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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Running the show

Mary Beth Nowak, the church's meeting
Mary Beth Nowak, the church’s meeting planner, says that after all the preparation, she gets “misty-eyed” when she pauses to watch leaders line up to process for opening worship.
It’s pure irony that what gets Mary Beth Nowak through a Churchwide Assembly—this is her seventh—is “running.”

She means running in the mornings, but she’s on the run all day. Just try to catch her for an interview. Nowak is the ELCA’s director for meeting management and travel. In short, she runs the show.

“People most often ask: ‘How do you think things are going?’ ” says Nowak. “I usually turn it around and ask them: ‘How do you think it’s going?’ If things are going well, I’m happy.”

This assembly has had challenges—audiovisual issues and keeping water in the back of the hall or lights on in the plenary. “And it’s always a challenge to keep coffee around for Lutherans,” she says.

And then there’s the construction. Nowak had to physically stand in the way to prevent workers one day from ripping up carpet outside a room where dinner was under way.

She constantly takes calls on her walkie-talkie from any of the 47 others who carry them. There are 1,400 jobs and 350 volunteers, after all.

“I’ve got protesters, construction workers, hotel staff and assembly staff. I need to help them get along,” she says.

Although she arrived in Orlando, Fla., before most of us, the assembly doesn’t really “start” for her until things are going so well that she can join those bishops doing the morning run, and then do the morning room check still wearing her running clothes. She finally did that on Friday. And as she sat for just a few minutes at the start of the day, one of her two interns brought her coffee from Starbucks. “This is unsolicited coffee and a real treat,” she wants to make clear. “It’s going to be a good day.”


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