Surprises Along the Way: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Part 4 in our series focusing on our synod’s women clergy (in honor of the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran church) gives us a chance to learn the surprises our pastors have experienced on their journey as ordained ministers of the church, both professionally and personally.

QUESTION: What have been the professional/personal surprises (unexpected positives)?

Pastor Miriam Bunge: “I had just finished leading Sunday morning worship at a congregation for which I was their supply pastor that day. Thinking back to that Sunday, I do not remember if I stood behind or in front of the altar for different parts of the service. I do not remember what the appointed Scripture texts were.  I do not remember how I formulated my children’s message. I do not remember the contents of my sermon.  I do not remember the names of the hymns we sang. I do not remember the prayers I prayed. Yes, I really was there!

“During the final hymn, I walked from the altar to the back of the sanctuary to greet folks as they left worship. An older gentleman walked up to me, shook my hand, looked into my eyes, and I still do remember the brief and gracious words he said: ‘I see Jesus in you.’  

I imagine my mouth widened and I humbly said ‘thank you.’  In the many years of my ministry, I do not remember anyone saying that to me before. That was, as the question Sue asked, not only a professional/personal unexpected positive, but the most meaningful comment I have ever received after worship.  I do not remember the above details of the worship service, but somehow in those details of me leading worship, an elderly man ‘saw Jesus in me’.  My great hope is that in my life’s journey, people will ‘see Jesus in me’. Amen. Amen.”

Pastor Julie Bailey: “By far it is the people I have met and worked with. With over 20 years in public ministry, I love meeting the youth that I have worked with who are now adults and practicing their faith in such a variety of ways. I also enjoy working with people during times of illness and even death – a privilege to walk with them through the holy moments of life. And I am a bit surprised I enjoy leading Bible studies as much as I do.”

Pastor Jane Mountain: “I love leading in worship, and it is a privilege to be a part of the lives of individuals and families at important times in their lives. I have loved learning about a new (to me) community and to find its resilience and struggles with social issues. 

“When I was first exploring the call to a church in Muskegon, my bishop told me I would be ‘near the water.’ He thought that was very attractive, but all I could think about was sunburn and lake effect snow. It’s been a surprise to fall in love with living ‘near the water’ and to learn about Lake Michigan. My heart jumps each time I see the lake and its many changes with weather patterns, high and low tide, and different times of day.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “It has been surprising that so much of my professional training was the internalization of ministry that came from growing up in a parsonage.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “I’ve found pastoral ministry to be truly a privilege. This vocation has brought more joy than I’d ever have imagined.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “Times of unexpected grace and support from both my congregation and my husband’s (also a pastor) congregation.”

Pastor Megan Crouch:  “Ministry has brought me so much joy. I think one of the biggest and most surprising positives was the opportunity to be involved with international church partners. I really thought being a pastor would limit my ability to travel and experience the world, yet ministry has opened the doors for more partnerships around the world then I would have dreamed possible. 

“Another unexpected joy came when I realized I could organize and plan really awesome service learning trips for youth and adults that helped them explore new cultures and ideas while living out their faith through serving others and forming new relationships with people. I was thrilled to find out how much opportunity there was to teach as a Pastor, as I have always loved learning and admired my parents who were both teachers. I was also amazed at the joy of getting to do things like baptize my nephew and officiate at my best friend’s wedding. 

“Finally, I have been unexpectedly surprised by how my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) has turned into a strength in my ministry. I worried constantly that people wouldn’t accept me as a pastor, judge me for my disorder, or that my OCD would keep me from doing the work. Instead I’ve learned that honesty and transparency can open doors and break down walls, and start conversations that people feel safe having with me because I’m able to share my own struggles with them. God turned the things I thought were barriers to my ministry into tools that helped me be a better pastor! Ministry has taught me so much, and given me so many things, and I feel blessed to get to say that this is my job.”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Stadley: “The very best surprise was the 12-year-old boy who wrote a letter to the Church Council (Dayton, Ohio) stating his outrage at their sexist treatment of me – his pastor. And also the overwhelming positive attitudes of people, congregations, synods, and the national church toward Pastor Polly!”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “My favorite thing about what I do (though I’m currently a bit tired of this, I admit) is how diverse the work is. Every day is a different adventure and there is a lot of freedom to explore and learn new things. I also love how people invite me into the most sacred parts of their lives and trust me with so much.”

Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese: “Early on, I was surprised that I had no problems finding a call in the mid 80’s. I was called to the first church that I interviewed with and never felt much prejudice or opposition to being a woman at that time nor has that been the case for most of my 36 years. In my first call, I was seen as a “novelty” in the community. It was interesting that there were three or four women clergy in our ministerial group in those years – one other Lutheran. So there was a lot of support. When I came to what was then Luther Community I had some push back from some of the Christian Reformed residents who didn’t think that women should be pastors; but after we got to know each other, that was no longer an issue. This was a wonderful surprise and I am thankful as so many of my sisters did not or are still not having this experience.”

‘Tis the Season: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – In this third installment looking at our synod’s women clergy during this year of celebration of the 50thanniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran church, some pastors weigh in on the church year.

QUESTION: What is your favorite season of the church year and/or “high day” of the church year and why?

“Easter, especially as it is celebrated with the Easter Vigil with its story telling of salvation history, music, affirmation of baptism, and the first shouts of Alleluia!” – Pastor Joan Oleson, Sarong Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Joseph

“My favorite festival is the Paschal Triduum. These three days are the very heart of the Christian faith, and the well spring of my ministry. I am called by a God who chose to come down to be with us, even into death, that we may have life. I am called to proclaim, in word and deed, Christ crucified and risen. Alleluia!” – Pastor Betsy Kamphuis, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Greenville and Settlement Lutheran Church, Gowen

“Each is a favorite, so it is hard to choose, but I think Pentecost is the one I would choose today because the coming of the promised Holy Spirit as our advocate gives us the robust experience of God with us as we grow into our lives as Church and as Christians together.” – Pastor Jane Mountain, Harbor of Grace Lutheran Church, Muskegon

My favorite season is Advent.  I love the contrasts, the scriptures, the hymns… themes of waiting, remembering and hoping… Advent is really a poem. A few favorite texts: ‘O that you would rend the heavens and come down…’ ‘…they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.’ ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd.’ ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ (I know, that’s Christmas Eve, but still a favorite.) Several favorite hymns:

‘In the Bleak Midwinter,’ ‘People, Look East,’ ‘Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying.’” – Pastor Ruther Overdier, Trinity Lutheran Church, Manton

“I love Pentecost–I think it is in part because it is a red day, I love the spontaneity of the Spirit, and the music.  A close second would be Easter.” – Pastor Julie Bailey, Ascension Lutheran Church, Saginaw

“Holy Week, which I know is likely very common among rostered leaders before they became rostered leaders…  Even though now as a pastor, this is a particularly taxing week with all the added responsibilities, I still appreciate the rhythm of the week.  That slow walk toward the cross is a spiritual practice for me.  I try to take a moment each day to reflect and meditate so that I don’t let the frenetic pace of preparations for worship deprive me of the deep way I am affected by remembering all that Christ endured and how he triumphed.” – Pastor Jennifer Michael, St. Peter Lutheran Church, Battle Creek

“I have a deep appreciation for the contemplative seasons of Advent and Lent. Both of those seasons reflect our own need for Christ, they call us to see where in ourselves and in our society we are in need of healing and urge us to call upon God for that healing. These two seasons also focus on the incarnation and the amazing miracle of God meeting us in our own need.” – Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker, Good Shepherd, Holland 

“Advent is my favorite season… the waiting, the expectation, the hymns that allow introspection.. They aren’t quite minor or mournful in key or tone, but they are different from the rest of the year.  I always hope Advent is full of sunny cool days and chilly, cold, star-filled nights because there is just something for me about being able to look up at a star-filled sky during Advent that is special.  

“The high day of the church year, however, is Good Friday.  For me, it is the high day because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt on Good Friday that Jesus died for me, exactly as I am, and for my sins, and for some unknown reason loves me in spite of or because of who I am. It’s mind-boggling in a lot of ways, and gut wrenching in just as many.  It makes me want to be a better person, and a better pastor, because of the amazing outpouring of God’s love for me and for the world that is so evident on that day.” – Pastor Christina (Chrisy) Bright, New Life Lutheran Church, Spruce

“Advent is my favorite season of the church year.  I love the scriptures and stories that go with the season, which have a sense of God setting things right and of hope.  I also love the hymnody, both old and new, that goes with the season.  My favorite festival day service is the Easter Vigil.  I love the movement of the service from darkness and quiet to the shouting of ‘Alleluia!’ and the pronouncement of Jesus’ resurrection.” – Pastor Julie Schneider Thomas, Zion, Comstock Park and Hope, Rockford

“Pentecost Sunday and All Saints Sunday are my favorites… Pentecost because of the miraculous ways in which the Holy Spirit worked through the disciples on that day, and All Saints Day which reminds me of our glorious togetherness in Christ with all those in the church triumphant.” – Pastor Karen Niemeyer, Trinity, Grand Rapids

“Advent has some of my favorite music. And I’m increasingly becoming a fan of Pentecost, because of the opportunity to do creative stuff at worship. A couple of years ago we blew up over 100 red balloons and poured them over the balcony onto the congregation during the part in the Acts reading about the tongues of fire. The looks on people’s faces were amazing.” – Pastor Kjersten Sullivan, Trinity, Battle Creek

“This is an easy question for me to answer, for numerous reasons!  My favorite day of the Church Year is Reformation Day.  I love the theme of the grace of God through Jesus Christ that permeates the day.  When I preach on Reformation, I preach on the Romans text, 3: 19-28.  The verses of 23-24 are very powerful to me:  ‘For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’  As the Lutheran Study Bible states in the notes about Romans 3:24:  ‘Grace is God’s unmerited love for humanity.’  

“I also have a special place in my heart for Reformation Day because this day focuses on Martin Luther and the Reformation. He and I have a connection in that we share the same birthday, November 10, not the same year!  I was a Lutheran from the time I was in my Mother’s womb.  My parents were ALC and then ELCA, my dad was a Pastor (must have been a bit tricky for him on that day!), I was born on a Sunday and Martin Luther and I share the same birthdays!

“Finally, my late mother crocheted a beautiful bright red stole for my ordination in Bismarck, North Dakota on August 19, 1984.  There are only two Sundays, Pentecost and Reformation, we wear red stoles, other than ordinations.  I love wearing my bright red stole and being wrapped in the love of my mother on Reformation Day.” – Pastor Miriam Bunge, synod supply 

“My favorite season of the church year is Advent. I think Advent is a good reflection of where the church is today, both celebrating that our Savior Jesus has come, but also that we are still awaiting his return to make all things complete. I also enjoy the extra time of contemplation, prayer, and reflection on what the Incarnation means for the Christian faith, and just the excitement it builds towards celebrating the Christmas season.” – Pastor Nicole (Nikki) Smith, Lutheran Church of the Savior, Kalamazoo

It’s hard to pick one… but I feel like my favorite celebration in the church is probably Christmas Eve worship. I adore Advent with the powerful and prophetic texts reminding us that God is coming and will be with us… and that all seems to come to a wonderful crescendo on Christmas Eve, when we welcome long time members and strangers together, preach the good news of Emanuel to those who know the story, those who have forgotten the story, and those who have never heard it… and sit in the stillness and wonder that God loved us enough to come screaming into the world with us… to both die for us, and live for us.” – Pastor Megan Crouch, Trinity and St. Timothy Lutheran Churches, Midland

Service and Saints: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Part 2 of this series poses two questions to our synod’s women clergy, as part of the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran church. Question #1 is an “informational, house-keeping-type” one; question #2 is a challenge.

QUESTION #1: Where have you served and in what capacity?

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I was ordained in Sept of 2009, and have been a pastor for almost 11 years. During that time I have been an associate pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and currently serve as youth pastor at Trinity and St. Timothy Lutheran Churches in Midland.” Pastor Karen Niemeyer: “I was ordained at Trinity in Grand Rapids in February 2017 and have served there ever since in a part-time capacity as assisting pastor.”Pastor Nicole (Nikki) Smith: “I served for about ten months as a synodically authorized minister (SAM) at Zion Lutheran in Manchester, Indiana. I currently serve as the solo pastor of Lutheran Church of the Savior in Kalamazoo.” 

Pastor Julie Bailey: “I have served three calls – two solo calls in congregations and one term as synod staff. I currently serve with the people of Ascension Lutheran Church in Saginaw, in my seventh year.” Pastor Christina (Chrisy) Bright“I served as intern pastor at Barronett and Augustana Lutheran Churches, Barronett and Cumberland, Wisconsin, 1906-07, and have been the solo pastor, New Life Lutheran, Spruce, since 2009.” Pastor Ruth Overdier“I’ve served as associate pastor at Shepherd of the Lakes, Walled Lake (13 years); pastor, Bethany Lutheran, Northport (five years); officially “retired”, but served, with Fred [husband], as interim pastor at Trinity, Manton and Bethany, Kaleva, as well as supplying at other local congregations. I returned to Northport in 2017, accepting a Call to serve Bethany for another two years. Currently I’m back at Trinity as a contracted pastor.”

Pastor Betsy Kamphuis: “I did my internship year at St John Lutheran Church in Lancaster, New York. Pastor John Scarafia was my supervisor.  I think I was the first woman pastoral intern at that church.  My first call was to Zion Lutheran Church in Saginaw.  I was the first ordained woman to serve at that church. I was the sole pastor at Zion and was serving full time. In 2008 I was called to St Paul Lutheran Church in Greenville.  I was the first ordained woman to serve at this church. I continue to serve full time at St Paul as the sole pastor. For ten years I have served as a supervisor of pastoral interns for Settlement Lutheran Church, Gowen.  This coming year, in addition to my St Paul responsibilities, I will serve as an interim pastor at Settlement.”

Pastor Jennifer Michel“I am currently in my first call as a solo pastor at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Battle Creek.” Pastor Kjersten Sullivan“I served as interim pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Rancho Palos, California, and am currently serving as solo pastor at Trinity Lutheran, Battle Creek.” Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “My first call was to St. James Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota. I then served as an associate chaplain at St. John’s Hospital, Maplewood, Minnesota.  My next calls were at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Gretna, Nebraska, as an associate pastor; and at Edgewood Lutheran Church Fruitport as pastor as well as Pine Rest Inpatient Hospital as both a per diem chaplain and as a staff chaplain. My current call is as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Holland.”

Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese: “When I did my first CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) unit in seminary, I decided that I would prefer to work in the chaplaincy setting rather than parish ministry. I found it to be a good fit and my dad spent much of his ministry career as a chaplain so that was my strongest model. I had a positive internship experience in a congregation and knew that I had to serve a minimum of three years in parish ministry before I could specialize so looked forward to my first call. I was called to serve Settlement Lutheran Church in Gowen and did stay there for six years before I really felt that nudge to move on to chaplaincy. 

“I did two residency years at Pine Rest Christian Hospital, Grand Rapids. Following that, I got a job as a chaplain at what was then St. Lawrence Hospital in Lansing. While there, I ended up moving to work at the long term care center of St. Lawrence, Dimondale Center. During this time, I found my chaplaincy “niche” in senior adult ministry. I was at St. Lawrence and Dimondale for eight years. I was then recruited to go to what was then Luther Community (LSSM) and served there for 17 years, through its different incarnations as Maple Creek and then Samaritas Senior Living. 

“I never dreamed that I would serve a congregation again, but God had other plans. During a time when I was feeling burned out at Samaritas, I was asked to supply preach at Zion Lutheran Church in Woodland. On that first Sunday there, I felt the voice of the Spirit calling me to consider serving there as Zion was vacant. I supplied there a number of times and felt the call stronger each time. So I entered the call process and was called to serve there in 2017 and am currently still there. I feel that my CPE training and years of chaplaincy, gave me good gifts to serve in the parish setting again.”

Pastor Julie Schneider-Thomas“Twenty-five years ago, I began serving Zion Lutheran in Comstock Park as a stated supply pastor.  I was fresh out of seminary and was living in southeast Kent County where my then-United Methodist Church- husband, Bryan, had been appointed to a church.  After serving four months at Zion, they called me as their pastor and I have been serving there since. In 2015, I began serving Hope Lutheran in Rockford as well. These two churches, along with Peace Lutheran in Sparta, share ministries as Koinonia Lutheran Co-op.  The time we have spent at home during the pandemic has allowed me to serve at Peace as well, as our co-op has shared worship and other activities on-line. I continue to serve Zion and Hope.”

Pastor Joan Oleson“I was called as mission developer for Bread of Life Lutheran Church, Hudsonville, then as their first called pastor (solo). I currently serve as solo pastor at Saron Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. Joseph.” Pastor Jane Mountain“I came to Our Savior’s Lutheran in Muskegon as a redevelopment pastor on Aug. 1, 2015, the date of my ordination. As a developer, I spent half my time in the congregation and half my time in the community. Part of our redevelopment plan included working with three other ELCA churches in Muskegon. On Nov. 24, 2019, the four churches gave up our congregational lives to form the new church, Harbor of Grace Lutheran Church, and I was installed as the transitional lead pastor.

QUESTION #2: If you were to choose a Patron Saint of Ordained Female Clergy, who would it be and why OR if you were to “make up” said saint, what would her name be and what would be her patron saint attributes?

“If I were to choose a Patron Saint for Ordained Female Clergy it would be the virgin Mary,” said Pastor Nikki Smith. “We are first introduced to Mary as someone who is completely trusting and obedient to the will of God. Even though she does not have all the answers, she does not necessarily know all the outcomes, and she does not know what may be required of her Mary none the less follows where God calls. Mary trusts in God’s goodness, mercy, compassion, and that no matter what God will be with her. 

“At the wedding at Cana Mary is the one who goes to Jesus asking for him to help solve a need and she trusts that he can and will do something. We also hear that at Pentecost Mary was faithfully praying and awaiting the promised coming of the Holy Spirit where no doubt she too was given amazing gifts to proclaim the good news to others. 

“I think this really reflects what ministry is all about trusting and following God, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and even when we don’t have all the answers or know the outcomes having faith that God is working in, with, through, and around us.”

“My patron saint is Tabitha/Dorcas, as I have claimed her to be a wonderful example of a woman in social ministry,” said Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese. “Her life resonates with mine as a professional chaplain.”

“I don’t know if I would categorize Perpetua and Felicity as patron saints of Ordained Female Clergy,” said Pastor Jennifer Michael. “However, the way I remember the story of Perpetua’s final moments had something to do with her being badly wounded, but she was the one to place the final sword upon her neck. I have this vision of her standing up tall despite all the chaos that swirled around her, despite all the pain she was suffering.  Then she boldly throws her hair back and faces the forces against her with courage and faith. That, and any woman who wants to make sure her hair looks good as she’s facing that kind of attack has something in common with me!”

“My nomination for Patron Saint (mine personally) is Helen Leppala. Helen was my dear friend, spiritual confidante, woman of deep faith, said Pastor Ruth Overdier. “Although she suffered major losses—her mother at age 12, her husband at around age 50, and a daughter when she was in her early 80’s—she would not dwell on this, but always showed genuine interest and concern for others.  She looked on everyone with grace.  Her wisdom, her encouragement, her prayers have meant the world to me.”

“I think I would choose some combination of the current Wonder Woman/ Diana of Themyscira; Rey(from Star Wars); Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls; all three lead actresses (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae) and the women they portrayed in Hidden Figures (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson) and Elphaba from Wicked,” said Pastor Chrisy Bright. “Why?  Wonder Woman knows that love is the thing that will save the world. She takes matters in her own hands and does what needs to be done, even when everyone around her says it’s impossible. She fights for justice.

“Rey:  At the beginning she and the audience thinks she comes from nothing, that she is no one, and by the end, with several others, she helps to save the world.  She works hard, she is willing to learn, she questions the powers that be, she doesn’t take any guff from anyone.  She is caring, and protective, and uses the force for good even when she doesn’t fully understand it – sort-of like we follow God and try to things for the good of others, and yet we don’t fully understand it either.

“Sophia:  As a pastor, sometimes you have to be willing to tell stories. Sometimes you have to be willing to listen to stories from the Roses of life without going insane. Sometimes you have to be compassionate. Sometimes you have to scheme and plot, and sometimes you just need to know how to put a good Italian curse/hex on others.  Sophia is all those things.

“Hidden Figures:  Against incredible odds, they were resilient, they worked hard, they didn’t back down, they didn’t let all the noes stop them.  They were intelligent, inspiring problem solvers, who, when allowed to do what they knew how to do, changed the space program and thus the world for the better. 

“Elphaba:  We are all a little green, a little different.  Sometimes we are the ones who are shunned because of a myriad of things.  Sometimes we are completely misunderstood.  Yet, we can still defy gravity, and we do.”

“Perhaps I would look to Katherine von Bora – Katie Luther – because she was courageous to escape the convent in fish barrels,” said Pastor Jane Mountain. “She spoke up for what she wanted and thought it was God’s will when she determined to marry that stubborn Luther who thought every priest should marry except for himself. She studied scripture and theology with the Table Talkers, even when her presence wasn’t desired. She was an astute business woman who worked for her community. All these things and more make her as much of a Reformer as Martin Luther.”

“My Patron Saints of Ordained Female Clergy would be Joan and Marcy,” said Pastosr Julie Schneider-Thomas. “Joan Oleson, Marcy Miller, and I all began ordained ministry within a year of each other in the Grand Rapids area. Over the years we have shared laughter, joy, frustrations, and tears.  I don’t know what I would have done without the opportunity to rage about something with them when I needed, to laugh with them over the sometimes ridiculous things that happen in ministry, and to share my struggles. The attributes of these patron saints would be faithfulness, resilience and joy.”

“I would say that the Patron Saint of Ordained Female Clergy should be Hagar,” said Pastor Megan Crouch. “She is the only person in the Bible to Name God. In Genesis 16:7 she names ‘God El –Roi’… God sees… saying that God sees her and she has seen God and lived. She trusts God enough to continue working in a system that oppresses her, to continue living when her resources are gone, and she entrusts herself, her future, and her child to God… who has seen her and knows her… and through her, more people see God.”

“I would name the Patron Saints of Women Clergy to be The Rev. Dr Wil Gafney and Dr Angela Davis for the same reasons,” said Pastor Marilyn Robinson (currently serving as a supply pastor for the synod).  “Saint Gafney and Saint Angela are deeply spiritual, are profound theologians, have profound articulation of womanist presence in the Bible, are warriors, have devoted their entire lives to service on behalf of all humankind, are strong social justice advocates, are gifted in lay ministry, are activists and educators, and have given faithful attentiveness to the call on their lives.”

“I would choose Anna Howard Shaw as the Patron Saint of Ordained Women,” said Pastor Betsy Kamphuis. “Shaw was the first female minister in the Methodist Protestant Church in the U.S. –in the year 1880. She was also a physician and a worker for women’s suffrage. She was smart, she was called, she was strong, she persisted.”

The Call: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Featured: Pastor Julie Schneider-Thomas, Zion, Comstock Park, and Hope, Rockford; Pastor Nicole (Nikki) Smith, Lutheran Church of the Savior, Kalamazoo; Pastor Betsy Kamphuis, St. Paul, Greenville, and interim, Settlement, Gowen; Pastor Julie Bailey, Ascension, Saginaw; Pastor Kjersten Sullivan, Trinity, Battle Creek; Pastor Christina (Chrisy) Bright, New Life, Spruce; Pastor Ruth Overdier, Trinity, Manton; Pastor Joan Oleson, Saron Evangelical, St. Joseph; Pastor Jane Mountain, Harbor of Grace, Muskegon; Pastor Megan Crouch, Trinity, Midland, in partnership with St. Timothy, Midland; Pastor Karen Niemeyer, Trinity, Grand Rapids; Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker, Good Shepherd, Holland; Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese, Zion, Woodland; Pastor Jennifer Michel, St. Peter, Battle Creek

QUESTION: When did you suspect and/or know that you were called to ordained ministry?

KAMPHUIS: “I felt call to ministry in college. At the time I was Christian Reformed and attending Calvin College (now Calvin University), 1978-1982.  I majored in religion, minored in English literature, Greek and philosophy.  

“However, the CRC did not allow women to be ordained.  I was not willing to leave that denomination; so I did not pursue the call to ordination. Instead, I went to the University of Chicago Divinity School for a time. I battled with cancer (and won). Bob [spouse] and I had two wonderful children.  Life was full.

“In 1995 my husband and I joined the ELCA while living in Maryland.  By 1996 I was entranced into the ELCA candidacy process and Gettysburg Theological Seminary.  I was ordained here, in the N/W Lower Michigan Synod on January 2, 2000.”

BRIGHT: “I had suspected for a while in college after my dream of being a pediatrician was ended by my desire to avoid any more college level physics, chemistry, and math, but it wasn’t until after my father died in 1996 that the idea started to really crystalize. “It was sort of like God constantly tapping me on my shoulder going, ‘Um, Chrisy, I am going to keep tapping on your shoulder until you pursue this.’  

“After my dad died, church felt like the only place where the world would return to some sort of normalcy, or that the world would return to its axis. I talked to my pastor and he looked at me and literally said ‘It’s about time you figured that out.’ Looking back I can see all sorts of gentle God nudges, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that…”

MOUNTAIN: “I had other careers before, so I consider my call to ordained ministry to be a surprise. I first began hearing this call when my church asked me to chair their call committee. I kept thinking, ‘I’d like to do this.’

“There followed a time when God spoke to me over and over about becoming a pastor. I began to tell others – my husband, the pastor who became our pastor as a result of the work of our call committee, my good friend who is Jewish, and other close friends. All encouraged me to follow this path. I entered seminary when I was 63.”

MICHAEL: “For many years I served as a lay leader in the church. Much of that work was with Women of the ELCA. My role on the Churchwide Board for WELCA presented me with many opportunities to speak in front of large gatherings. During that time, it was common for women to come up to me and ask if I had ever thought about being a pastor. I would laugh and thank them for their encouragement, but no I couldn’t even fathom how I might even begin a journey like that.

“Then in 2009, while I was living in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I had the opportunity to serve as a Synodically Authorized Minister of Word and Sacrament. For about six months, I served as the ‘pastor’ to this small faith community where every week I planned worship, preached, and presided.  That is when my internal sense of call was developed to match up with all those years of external call from the women I encountered.

“Still I couldn’t think of how I would ever get there. That’s when the Holy Spirit stepped in.  After years of debating internally, I decided to apply for candidacy. My mother asked me, ‘How are you going to pay for seminary?’  I told her I had no idea, but I had to just put in my paperwork and if I didn’t have the money, I wouldn’t go. 

“The day that I received my positive entrance decision from my synod candidacy committee was also the same day that I learned that I had been selected to receive the ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarship, which covered all of my tuition and fees for seminary.  What seemed impossible to me became possible. That was when I knew this was God’s call for me to become ordained and serve the church.”

RIVERA-WALKER: “When I was confirmed, about 14 years old.”

OLESON: “Actually, when I finished my work as a Christian education director three years after college, I pondered the thought – only to set it aside for another 13 years or so. That is when I began working on the development of a new church start and realized the call was truly there and I could ignore it no longer.”

BAILEY:  “I think I had some inkling as a child, playing church and Sunday school with my dolls. I remember a conversation in high school with my parents, but I had never seen a pastor who was a woman, and didn’t get much support. It was later, after working as a nurse for 13 years, that I reviewed old diaries where I had written about my thoughts of being a pastor. I was active in my home congregation in teaching, worship leaders, youth and council–so got great support from my congregation.”

SCHNEIDER-THOMAS: “I first felt a call to ministry in confirmation class in 7-8th grade. Because I was in a different town (Mackinaw City) than where my church was (Cheboygan), I couldn’t make it to the after school classes.  In essence, I did an independent study with Pr. Bob Riedel.  I loved those conversations we had about God and Jesus – and I felt that just maybe Jesus was telling me that I should be a pastor.”

NIEMEYER: “In 2008, at the age of 66, as I was facing retirement from my lay position of Congregational Life Director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, one of the options I was considering was going to seminary. However, I thought I was probably too old to do so. But then I read an article in The Lutheran that caught my attention. The article was about Louisa Groce, who was the pastor of a New Jersey church, where she had served for the past nine years. As I read the article, I thought, ‘Well, if she could do it, so can I.’”

SULLIVAN: “On a road trip back from a Lutheran Campus Ministry event my freshman year of college… I was trying to understand the historic episcopate (because I was that kind of a dork) and I asked the pastor if the historic episcopate meant I couldn’t become a pastor because I wasn’t genetically related to Peter. Instead of answering my questions, she replied with excitement ‘You want to be a pastor?’ I backpedaled, no, I just wanted to be annoyed about genealogy and theology, but I could never get the idea out of my head.”

CROUCH: “My family would tell you that I was a pastor from my childhood when I asked all the hard unexpected questions during the children’s sermon (something I enjoy kids doing to me now as a bit of karmic payback). But I didn’t start thinking seriously about it until I served as a youth representative on an internship committee for a wonderful young female pastor. I had seen a woman preach before, and thought ‘that’s cool, but I’m not that put together… God can’t want me… however working with this young woman training to be a pastor I learned that pastors are people… wonderful imperfect people just like me…’ and suddenly the barriers to ministry seemed to start fading away. Suddenly I began to wonder if this was something I could do… It still took years to discern my call, but I will never forget talking to her and realizing that if she could make this journey, I could too.”

SMITH: “I began to suspect I was being called to ordained ministry after having lunch with a friend at seminary, where I was attending for a Christian Education type degree, who told me she thought I should consider ordained ministry for my gifts. After that I called the pastor of my home congregation to say I was thinking of switching my tract to MDiv and he expressed they had already had my paperwork approving the transfer ready for a while and were just waiting for me to discern my calling.”

EBB-SPEESE: “I first felt a call to ordained ministry as a small child. I watched my dad lead worship and wanted to do the same. I am told that I played church with my stuffed animals when I was very young and I do remember trying to play church with my friends when I was in early elementary school. I would make my friends sit on the front steps and I would preach to them. That kind of play did not last very long as the other kids did not enjoy that!

“Of course, the option of being a pastor was not there when I was a child. In high school, I began talking to staff at the Bible Camp I attended and later was a Counselor-in-Training, about becoming a pastor. I was told over and over that the Bible did not say that girls could be pastors. When I brought it up to my parents, though, I don’t think they were opposed to the idea, they just didn’t know it was an option and was told I should marry a pastor and seek a non-ordained type of church career. I decided that I would go into youth ministry. 

“When I got to college in 1975, my advisor told me that yes, I could become a pastor! He really encouraged me to follow that call. But it took a while to get all of the voices out of my head that told me that I could not be a pastor. I did go to seminary after college, but initially in the MA program for youth ministry. While in seminary, I was finally able to realize my calling.”

OVERDIER: “When my and my husband’s youngest son (fourth child) finished high school and applied for entrance to colleges, I decided it was time for me also to continue my dream of further education. I entered Harvard Divinity School in the hope of finding answers to theological questions that had always intrigued me.   During my years there I realized that answers lead to more questions…and that I felt then a Call to parish ministry.  Unexpected, but such a blessing it has been and still is.”

Introduction: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

 By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – My recollection of the first time I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up was when I was in the first grade and I immediately blurted out: “A pastor!” I remember the small number of people – mostly adults – being quiet for a moment, then I was told “Girls can’t be pastors.” 

The same thing happened when I was in the fifth grade. At the time, all I could think was: “Who wouldn’t want to be a pastor?” 

My dad was a Lutheran pastor and his work intrigued me. I loved going to church and Sunday school. I loved the music, the Bible stories, being with other people who loved Jesus. I thought it was so cool that Dad got to wear those fancy robes and get up in front of all the people and talk about Jesus and the world, teach people about the Bible, baptize babies, visit sick people, take Jesus (communion) to shut-ins, and who knows what else. 

My family would host missionaries who were home on leave and I loved asking them questions and hearing them talk about the people and places they served. The maps and the encyclopedias would come out and I was a captive audience. Maybe I could do that!

Anyway, quite frankly, I don’t remember if either of my parents were among the adults who asked me the question, then turned around and told me I couldn’t do it. I would suspect they weren’t because I don’t remember any post-conversations, especially from my mom, who was a strong woman and placed no limits on women’s possibilities. 

(I would later learn that Mom had once considered being a doctor – not popular in America circa 1950. And I have no doubt she would have attained that goal. But she said she really felt called to nursing – and she excelled at it.)

So, at the age of 10 years old, I gave up my dream of being a pastor, and turned my ambitions elsewhere. During my junior high years, I was determined to be an English teacher. I loved literature – reading, discussing, writing book reports and research papers (who doesn’t love footnotes?), finding entire worlds about which I knew little or nothing. And grammar? Diagramming sentences, writing essays, learning about dangling participles. What could be more fun? And wouldn’t it be fun to teach others to do the same?

But by the time I hit mid-high school, I had turned to social work as my college major. The Civil Rights movement, the needs of the poor, the awareness that there were children who suffered in many ways that were preventable… these and related things turned me toward wanting to help others in a meaningful way. And if I couldn’t be a pastor, then I could still make an impact as a social worker.

By the end of my first year of college, with an adviser who listened to what I was saying, I found that the school I attended (Capital University, Columbus, Ohio) had a major in Church Staff Work. I switched majors and knew immediately that I had made the right choice. I specialized in Christian Education, minors in sociology and history. (Side note: Pastor Joan Oleson of our synod was with me in many of those Church Staff Work classes!)

I married my husband in 1976, the same year he entered seminary. And lo and behold… there were women there! Women who were studying to be pastors! It was a tiny group, but they were there: Connie Sassanella, Susan Swartz, Paula Maeder Connor, and a few others. I was amazed!

There were times earlier in my adulthood when I felt the tug that maybe I should go for it and follow the ordained minister path. But, in my mid 30’s, I found myself taking another route and becoming an associate in ministry (now called a deacon) of the ELCA. I found I was in the right spot and have no regrets for the parishes I served (permanently or as an interim) in Ohio and Michigan, and I can confidently say that I was the right person to be administering our synod’s Lay Missionary Training Program (later evolved to Equipping Leaders for Mission & Ministry) at the right time, helping it to grow in many ways. 

When I left that position, I did so knowing that there might not be another place for me in the synod. (I did put some parameters around myself, out of selfishness, not wanting to be called somewhere outside of my geographical realm.) So three years later, as dictated by ELCA policy, I was off the roster.

But there have been no regrets. 

And one of the things I am most grateful for during my times as an associate in ministry, a person active in the synod, and as the spouse of a pastor, is the women clergy I have been able to meet and get to know. For me, they have become a source of hope, encouragement, and blessing. 

AND SO… As of December 2018 (the latest statistic I could find), 32 percent of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American’s ordained ministers are women. At the same time, roughly half of those in our seminaries preparing for ministry were women. 

Most assuredly a “YES!” for God’s people!

AND SO… this piece is the introduction to a series raising up the women clergy of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod. They are receiving questions from me on an incremental basis and are responding to any, all, or none of them as they choose. 

I think you, like me, will enjoy what these women have to say, from the serious to the playful. I look forward to writing these pieces and hope you will look forward to reading them!

During This Time: Pastor Jennifer Michael

By Sue Sprang  

SYNOD – With the COVID-19 situation hitting us like a brick – quickly and with no time to duck out of its way – I’ve wondered about our ordained leaders and how they have been able to adapt to this strangeness in which we’ve found ourselves. With Michigan beginning to open up – cautiously and with baby steps – I took the opportunity to ask some of our pastors their take on the situation. I chose to include pastors who elected to conduct worship from home, for my own personal reasons. If you are an ordained leader who chose to stay home for worship, but didn’t hear from me and would like to be included in this series, please, my all means, do so. You will find the questions throughout the following article, or e-mail me and I will send them to you (

Pastor Jennifer Michael, St. Peter Lutheran Church, Battle Creek

Have you made any discoveries about yourself personally and/ or professionally?

“I’m not exactly certain that I have made any new discoveries about myself during this time. I live alone with my dogs and because of my congregational context, I would often work from home for at least half of my week, I would say that I have broadened my knowledge of working with videography and online meetings. I have used these platforms in the past, but because of the needs of my congregation I have pushed out beyond my previous knowledge and think it will be a good addition to my skills going forward.”

Have you made any discoveries about your congregation?

“My big surprise was how my congregation has a willingness to be connected at a distance via technology. We are a largely elderly group, but surprisingly agile on social media and other platforms. And even more encouraging and energizing is their eagerness to try even if they struggle.  

“I work hard with those who aren’t used to using technology (I call it their pastoral-technical support calls), but the great part is that even if they aren’t familiar they don’t give up and keep trying – even when they get kicked off a Zoom meeting or can’t get their video to work. They don’t give up in frustration, but instead are so interested in keeping up their relationships that they are willing to muddle through until they get it.”

What have been the challenges? How have you be able to work with/overcome them?

“The biggest challenge was at the beginning for me. 

“Just prior to the quarantine orders, I had been on vacation for two weeks in Florida to help my mother move. I came back just a few days before we went to a ‘shelter in place’.  So, while on vacation, I had to have many conversations with our church leadership about the growing crisis and what that meant for the church.  Then when I got back home, I had to scramble to catch up to a crisis for which my colleagues had been preparing for weeks before. 

“The reassuring part was that my congregation knew about my vacation and were patient in the beginning as we got our online worship up and running. And they have been very supportive of our ongoing efforts to stay connected.”

Have there been any positive surprise along the way? Please share.

“Pete’s Pantry has been a small food pantry effort from our congregation to support the local community.  However, with the pandemic, our congregation has felt called to widely expand this program to include curbside service, distribution of handmade masks when needed, as well as offering words of encouragement to people who come by for food. 

“We’ve seen an increase in monetary gifts to this ministry and a few people are so dedicated, they come in each week to prepare the boxes in advance so that they have time to sit for at least three days before they are given to the public – which helps to prevent spread of the virus. It has become a spiritual practice for these people and they tell me that as they build each box of food in the quiet fellowship hall all alone, they pray for those who will receive that box. 

“I know that there are many food pantries and food banks that are feeding people.  But for a congregation of our small size, the number of families we are helping is surprising.”

Do you want to share anything about leading worship from home?

“Find out what works for your congregation.  

“In my case, most of my congregation prefers a pre-recorded worship service because it allows them flexibility when their schedule is so fluid. Instead of having to show up online to worship at a specific time on a Sunday, they appreciate the benefit of being able to access the video on YouTube from wherever they are at what time is convenient.  

“Additionally, I have set up an ‘altar’ of sorts on my dining room table complete with fair linen, candles, a cross, and an icon of Jesus that I got last year in Greece.  I keep that space as sacred during the week and often sit there when I do my daily devotions and prayers. As I begin worship, I encourage everyone to create their own sacred space that they can use during worship.  

“Lastly, be you and your surroundings.  

“One of the delights I hear from my congregation is their joy and happiness when they can hear my pugs snoring in the background during my sermon or during the readings. They often comment more on that than my actual sermon! What brings them joy, they say, is that in those little noises they feel connected to me and feel more normal, like this is my life and they get to see me for who I am. I’m not sure they would like it as much if it were a crying baby or something, but still it does give them a chance to feel connected.”

Has this experience had an impact on how you view your congregation’s and/or the wider church’s mission and how it is carried out? Please share.

“In addition to worship online, I have been doing videos for what I call “FaithChats” that I post on our congregation’s Facebook page and YouTube. Just me in my office reading a bit of scripture or a poem and then adding a brief reflection as that relates to our current situation.  

“Since I have friends and family from all over the country, they are now able to see me provide these short devotions and hear me preach on a Sunday. Even friends of friends are emailing me with some comment or another about the message for that day or sharing my post on their own page to reach even more people. And on the flip side, I am able to see and hear from my own cadre of talented colleagues as well and how they are leading the church in innovative and imaginative ways. 

“So, I think that with all this online content, we can hear the Good News even louder than before and with a wider diversity. I believe that because worship has been pushed into our homes, people are yearning even more to hear God’s word. And in that yearning, the church is strengthened by the unanimity of voices that are preaching the Gospel without walls or buildings. This experience has bonded us with an expansion of our faith and a broadening of our understanding of how deeply we are connected as the body of Christ.”

During This Time: Pastor Rachel Laughlin

By Sue Sprang  

SYNOD – With the COVID-19 situation hitting us like a brick – quickly and with no time to duck out of its way – I’ve wondered about our ordained leaders and how they have been able to adapt to this strangeness in which we’ve found ourselves. With Michigan beginning to open up – cautiously and with baby steps – I took the opportunity to ask some of our pastors their take on the situation. I chose to include pastors who elected to conduct worship from home, for my own personal reasons. If you are an ordained leader who chose to stay home for worship, but didn’t hear from me and would like to be included in this series, please, by all means, do so. You will find the questions throughout the following article, or e-mail me and I will send them to you (

Pastor Rachel Laughlin, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church. Portage:

Have you made any discoveries about yourself personally and/or professionally?

“I’ve been telling people all along that I never wanted to be or signed up to be a televangelist. I’ve been incredibly nervous about recording myself and posting it on the internet for the world to see. That part, I expected. 

“What surprised me is how draining it is to preach to a camera in an empty room. I’m an introvert. I’m used to being tired after being with a lot of people and craving alone time to recharge. 

“But this experience has made me realize in a deeper way that when I lead God’s people in worship, we’re in it together. The energy I’m expending leading, they’re giving right back to me. It’s not the same when it it’s just me and the camera.

“I’ve also been incredibly grateful for the technology and skilled volunteers who have made it possible to include multiple voices in worship. We pre-record our services so we can include video clips of music, readers, and prayer leaders. 

“I probably would have told you before all this that it is important to have multiple voices leading worship because of diversity, developing lay leaders, etc… but the importance hasn’t really hit home for me before now. 

“It’s not just a nice or appropriate thing to include others in worship leadership, it is a necessary thing. Each gift, each voice, is another embodiment of God’s grace for us all. Could I record the whole service myself? Sure. And God could work through that, too. But when we’re in it together, the height and breadth and depth of God’s love at work among us is more evident.”

Have you made any discoveries about your congregation?

“I’ve been serving Prince of Peace for three years, so there’s lots we’re still discovering about each other. I’d say this crisis has brought out their ability to adapt and willingness to try new things. 

“We went from in-person worship to a live-stream from the sanctuary to a pre-recorded video in less than a month as the virus began shutting everything down. When I asked people to call 5-10 others from a list of members we thought would be most vulnerable during this crisis, they didn’t hesitate. Even now the Care Callers are reaching out every week and sending me updates. Together we are caring for our community. 

“Our musicians (staff and volunteers) have stepped up to learn how to record themselves so they can participate in virtual ensembles for the worship videos. They have been so brave!

“I’ve also been overwhelmed by their generosity. 

“A ministry partner who works with those in our community who are experiencing homelessness needs 100 homemade masks? Done. 

“A sister congregation needs help paying for custodial help? We’ve got them covered.

“Somebody needs meals delivered? Tell us when to drop them off. 

“Plans for how we’re going to do Holy Week have changed 47 times this week? Don’t worry, Pastor, we’ll just roll with it. 

“Everyone’s uncertain about the future and nervous about finances? We’ll pay our staff and we’ll pay our mission support because those are the two most important things and we’ll figure out the rest later. 

“We’re even trying to figure out ways to let those in our community who aren’t members of Prince of Peace know that we’re here for them and willing to help however we can. I’ve been blown away by the congregation’s compassion, grace, and strength.”

What have been the challenges? How have you be able to work with/overcome them?

“We’ve had some technology challenges trying to help some of our less tech-savvy members get connected when there are so few non-digital ways we can do so safely. The Care Callers I mentioned have helped. 

“We’re working on putting together a team of volunteers who are willing and able to assist people over the phone if they want to learn how to use their devices to connect. For those who don’t have devices, we’re considering other options. 

“We created Wilderness Worship boxes at the very beginning that contained a lot of resources for home worship and prayer. We’re mailing updated resources every so often, along with newsletters and other resources. The longer this goes on, the more creative we’ve had to be.”

Have there been any positive surprise along the way? Please share.

“The biggest positive in all this is how much more connected some of our shut-in members are feeling.

“One woman in particular sent me an e-mail after the first couple of worship videos went up telling me how wonderful it was to be able to see people and participate in worship beyond just listening to the gospel and sermon audio we’d been posting on our website for years. She said she hadn’t felt so connected to her faith community in years and hoped we’d continue with video of some kind even after this is all over. 

“Council has made it clear that we’ll be making that happen.”

Do you want to share anything about leading worship from home?

“As much fun as it has been to have worship videos featuring my cats and, on Good Shepherd Sunday, my spinning wheel and craft room, I miss my people terribly and am looking forward to the day when we can all be together again in the sanctuary. ‘Guest Room Studios’ is a pretty lonely place.”

Has this experience had an impact on how you view your congregation’s and/or the wider church’s mission and how it is carried out? Please share.

“Before all this, much of our congregation’s mission was tied to the building. It was, and I hope will continue to be after all this, a community center; a place where all kinds of groups could meet to learn and grow together. But sometimes that meant we didn’t focus as much on outreach or things beyond our doors. 

“This crisis has helped strengthen the parts of our mission that don’t involve the building. Our mission statement is, ‘Touched by the gospel, we seek to be instruments of God’s peace for the sake of the world.’ We’ve had to get creative in how we live that out now and it’s been fun to see that happen!”

What are some things you will be carrying into the future?

“We’ll certainly be keeping a worship video of some kind into the future – probably live-streamed right from the sanctuary when it becomes possible to safely gather again. And I hope we’ll keep the creativity and spirit of grace we’ve been leaning on so heavily as we’ve had to adapt and overcome challenges along the way.

“Oh – and learning how to use Zoom might just mean fewer late night commutes after evening meetings for everyone involved.”

Campus Ministry + Isolation = A creative challenge

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – For many of us, campus ministry is one of those things that is on the fringe. Unless we’re involved with or connected to it in some way, we really don’t think about. We might give it a nod and say “that’s nice” – but all-in-all, it’s probably not something most of us think about on a regular basis.

There are some folks, though, who find campus ministry to be a priority. 

For ordained and lay persons doing campus ministry, it is about introducing or keeping students connected to God. It is a compassionate and passionate ministry. They are out there connecting face-to-face with students, listening, welcoming, counseling, worshiping, breaking bread, doing service projects and mission trips, going on retreats, studying the Bible study, and other activities with them.  

For those university students, it can be a place for community in God’s name while they are away from their home congregations. For some it is their only church. And for many it can be the one place where they can find the affirmation, hope, and reassurance that they desperately need.

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted all of us and college students have not been exempt from its uncertainties and frustrations. Our synod’s campus ministers have been finding ways to stay connected with their students, in spite of them being dispersed throughout Michigan and beyond.

One Community members Emma Repp and Rachel Tuller make the most of being sheltering roommates.

Pastor Haley Vay Beaman serves University Lutheran Church, East Lansing and does campus ministry – “One Community” – at Michigan State University:

“We have weekly Zoom check-ins, just like we would have our weekly ‘Friday at Five’ meal and fellowship ministry,” she said. “We also have ongoing Bible study and game nights on a weekly basis. 

“We are also keeping students connected through video ministry, our ‘youtube’ channel that features student-made videos. At April 26 worship, we are celebrating our graduates with a virtual quilt wrapping”

Pastor Dana Hendershot serves Immanuel Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, along with Craig Torgerson, Director of Faith Formation. One of Torgerson’s tasks is ministry to Central Michigan University students through “Immanuel on Campus”:

“As we have spent most of our time trying to figure out online church [at Immanuel], we’re finally getting into a rhythm,” Hendershot said. 

The plan is to use Zoom and other resources to stay connected with students. 

Immanuel musicians finish a virtual worship service piece just prior to Michigan’s sheltering mandates.

“There is no doubt this crisis is affecting our college students deeply and it is important for the church to be there for them. Not only did they get stuck home, unable to return to campus, and moving to online classes, but now for many their summer plans to work have vanished, too. We look forward to the students return and we miss our interns deeply.”

Pastors Rachel Laughlin, along with Megan Floyd, Youth Ministry Director, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Portage; Jennifer Michael, St. Peter Lutheran Church, Battle Creek; Kjersten Sullivan, Trinity Lutheran Church, Battle Creek; and Ken Johnson and Jake Lehman, Trinity Lutheran Church, Kalamazoo serve congregations that make up “Matrix”, a campus ministry directed at Western Michigan University:

“Matrix has been setting up Zoom supper gatherings in place of our normal twice a month gatherings,” Sullivan said. “There were some concerns the students would be ‘zoomed’ out, and what was discovered is they were tired of internet school but the stress is definitely building rather than receding – so Zoom checks are appreciated.”

No matter where Matrix students find themselves, “the pastor is in”. 

“We’re also working to arrange summer internships for our students to continue growing in faith and connecting with their ministry sites, even if it’s digitally,” Laughlin said. “Like every other expression of the church, we’re trying to do what we always do – in our case, give students a place to connect, grow, and lead in faith – in brand new ways. We’re learning fast and doing our best – All while all of our leadership is doing the same in our individual congregations.

“Specific ministry site aside,” she continued, “campus ministry has an opportunity to be the church – the community of faith for those in need – for our students in the midst of all of this. We may be the only connection to the community of faith that they have.”

This brings to mind some lyrics from “The Church Song”, written by Lutheran musician Jay Beech:

“The church is not a business, a committee, or a board;                                                                                                                       It’s not a corporation for the business of the Lord.

The church, it is the people living out their lives,                                                                                       Called, enlightened, sanctified for the work of Jesus Christ.

We are the church, the body of our Lord.                                                                                                             We are all his children, we have been restored.”

Ramping Up to Meet the Need

By Sue Sprang

GLADWIN – Once it became clear that the current COVID-19 epidemic was going to be a situation with critical ramifications, the Gladwin-Beaverton County Food Distribution group took immediate action to ensure that one of those ramifications – an increase in the need for food – was met head on. The group was spearheaded in 1912 by Christ the King Lutheran Church, Gladwin. 

Thanks to dedicated leadership, a core of volunteers, and generous gifts of money and manpower, and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, the group has been able to extend its monthly food distribution to a weekly format. The group hopes this will be a normal occurrence. 

man standing next to the open trunk of a car
Mike Mack of Mack’s on Main restaurant, Gladwin, donated lunch for the thirty-one volunteers at the April 4th food distribution.

“We’ve applied for a federal assistance grant, but haven’t received it or know the status of our request,” said Dawn Wiseman, one of the group’s coordinators. “Right now we’re depending on the generous monetary gifts of others to keep going on a weekly basis.”

Those working at the distribution have noticed a soaring increase in the number of people in need of food.  On April 4, 266 households – a total of 771 family members and a significant number in a county with just over 25,300 people – were served. It is assumed that the number will grow before it stabilizes.

Volunteer manpower has always been an important part of the distribution, with individuals and groups providing the time and muscle to make the system work. With the increase in distributions, folks are stepping up to the plate. 

Some groups that have recently volunteered are Team Rubicon; Gladwin Cert Team; National Guard; Trinity Lutheran Church, Midland; Gladwin Free Methodist Church; Knights of Columbus, Gladwin; and a veterans group from Midland. Several others have signed up for future dates.

There is also a core of individual volunteers, many of whom have been involved with the distribution since its beginning. Rick Stone, a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Gladwin, is one of those volunteers.

“I work at the food distribution because I have seen the need for this in our community,” Stone said. “Being retired, I have the time and the need is truly there.”

Wiseman shared her sentiments as well.

“It has been and continues to be a privilege to work with all the wonderful people that come together each week,” she said. “In this current time of so many unknowns, it is reassuring that as a community we can still come together and support our vulnerable and those in need.”

Another significant partner had been the local Knights of Columbus Hall, which is a stone’s throw from Christ the King. The two have had a strong relationship over the years. During the increase in food distribution, the Knights of Columbus have offered their large parking lot as the “staging” place for cars to go, where they are then directed to the church. This keeps traffic on the busy road from being hindered and keeps things orderly and safe.

Wiseman said that she and Christ the King Lutheran Church, have received messages of thanks.

“One day I received an e-mail that said ‘Please feel free to forward this to any of the volunteers that are helping out at the distribution,’” she shared. “’You are truly serving your neighbors as God instructs us. Thank you for working safely and keeping not only our neighbors but yourself safe during this time of health crisis.’”

                                                                                                                                                         Lee Ann Clayton, who works in the office at Christ the King, shared another thank you. 

“There was a message on the voicemail from a lady who couldn’t say enough about how appreciative she was of the workers, especially the ones in the rain,” Clayton said. “She went on
and on about how organized it was – the best one she has ever been to – and how nice it was that the group coordinated with the Knight of Columbus Hall. ‘Thank you for all you are doing.  You are making a difference.’”

During this time of crisis, no pre-registration is required and all safety and health procedures required by the state of Michigan are being followed.

The Communication-Mission Connection

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – In today’s world, it is imperative that congregations use the web/social media to their advantage. With paper communication giving way to more electronic and technical sources at a sometimes head-spinning pace, and with each new generation of American relying more on the latter than its previous generation, the church – if it wants to grow, establish itself as mission-centered, and engage all generations – has no other choice. 

“There is more than a 90 percent chance that a visitor to your congregation looked for you online first,” said Pastor David Sprang, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Evangelical Mission for the North/West Lower Michigan Synod. “More than likely they found you via your church’s website. Facebook and other social media are good, but tend to be more internal.”

“Relevant and Engaging”

Chelsey Satterlee, Communications Director for the North/West Lower Michigan Synod, agrees with Sprang. Satterlee is a member of Generation Y (millennial) and, as a communications professional, makes it a point to stay on top of current trends in technological communication.

“Websites and social media are the most common way to get information and so it’s necessary for congregations to have a strong and engaging presence,” she said. “The majority of people in my generation and younger would search for congregations on the internet. For the most part, that would include googling and then visiting the congregation’s website to learn more about them. That means the website needs to be visitor friendly. It has to be easy to find contact information, directions, service times, and ministry information.”

Generations Y and Z take the adage “actions speak louder than words” to heart. If an entity (organization, committee, planning group, etc.) is doing a lot of talking, but there’s no action to back it up, these millennials and Z’s probably aren’t going to stay around. The same can be said if there are actions, but they don’t match the words.  

“A lot of people in my generation are more interested in seeing what the congregation is doing in the community as it gives a better idea of the congregation’s culture, its values, and its social views,” said Satterlee. “In many cases, people want to see that if they come to a specific church they will be part of something that is bigger than worship in the church building.”

“mission statement v.

words & actions”

Loyalty to a specific Christian denomination is not a given in this day and age. Add to that, for many Y and Z folks, loyalty to a specific religion, let alone a denomination, isn’t necessarily in the cards. If the local Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation doesn’t speak to them, they will search elsewhere. 

“While finding an ELCA congregation near them is sometimes enough to bring them in, if the congregation isn’t doing anything, they’re not going to want to stay,” said Satterlee. “It’s super important to have relevant and engaging information about your congregation’s programs and ministries on the website.  It’s also a great place to work in pictures so that it’s really easy for visitors to see what the congregation is like.” 

Even though Facebook and other social media can be a plus for the local congregation, Satterlee stressed that an interesting, informative, well-organized, and well-maintained website is a must in today’s world.

“Not all congregations have social media,” she said, “and if the website does a great job of showcasing the congregation’s programs and sense of community, and providing all of the needed information, then they might not need social media – although the latter can be a good way to show off community engagement and get a taste of what the congregation is really like, especially if there are a lot of pictures.”

Keeping the website updated and visitor-friendly is a must. Avoid acronyms or “insider” language. Put yourself in the place of someone who is doing the web search, keeping in mind any searches you yourself have done where the language is confusing or unhelpful.

ELCA is the most obvious example of an acronym. A few other examples would be VBS (Vacation Bible School), WELCA (Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), LWR (Lutheran World Relief), GWOH (God’s Work. Our Hands.) 

“avoid ‘insider’ language”

The key is to think elementarily while posting on your web, yet making it interesting and informative. Don’t assume that visitors to your site will dig for information that could be helpful or that could make or break their decision as to whether to give your church a try. It may seem very basic to you, but can be important for the visitor.

Satterlee shared her experience with perusing the web sites of our synod’s congregations.

“In reviewing websites last year, I found a lot of congregations aimed their website at current members and not visitors,” she said. “There were cases in which to get information about a program, it said to talk to a specific person, but there was no contact information – assuming people know who that is.”

“Since a congregation’s website is the main public facing place of information, it has to be aimed at people who are unfamiliar with the congregation and in many cases the ELCA,” Satterlee added. “It never hurts to have a section talking about what it means to be an ELCA Lutheran in addition to what the congregation is like.” 

This all leads to including your congregation’s mission statement in a very visible place on your congregation’s website. Before you post it, though, this might be a good time for your congregation to review its mission and see if, indeed, the mission matches who you are. 

“One note about the mission statement is to make sure it’s in plain English or is fully explained,” said Satterlee. “I’ve encountered some that sound very nice but in the end I was left asking what does that really mean? How does it relate to the congregation?”

“Your mission statement should reflect your congregation’s core values that guide and direct the congregation,” said Sprang. “It might be good to re-evaluate and rework your mission statement to reflect what the congregation’s true core values and mission are.”

 “easy to find and easy to navigate”

Once you are certain that your congregation’s true values and beliefs are established, tell about your ministries and programs. They should be in sync. Honesty and transparency are highly valued by Generations Y and Z.

Meanwhile, make your website interesting, easy to find, and easy to navigate. Use graphics and photos. 

Make the site informational, but not overdone. Wordiness can be an immediate turn off for many people, especially the younger generations. If the person or persons who does most of the posting for your site tends to be wordy, have them run their information, article, etc. across a few other people before posting. These two or three folks could help pull repetition and other nonessentials from the piece. 

If needed, someone who can edit your postings for grammar, spelling, proper abbreviations, etc., can also be a plus. You can have good information, but if the presentation is sloppy – as unintentional as it may be – it can be a turn-off.

Include all pertinent information. This includes the church’s phone number, address, times of worship, etc. There should also be e-mail addresses – one for the church office and one for the pastor. 

With pastoral ministry being a public office, a pastor is to be accessible to the community and to anyone in need of their listening ear, their advice, their words of encouragement or solace, and other scenarios. By virtue of their calling, they make their accessibility to members and non-members a priority. 

A “contact form” (such as Outlook) isn’t always reliable. It also moves the pastor one step away from the people, even though that’s not the intention. 

“In reviewing websites, I found a mix of contact forms and email addresses,” said Satterlee, “but oftentimes the contact form didn’t work — so it just felt pointless.

“Also, it makes it harder to contact the pastor directly as there’s no indication of who will receive the email. It doesn’t matter all of the time, but there are instances in which someone would want to contact a pastor and not the church office. I usually recommend having an e-mail address for both the pastor and the office available.” 

“I’ve seen some websites that have a ‘what is a Lutheran section’ and then link to the ELCA and the synod websites,” she said. “It’s nice to have those links so that if someone is unfamiliar they can quickly and easily find more information. 

“It might not be necessary to have links to all of the other ELCA/Synod programs, but if a congregation has a strong relationship with one of them, then it would be good. For example, if a congregation sends a lot of kids to Living Water Ministries summer camps then it might be good to have their website linked.” 

Satterlee also suggests that if you have a calendar on your site, make sure it’s updated and available. 

“I’ve encountered some calendars that could only be seen if you were a member of the church,” she said, “which is not a great way to engage visitors.”

An “in house” calendar signifies “no intruders wanted.”

Satterlee has tips to share in regard to other modes of getting out the word.

“I would say most everything [applied to websites] can be applied to Facebook and social media,” she said. “I’ve found social media can be a bit more casual and aimed at people in the congregation, as social media in general is more about engaging with a community. But it still needs to be professional and have the basic visitor information (contact, services times, link to the website), but it can be more informal.

“Since social media is more community focused, it’s a good place to share pictures from congregation events/programs, have more informal reminders about events, and see what the congregation is really like. I’ve definitely seen some congregation websites that say one thing and when I look at social media, it’s totally the opposite. So I guess there’s also a caution in that to make sure the website and social media match and are an accurate representation of the congregation. 

“Also,” Satterlee added, “You might want to consider moving to sources such as Twitter or Instagram. In general, younger generations don’t use Facebook so means of communication like these can be helpful for congregations looking to engage a younger demographic.”