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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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From Neb. to death row, 'where we need to be'

Jack Nordgaard never imagined that his ministry would include murderers, but looking back at the last two decades he now considers his unexpected path a blessing.

The retired ELCA pastor followed his instinct, which took him from small town congregations in Nebraska to working with alcoholics in a rundown Chicago neighborhood. "I didn't know it, but it turned out it was where I was meant to be," he said. "It was serendipity, and everything has worked out really well."

From there, Nordgaard wound up working with the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Members of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois asked him to visit inmates on death row. He would talk to them, relay messages to family, and help convince relatives to visit them. Part of his ministry included becoming a potential character witness. 

"Sometimes it was enough to be their friend," he said.


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