She Had an Audience with the Pope

Archbishop Antje Jackelén met with Pope Francis last May, as the first woman ministry leader to have an individual meeting with any pope. She didn’t make an issue of the Roman Catholic stance against womens’ ordination, rather choosing to speak to him about climate change, equal wages for women in the workplace and in a more inclusive world for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals (GLBTQ).

She definitely believes women should be able to be ordained as leaders in the church and that it is a role meant to be lived out. Archbishop Jackelén is a quiet and persuasive leader who is making a difference in the world—because she has claimed her position as a woman pastor and archbishop as “self evident,” that is, as not needing to be proven, obvious. Even if others do not see it this way, she said, “There shouldn’t be any difference in how I behave—and I behave in a way that it is self evident.”  This is one of her mottos. 

Born and raised in Germany, Antje Jackelén finished school and went to study in Switzerland. The people around her encouraged her to study medicine, but she knew she wanted to study theology. After three more years studying in Germany, she went to Uppsala University (Sweden) for a year, then to Lund University (Sweden) for a Ph.D. While she taught at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago (LSTC), she has always called Sweden home.

Being elected on the first ballot as the first woman Archbishop in Sweden was an affirmation of her call to this position. “I’m proud of the Church of Sweden. Who would have thought the church would be ahead of the state?”

Jackelén had no other pastors in her family, but many women and men of faith. Her mother died last year, but was present at her installation as Archbishop. Her maternal grandmother, born in the 1890s, received a higher education, even attending a seminary to be trained as a teacher. “I carry her story with me.”

And while she never grew up thinking she would be a pastor or an archbishop, she remembers a memorable encounter at her church: “My first calling, I was very little. I was with my father in church and I remember seeing a person show slides from Tanzania. Something happened there,” she said, recalling the feeling she had as she crossed the churchyard as a child.

Archbishop Jackelén describes her call as “many, many, many” steps along the journey. It took years of education before being a pastor was on her mind.

Even with her education, getting her first position as a pastor was not without challenge. It was 1980, and she was excited about a job offer and her ordination. Suddenly, the offer was withdrawn. The reason given to her was that a church building project would be taking precedence over an associate pastor position. Years later, Antje learned the real reason why she was moved to a different church; the senior male pastor did not want to work with a woman.

“I’m glad I didn’t know the reason until seven years later, otherwise I may have started ministry with a bitter feeling,” she said.

Looking ahead: Along with other leaders from the Lutheran World Federation, Archbishop Antje Jackelén will likely play a role in a historic gathering to be held in October 2016 in Lund, Sweden. (Lund is where Antje Jackelén was a bishop prior to her archbishop election in 2013.) Pope Francis will attend the joint Catholic-Lutheran ecumenical event commemorating 500 years since the Reformation: "The event will include a common worship based on the recently published Catholic-Lutheran 'Common Prayer' liturgical guide," and will highlight ecumenical developments between Catholics and Lutherans over the past 50 years, the press release said.

What a delight to meet and interview one of the most influential women in the global church, while making pilgrimage to the Baptismal Site of Jesus in Jordan. She is making waves in her quiet, inimitable way.

A Possibility for Dignity in Leadership for All

On this Holy Saturday, here are words from ELCA Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton in The Lutheran magazine.

I had the opportunity to meet and  interview Bishop Eaton during an event in Jordan. Ordained in 1981, she has served the church for many years as a pastor and bishop in Ohio, elected as the presiding bishop in 2013. While she may tire of being asked about becoming the first woman to serve as presiding bishop, the times still require her to address it.

It will be a great day when all people who are called by God can pursue their vocations without barriers, patriarchy and sexism. As Bishop Eaton said when she was elected: “You know what would really be historic? The day that we don’t make a big deal about me being, or anyone being, the first woman this or that.” 

Images of Good Friday

Good Friday: “The ancient title for this day–the triumph of the cross–reminds us that the church gathers not to mourn this day but to celebrate Christ’s life-giving passing and to find strength and hope in the tree of life.”  -Pastor Shannyn Magee

The following images are from the Mount of Olives, specifically, the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before his arrest. For me, visiting this place was stunning--standing among olive trees where Jesus was betrayed by his disciple, Judas.

The final picture below is from a Lutheran church in Germany, where it is not uncommon to see Christ represented on the cross. Several had large artistic pieces with Jesus shown (as below) with human hair. These were somewhat startling for our touring group from Luther Seminary--as most of us (in Protestant denominations) are more accustomed  to have an "empty cross", representing Christ as having risen from the dead.

Lastly, I share a video of a song that is special to me, especially today. It is called "The Power of the Cross" by Keith and Kristen Getty. In 2007, I was in San Diego as a church council member for Incarnation Lutheran Church, and heard the Gettys perform this song. Experiencing the Gettys and this conference with the leaders from my home church was unforgettable. 

You Are Home

How does one hear God’s call? In the course of my interviews with nearly 50 women in ministry from ten countries, several have talked about hearing a voice in their head. No one I have spoken to has heard an audible voice; but it is not uncommon among the interviewees to have sensed an inner voice with a a clear message from outside of herself.

If you told someone you are hearing voices in your head, they may wonder about you. For the women who have talked about how they have been given spiritual direction in their lives—they believe it comes right from God.

How does God communicate to us? How does the Holy Spirit work, as Luther wrote, “to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify” people?

One striking story about this sort of thing came out of a coffee conversation at the home of several Lutheran nuns in Wittenberg, Germany. Yes, I said, "Lutheran nuns." They live near the Town Church, and are part of a larger order of about 150 sisters called the Community Christusbruderschaft Selbitz. (Most live in Selbitz, Germany.) The order also has a small number of  monks located in Halle, Germany.

One of the nuns told the story about how she came to the order. She had sensed an interest in experiencing life in the convent on a trial basis. At the time she enjoyed a very good job with the government, played the organ and piano at her church, giving lessons on the side. She decided to try out the convent for the testing period of five months, but afterward, she was convinced it was not for her. Listen to her story as translated by our tour guide.

The small group of Lutheran nuns in Wittenberg live in community and have  committed to a life of poverty, chastity, and service. They assist in the daily prayer services at the Town Church. They are visible in the community, and enjoy conversations with people who seek them out. One spoke about recent interactions with Syrian refugees who have settled in Germany recently. 

Our group enjoyed our time with the sisters. They were wonderful hosts, kind and generous with their time. They feel called to listen, to pray, and to be present with people who are suffering, or in need. The model of accompaniment, walking with others through life, is their vocation. From all indications, they seem not only content, but joyful, in their life of service to God and the neighbor. 

No Distinctions Between People

Whether you can understand Creole (the language of Haiti) or not, you can sense passion in the voice of Andrina Lundy. You can see it in her eyes and hand gestures. This is her hope: One day, all Haitians will see that they are brothers and sisters—and not mistreat each other, but respect one another’s rights.

With little infrastructure in Haiti, education is an afterthought for many people, especially girls. In the city, about 25 percent of girls may get an education. In the rural parts of Haiti, it is only about two percent.

With virtually no consequences for sexual assault, about half of the girls in the poorest areas of Haiti have been raped. There is simply no one to report the assault to who will do anything about it.

Living in a country where these facts are a given, it is a delight to meet a young woman who is hopeful about her future--and whose hope is found in Christ. Andrina Lundy has pursued education and now, feels called by God to be a leader in the church.

The idea of women leading in ministry has been a recent development in Haiti. “Little by little,” Andrina said, “the doors are opening for women, but it is slow. Like a turtle.”

Andrina feels called to ministry, especially in the areas of preaching and teaching. She is in her third year at the Church of the Nazarene Seminary in Port-au-Prince. Like Bernadette and Keda, the other two women seminary students I interviewed, Andrina is also being sponsored through the help of the Haiti Partners Micah Scholar program.

Please join me in praying for these women and their future work on behalf of the church. If you are so inclined, join me in supporting a seminary student through Haiti Partners. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

 1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV)

From Death to a New Life

As classmates and friends, Rebecca Hinz and I have learned a lot together. We have sat in the classroom at Luther Seminary, sharing books and notes. We have also travelled to Greece, Turkey, and Germany through Luther’s international opportunities. Both Rebecca and I have felt our call to ministry come to us out of the death of a family member: Rebecca’s mother and sister passed away and my father passed away in recent years. We have also talked a great deal about Christian hope in the face of death and dying-- and how to support people during difficult times. 

Photos below: These are my iPhone photos from a memorable day with Rebecca at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey (2013).

A new life has emerged for Rebecca, who is nearing graduation at Luther Seminary. She began her studies after retiring from a successful 30-year career as a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controller. Over the years, the number of controllers has gone from 10% when she started to 25% now. Rebecca is accustomed to giving direct and clear instructions to commercial pilots who are 95% male. 

Grounded in Lutheran theology and informed by the confidence she has gained from her occupation and leadership experiences, Rebecca believes she’ll be comfortable as a pastor or chaplain. She has no doubt that her interest in being present with people especially at the end of life—is a calling from God.


Rebecca sensed God’s call strongly multiple times. “The last time was the summer after my mother died. I was out on a three-week road trip and there was a little voice. ‘You need to go and be a chaplain.’”   She answered, “Okay, I can do it this time.”  The following October, she ran across a Luther Seminary information piece. Within a year, she was enrolled at Luther. 

Out of death comes new life. This Holy Week, we remember Christ’s willingness to go to the cross and to die. Easter is the celebration his resurrection and we share in both his death and resurrection. 

God is creating new life every day in the world and in God’s people. Through Christ’ death, we are given new life, a fresh start every day, as God’s beloved children.

The Same God Who Called Martin Luther Calls Me

When Emily Stelling first saw Luther Seminary as a 12-year-old, she thought, “Wow, a Hogwarts for theology?!”  Emily’s pastor drove her from Wisconsin to see Luther Seminary and it sparked her imagination. 

Emily came into the Lutheran church through her stepfather, David, whom she said is like a real father to her. When he married her mother, he introduced Emily to the Lutheran tradition. “Grace is what captured me. It’s like he said, ‘Here’s a community for you—and I thank him for that.’”  Emily was baptized, confirmed and received her first Bible within a year. “I felt like a pop star at my church!”

As a junior in high school, Emily was disappointed when she attended a college fair in Wisconsin, she was told by a Lutheran college representative (one that does not ordain women) that she was welcome to attend their institution, but not to plan on becoming a pastor. He did offer to give her a free pencil, however. 

Since then, she’s heard others voice the same opinion. The young theologian doesn’t agree.

Emily was grateful for her education at St. Olaf College where her religion professor, L. DeAne Lagerquist was supportive and encouraging. And while she is enjoying her first year in seminary, she is looking forward to the day when she can live fully into her vocation as an ordained leader. “I want to live into this calling that God has for me. The same God who called Martin Luther is calling me. And that has to mean something.” 

Photos from above left: Emily with Dr. Mary Jane Haemig at the August Hermann Francke Foundation, Halle, Germany. Center: Emily in Halle. Above right: Emily with Lutheran Sister in Wittenberg, Germany. Below: Lucas Cranach altar oil painting at the Town Church in Wittenberg, where Luther preached more than 2000 times. Luther pointed to Christ as the source of the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.

A Fire in My Bones

Keda Gustave is serious and committed to her call to be a leader in the church. In general, life in Haiti presents many ongoing challenges. While she is not ordained yet, Keda has faced barriers in serving in the church. She said some of the greatest resistance to her leadership in the church has been from other women. While she finds this frustrating, it will not stop her. Her call is clear.

Keda knew about her call when she was ten years old. "My mother told me that I was chosen, but then I didn't understand anything about it or how I would be called to one day study theology." 

Keda Gustave is rare in Haiti, a country where only half of the children go to school. She graduated from high school, then studied business administration and telecommunications. "I couldn't stay at that college because I had a fire in my bones. There was something I needed to do before anything else," she said. 



Keda's seminary training  has come through Haiti Partners, a charitable organization funding education at many levels in Haiti. She is part of the Micah Scholar program. She teaches a new Christians class at her church, as well as teaching children’s Sunday School. She has always been involved in informal counseling, saying she is able to advise people with love.

In the past, Keda worked for the United Nations  to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases.  With a bachelor’s degree in management at Haiti’s state university, her seminary training has put her in a good position to work on behalf of children in Haiti. This is her passion, this is her call. Thanks be to God for Haiti Partners and the donors who have supported Keda in pursuing God's call for her life. 

What a joy and privilege to meet three Micah Scholars in Port-au-Prince!  There were many logistics involved to interview these  seminary students:  transportation for them,  a translator to help us communicate from Creole to English, and trying to avoid the road closures during the turbulent election process. Thanks to Joyce Getchell of Reiser Relief for providing our transportation.

Faith Holds My Life Together

Sara Tyffesen Doure’s world was rocked when her mother passed away in 2014. She describes it as a “turning point” in her life, when she felt disoriented by the grief and loss. She had experienced other times in her life where she remembers wandering in a spiritual “wilderness” place. “When I am in a space that is new and scary, I know those times won’t last forever, and while they are no fun, God says, ‘you’ve got something to learn.’”

Sara moved toward seminary following her mother's death. My decision to attend seminary also came shortly after my father’s death. I felt that I could no longer put off going to seminary—leaving it in the “someday” category. Like Sara, I felt the clock was ticking. “I didn’t want to be 70 someday and have regrets about my life,” she said. 

Sara has had a lifetime of fitness, faith and studying horses. She’d love to combine these interests into a ministry. In many ways, she already has done this. As a certified personal trainer, Sara’s has clients of all ages, but she feels a special affinity toward elderly people in the exercise classes she conducts in a variety of facilities.

Sara’s search to live more fully into a life of faith put her on an academic path of Congregation and Community Care with an emphasis on Aging and Health.  “What is holding this all together is my faith. I wanted to be truer to who I was and study theology and so I could knit the whole thing and weave it together and make it authentically me. I’m sure middle age had something to do with it. You know who you are and what you have to work with.”

Sara and I met during a course about Martin Luther in Germany, sharing a mutual interest in Luther’s practical theology of serving God by serving the neighbor. She said, “I admire the way Luther brought faith, hope, and love into everyday life. I want to live in a way that models that.” By working a full-time business and attending seminary part-time, you can see Sara is on her way. “One of the elder women I train said, ‘Sara, you are making the world more beautiful. Because of you, I can plant more flowers and pull more weeds!” 

Photos from Martin Luther tour Germany in January, 2016.

Finding Her Way

Ragnheidur Sverrisdóttir never felt called to be a pastor. When she was 20, she participated in the life of what she called “a very conservative church.”  Ragnheidur said, “I wasn’t happy with that—so I found another way,” adding that the church she spoke about is not as conservative as they used to be.

Churches change. People change. When Ragnheidur and her husband moved to Uppsala, Sweden, she learned about a deacon education program. While she found it too conservative for her, the notion of serving others through ministry clicked with her.


“Deacon” or "diakonia"  in the original Greek language, means service to others, often with a willing attitude. As a deacon for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland, Ragnheidur also teaches other deacons. She feels very supported in her role, saying the concept is readily accepted in Nordic countries. She feels there is more work to be done:  “I have been fighting for more diaconal work – to work for the neighbor and vulnerable people and also people in grief and difficult life situations.  We are working on the street, I sometimes say we are middle class church.”  (In the ELCA, deaconesses and deacons are rostered leaders. More information here.)

God’s grace became apparent to Ragnheidur during a 10-year bout with depression. She felt the support of others who prayed for her, and it brings her to tears to remember the pain she felt. She believes that she is able to listen and to really understand other’s struggles because of what she has gone through. “After a struggle you live your life deeper.”

While Ragnheidur doesn’t believe God caused her depression, for her, it has become a blessing, which she can now minister out of—with a more humble, and compassionate personality than she had before.  She has found her way.

The logo (above) represents the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland. 

Trusting God's Grace

The Lenten season is especially busy for the pastors and staff. With two services a week, culminating in Holy Week services and Easter Sunday, it can be a physically and mentally draining time for church workers. My newly called colleagues in ministry talk quite a bit about “pacing” themselves.

When considering her call to ministry, Pastor Steinlinn Bjornsdóttir was concerned about the consuming nature of the job, telling a story of a young pastor in her church who started out energetic and enthusiastic before suffering “bad burnout.”  Steinlinn said, “ It really affected me. I didn’t want to go down that path.”

Relying on God’s grace is the way she has stayed realistic in the demands of the job, as well as optimistic about the future. Here's how Steinlinn responded when asked about grace. 

Steinlinn brings her background as a journalist and communications work for the ecumenical church community into her ministry. She felt her call affirmed by others while working at the bishop’s office. This affirmed the inner call she felt from her youth.

As a teenager, Steinlinn said she followed a “long and crooked path." She was serious about her faith, but did not appreciate some of the “easy answers” she was given as a young person. After secondary school she decided to study theology for herself, even studying Greek on the island of Cyprus. “The first year I studied theology was like being in love—as no other feeling.”

Preaching a message of grace is the legacy Steinlinn would like to leave as her mark on the church: “As one who was consistent in following Christ, and giving the message of grace while I’m here.”


Hsallakirkja, Kopavocur, Iceland

We are Equally Counted

With an outgoing personality and an opportune moment, Elieshi Ayo Mungure became a natural leader in her local confirmation class in Arusha, Tanzania. Once, when the pastor was about 15 minutes late, Elieshi jumped to the front of the class and began leading the recitation of Luther’s Small Catechism. That was in front of 500 fellow students. From that point on, she was asked to lead the group as a “class monitor”. It was a position she enjoyed, and her role grew into leading the class each week for 15-30 minutes.

The pastor who asked Elieshi to assist him helped her to see herself in a position of leadership for the first time in her life. She recalls having other male pastors who were also very encouraging to her as a child.

Raised by her grandmother, Elieshi was encouraged to learn all aspects of work in life. She remembers doing many things as a child, considered unusual for a girl, like climbing trees, cutting wood and repairing small appliances. Elieshi's parents had a hard time imagining their daughter as a pastor, and encouraged her to become a teacher or a nurse. There were no other women pastors at the time. Her father was especially against the idea, saying, " Who will we compare you to?" 


It has not been easy for Elieshi to be a woman pastor in Africa, working with male pastors and bishops who are “struggling to accept me.” In fact, she said, there are many churches not ordaining women yet.

“I’ve found in my experience, it is easier for a secular society to change than the church. The church is tied up in the sacred beliefs. Patriarchy is a system that furthers a certain group—a group favored has power—and it is blinded and they can’t see it,” she said.

From the days Elieshi was the dean and professor at the seminary in Arusha, she has believed that students need to have “gender lenses” when they look at Scripture and issues of faith. She insisted her students wrote their papers using gender-neutral language. “What does it mean to be ‘church’? As the body of Christ, we (women) are equally counted. How do we want to be seen? As a body with divisions, or as a united body of Christ.”

In her position with the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, Switzerland, the Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure is in a position to help to encourage more women in ministry. She is living into a legacy of mentorship of young women: “I would like to be seen as a mother hen who collects and nurtures and empowering them and let them take their leadership role. So many gifts young women have – it takes an eye that is willing to see. I need to use my role to see who else is out there and bring out others. We have a church of yesterday – we want a church of tomorrow.”

The Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure biography

Dr. Mungure is a graduate of Luther Seminary '07 with a Ph.D. in Pastoral Care and Counseling with a focus on Conflict Transformation in the Family. Dr. Mungure is an ordained female theologian from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), where she served as parish pastor for a number of years. She then joined the faculty of Tumaini University Makumira as a lecturer from 2007-2011. In 2011 was called by the Lutheran World Federation based in Geneva to serve as area secretary for Africa, the portfolio she is currently heading. Dr. Mungure is married and blessed with three children.

Tending to Matters of Spiritual Formation

Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a rich tradition of educating people for ministry. The institution overseeing the education and training of pastors and church leaders has a pastor of its own. Since the history goes back to 1869, all of the seminary pastors have been men. Until 2013.

Pastor Laura Thelander is the Seminary Pastor at Luther Seminary. She oversees the daily chapels, pastoral care, and participates in the aspects of seminary life, intersecting the administration and the student body. During chapel, you’ll see her preaching some days, and on other days, she is often playing trumpet in the brass ensemble—made up of former Seminary Pastor Robert Brusic, her husband, Pastor Arthur Murray and Seminary President, Robin Steinke. 

As she grew up in Nebraska, Laura noted how playing the trumpet gave her an opportunity to develop her confidence alongside her male counterparts. She remembers fondly playing in countless church events as a young person. On one occasion, she mentioned to her own pastor she was thinking about becoming a “pastorette”, testing his reaction in a day when women pastors were few and far between. She has always felt a sense of empowerment of possibility in her own life and for others. 


Her call to ministry was nurtured over the years in many ways, through a family of faith, and an experience with Lutheran Volunteer Corp (LVC). While a student at Luther Seminary, she was also nurtured in spiritual formation and now finds herself in the very position where she can assist others in their call to ministry and furthering faith formation.

Pastor Thelander graduated from St. Olaf and Luther Seminary.  She was ordained and served a Minnesota congregation before undertaking Ph.D. work in Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS). Near the end of her Ph.D. work, she served as an interim seminary chaplain at PTS. Laura also took a call as a pastor in New Jersey prior to her position at Luther Seminary. Recently, Laura and her husband became a "clergy couple" when he was ordained as a Lutheran Pastor. 

Noticing Grace

Being your “best self” is something we often read about in the self-help aisle of the local bookstores. I used to think that if I was resourceful enough and had correct information, I could be successful and happy. I have not found that to be true. It is a lie to believe that we can manufacture meaning in this life on our own.

Being your "best self" by receiving God’s gift of grace is perhaps a matter of trusting God more than yourself. The truth about living a life of faith and trust in God is that despite difficulties, God’s goodness, love and forgiveness are enough. It is enough to know God created you and loves you just as you are. This message of grace comes to us in the person of Jesus. The gifts of this grace also come through the Holy Spirit. Do you notice grace in your life? Would you know if you saw it? 

 Ordained 25 years ago, Pastor Jóna Hrönn Bolladóttir of Iceland  lit up when asked about God's grace.

It is hard to perceive grace in the midst of political rhetoric, negative campaign ads and 24-hour news channels.  Personally, I’m limiting my own media exposure lest the messages of fear, scarcity, and mean-spiritedness carry me away.

Despite being afflicted with some type of physical  malady, the apostle Paul prayed to God for relief. He asked God three times to remove his affliction. God responded, “My grace is enough; it’s all you need.”

We live in a culture of consumerism where people have no real notion of  “what is enough.” Does having extra cash onhand send you out looking for the temporary “high” the next purchase will give you? Whether you have the discretionary income or not is irrelevant.

People may think: If I just find the right “thing”, my life will be better. If my teeth are a little whiter, I’ll be happier. The myth of consumerism, as one of my Luther Seminary preaching professors, David Lose, would say, is a just that—a myth. The newness of the next purchase will wear off. The product will underperform. You’ll be disappointed. Then, you’ll be off to replace it with “what will surely be a better product.” And it goes on and on. Many of us have more stuff than we know what to do with—yet are always looking for more. What are you looking for? More? More what?

Where will you find God’s gifts today? You will likely not find it in a 24-hour news channel or a new purchase.

Will you notice the small and big ways God comes to us through God’s creation, other people, and the Holy Spirit? God’s grace really is enough. As Pastor Jóna Hrönn Bolladóttir of Iceland said, " May we have eyes to see it and ears to hear it."