The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A final report
Almen filled with gratitude, grace as he says goodbye

Lowell G. Almen gave his final report to the Churchwide Assembly in video form, highlighting his 20 years as the ELCA’s first and only secretary.

The video includes photos and footage from all his years of ministry. Almen, 65, leaves office Oct. 31. His dry humor, steady voice and rare smile have punctuated every ELCA assembly and countless meetings of the church.

Lowell G. Almen tries to calm the applause
Lowell G. Almen tries to calm the applause he received after his final report highlighting his 20 years of ministry as ELCA secretary.
After an extended ovation at the report’s conclusion, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson looked at Almen and observed, “Well, we just set a record for the longest continuous smile in 20 years.” Hanson said he was ordering a visual record of the moment to be sent to the ELCA Archives, one of Almen’s many responsibilities as secretary.

Also during the assembly, Almen was awarded the Servus Dei Medal, which honors retiring church officers. The presentation included tribute after tribute to Almen’s knowledge of church history and polity, his encyclopedic knowledge of church constitutions and other documents, his clear explanations of church policies, and his ability to both see the big picture and tend to detail.

Beyond Almen’s skills, knowledge and institutional memory is his deep love for the church. In his tribute to Almen, E. Roy Riley Jr., bishop of the New Jersey Synod and chair of the Conference of Bishops, expressed particular appreciation for the way Almen honored the traditions of previous church bodies.

“Instead of making membership in a predecessor church body a banner to be carried into the new church, you, Lowell, made it the rationale for learning about the new partners. And not just learning about those partners, but making the history for the other predecessor church bodies your own so that you could love it with the present generation and teach it to the next generation. Thank you, Lowell, for building bridges,” Riley said.

“God is full of gracious surprises,” Almen said in his report as he reflected on his years of ministry. “When I was ordained on June 11, 1967, little could I have imagined what the call of the church would have in store for me. That day was the start of a journey—a journey of many seasons, a journey of a grand unfolding of unexpected responsibilities.”

Historic Augustus Lutheran Church, Trappe, Pa., whose first pastor in the mid-1700s was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, served as the backdrop for the beginning and end of Almen’s report.

He called Muhlenberg a model for “all who lead and serve in the church.” Almen also recalled the influence of Joseph L. Knutson, former president of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., who taught him “principle-centered leadership.”

Almen’s report was filled with gratitude for his vast experiences as secretary and the people and groups he met and worked with through the years. Photos and footage supported his words—showing Almen everywhere from military bedsides to meetings with two popes.

Among his significant memories was March 21, 1990, when the Republic of Namibia was born. “I witnessed the South African flag being lowered on one pole at 12:18 a.m. and the Namibian flag being raised on another pole at 12:24 a.m. That signaled a new birth of freedom for our Lutheran sisters and brothers, as well as others, in that land,” he said.

Prior to serving as the church’s secretary, Almen was a parish pastor, campus pastor and editor of the former American Lutheran Church’s magazine, The Lutheran Standard.

“I find my heart filled with gratitude,” Almen said.

He thanked his wife, Sally, and children, Paul and Cassandra, for their unbounded love, compassion, kindness and support.

• View the tribute video for Almen at the ELCA Web site. Choose “Friday, August 10, 2007” and find “Tribute to Lowell Almen.”

• Read the full text of Almen’s “Report of the Secretary.”


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