," he said of the Spring Valley area. "This kind of community really feels like home because it's like what we grew up with. I love feeling like I'm back home again."

It's as though Leonard's path has brought him full circle, a journey 13 years in the making.

"I feel blessed because I've been able to focus my life towards this. I've been able to do and achieve these things at a younger age than most since I knew what I wanted to do at a young age," Leonard concluded. "And now that I'm here I don't think there is anything else I'm suppos