The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Inspired into the ministry

On Feb. 18, Ann Svennungsen was elected the first female bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod. She is also the first woman I saw in the pulpit. She became my inspiration for the ministry.

When I was 8 my grandmother sent me to a non-Lutheran Bible camp for the first time. I loved it. I experienced strictness but also learned about the love of Jesus. We did crafts and memorized Bible verses. Since we had to stand in the corner with a dunce cap if we didn't get the verses right, I made sure I knew all of them. And during daily worship I knew that someday I would stand behind a pulpit.

I was hooked — even though the boys could go outside and play baseball at recess while the girls played quietly inside (and were required to wear skirts). So when I returned home from my grandmother's that fall, I told my mother I wanted to attend church. "Seek and ye shall find. Knock and maybe they'll let you in," she responded, quoting author and humorist Garrison Keillor.

My mother suggested I attend church with friends. My first stop was the Unitarian Church, but I was disappointed when the kids were pulled out for Sunday school during the middle of the service. I wanted to worship — it was, after all, what had drawn me into the church and taught me about Jesus.

When we were invited to ask questions during Sunday school, I asked: "What do you believe about Jesus?"

"Well," the teacher stumbled, "we believe that Jesus was a good man who did many good things. And though he was a real man proven by history we don't believe that he was God."

Next I attended a Friends service. I was once again stymied by worship, expecting to see someone behind a pulpit and to hear a choir singing with an organ. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, wanting to speak up. Could a child be moved by the Spirit, I wondered? I wanted to ask about their belief in Jesus, but the service was so foreign to my expectations that I wasn't able to do so.

A school librarian somehow heard about my quest for a church and had a biography of Martin Luther that she thought might interest me. "I like him," I said. "He's a rebel like me."

"There's a church not far from your house and your friend Kristen Bartell goes there," she said, suggesting I might go with her. "I think you'll like it."

I stayed at Kristen's house on a Saturday night — giggling and making French bread pepperoni pizza. On Sunday we made our way to Zion Lutheran Church in Iowa City, Iowa. When worship began I saw a tall blonde woman standing behind the pulpit in a flowing white robe that looked like a skirt. Women could stand where the men did, all the while wearing skirts!

Svennungsen was the first woman to serve as pastor of Zion. I had grown up in a progressive home and town with the understanding that I could do anything that the boys could do, even if it meant doing it in a skirt or in heels. But this was my first time actually seeing and hearing a woman preach.

Since that moment I've known that I was meant to be a minister in Christ's church. In 2007, I was ordained in the ELCA, and now this pastor who inspired me nearly 27 years ago was elected a bishop. You go Bishop-elect Svennungsen! Continue to inspire me — and girls everywhere — to grab that pulpit and never let go. 


Ronald Marshall

Ronald Marshall

Posted at 1:51 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/28/2012

I love Pastor Brown's story about how she was inspired to become a pastor! I wish, however, that her account didn't end the way it did using those words "grab" and "never" -- especially if our work as pastors is a calling that depends on God's largess and not on our own initiative and perseverance.


Note: Ronald Marshall edited this post at 7:22 pm on 2/28/2012.

Yvonne Kroll

Yvonne Kroll

Posted at 4:47 pm (U.S. Eastern) 2/28/2012

This is an ispiring article for me because of my personal commitment to equal rights for women in our country.  Women are still having to take a back seat in many vocations and often feel like "token" women to help a profession show there are equal oportunities for all.  I have personally known some outstanding women ministers who felt the call and had nothing to prove but their love of the Lord and commitment to be shepherds for their congregations.  God Bless all who are called to feed His sheep.  Today we need all who desire to serve in Christ's church.

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February issue


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