Oh, and a co-pastor at two Crookston churches also loves pigs so much she gets 'weepy' when she sees one.
First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I grew up in Fargo/Moorhead. My dad is a creative person, so we moved often to flip houses around town. My mom ran an in-home daycare when we were small. I have two brothers; Alex and Vinnie. I attended three different elementary schools and finally landed at Oak Grove Lutheran for middle school and high school.
I studied religion and history at Concordia College in Moorhead. Because Concordia is a fabulous liberal arts college, I was able to study and participate in all kinds of classes and activities. I took everything from political science to religious art. In 2011, I had the great honor of being crowned Homecoming Queen. I still have my glittery corn cob tiara to prove it!
After college, I worked at Nichole’s Fine Pastry downtown and enjoyed life in the bakery. I also worked at Trinity Lutheran, doing young adult ministry. I was coordinating some interfaith events as well. My life was simple and peaceful. But in 2013, my best friend died by suicide and it really changed me. The funeral was painful, and I didn’t feel a lot of compassion coming from the pulpit. I thought to myself, “I could preach. I could do this.” I quickly shoved that thought out of my mind, but God was persistent. Me, a pastor? Who would want me doing that?!
I started seminary at Luther in 2013, awarded with a full scholarship. I was ordained in July of 2017. (I’m still shocked by these facts.)
Along the way, I met my husband, Andy, who is currently teaching music in Fertile, MN.
Andy is also a life-long Lutheran. He hails from Wisconsin. (We are Packers fans, but please love us anyway!) He has traveled the country with the Missoula Children’s Theater program and worked for a theater in Houston that engages children with developmental disabilities. We love singing, dancing, and the arts!
We moved to Crookston in August of 2017, so we’re still settling in. I’ve answered my first call to serve both Trinity Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church. Usually, pastors who serve several congregations do a ton of driving, so I’m lucky that my congregations are just down the road from one another!
As you most likely indicated in your answer to the first question, you are the joint/shared pastor at both Trinity Lutheran Church and First Presbyterian Church in Crookston. Can you describe a little bit how that works?
I was nervous coming into this call because it’s so unique and I’m so Lutheran! I wondered if I could hold onto my identity and still serve another denomination. (Spoiler: it’s all going beautifully and both churches embrace me as I am.)
Trinity needed an associate pastor to assist with worship and youth & family education and First Presbyterian needed a pastor! Separately, they were not able to afford calling a full-time pastor. Their call committees joined forces and here I am! I split my time between the two churches evenly. I take care of any pastoral emergencies for First Presbyterian and am considered their solo pastor. I’m sort of “on-call” for any Trinity events or emergencies/visitation when Pastor Greg is unable to be there.
I’m spoiled to have a fabulous staff at both churches. Most rural pastors often have to rely more on themselves than is healthy because they just don’t have colleagues or office mates. I am a creative and collaborative person, so I wouldn’t thrive particularly well in that kind of environment.
This question might come across as a bit ignorant or simple-minded, but what’s the difference between the Lutheran faith and the Presbyterian faith?
The Lutheran and Presbyterian faiths both have roots in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. They share much in common, but they both have their own emphases. Lutherans highlight the theology of the cross – the idea that God is present and for us especially in our darkest hours. Presbyterians have a greater emphasis on service and social issues/living. Lutherans don’t break the bread or pour the wine when they preside over communion and Presbyterians do because they have an emphasis on sacrificial language. Both denominations teach that there are two sacraments; baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Lutherans emphasize that the Lord’s Supper is a location for the forgiveness of sins. In the Presbyterian liturgy, there’s more of an emphasis on the meal as a memorial to the last night of Jesus’ earthly life.
Presbyterians share a similar governing structure to our national government – the churches are truly ruled by the people! They have a session, a board of deacons, and share responsibility for the church with the presbytery (or synod). The pastor comes in to do pastor things, but Presbyterians are very self-sufficient. Lutherans have councils and other decision-making bodies, but it’s not uniform across the whole denomination. Lutherans don’t like to be told what to do! (ha-ha)
Both confess the Apostles’ Creed, believe that the Bible is authoritative and normative for daily life, love Jesus, and hope in the resurrection – so that’s what makes it possible for me as a Lutheran to serve alongside of my Presbyterian pals. Theology has also changed a great deal for both denominations since the 1500s. Presbyterians used to believe that God pre-destined some to be saved and others to perish. Lutherans used to believe that God only chose to speak to some people through the Gospel and save them. If you talked to a Lutheran or a Presbyterian today, I would imagine they would not hold to those beliefs anymore.
I’m wildly over-simplifying things, but if you’re curious, come and talk to a Lutheran or a Presbyterian! You can also take a look at elca.org or pcusa.org to gather more information.
So how many sermons do you write a week? Are you able to stagger that schedule between the two churches? Do you sometimes find yourself delivering similar messages to the two congregations, or do you try to keep things completely different?
For Lent, I write two sermons a week. I deliver a sermon on Sunday in worship at First Presbyterian for three Sundays out of the month. I also give a sermon for our Lenten mid-week dinner worship that is totally separate from Sunday’s text and message. When I’m at Trinity, Pastor Greg is at First Presbyterian. It’s a fun little swap! I usually preach the third Sunday of the month at Trinity. My sermons for Trinity are rather different because it’s a large church and I’m new, so I don’t know the ins and outs of everyone’s lives yet. My sermons tend to be more educational there. I am a teacher at heart, so most of my sermons are educational; focusing on the original languages of the text, symbols, historical context, etc. I try to connect the text to daily living and the many struggles and conflicts that arise when one tries to live faithfully in a largely indifferent world.
At First Presbyterian, my sermons can be a bit more tailored towards what’s happening in people’s lives. I try to challenge both congregations to take that text’s message to heart.
What does a typical day at work for you involve? Do you spend time at both churches each day?
At both churches, we take time as a staff to coordinate our care for our people. Most days, I have time set aside to write and think about sermons, confirmation messages, and worship outlines. I usually don’t spend time at both churches because I find that it distracts me from doing my best for each place. I usually have a book study or Bible study going on that I host at First Presbyterian for both churches, so I like to be prepared and centered so I give folks the best opportunities for spiritual growth that I can.
I often get in some home visits, nursing home visits, or hospital runs as they come up and as the need arises. Some days I provide pre-marital counseling or grief care. All of it is blessing.
A person who maybe doesn’t know any better might learn that you are a joint/shared pastor between two churches in the same community and conclude that it’s an indication of a greater struggle faced by churches and faith in general, i.e. the numbers are trending downward. Can you explain how that might be at least partially true? Or dispel the notion that there is any truth to that assumption?
While it’s true that church attendance is declining nationally, I’m not worried about it. I think it shows courage and faith that two very different churches chose to share one pastor. It helps both churches do more service and answer the call to support ministries locally and around the world. It frees up resources and dollars to be used more effectively. The reformers believed that the church will always stand, and I’m with them! Some churches close. Others will always spring up. Around the globe, the church is spreading rapidly, so it’s certainly not near death. I was reading a book called “You Lost Me”, which discusses some reasons why younger people (and honestly, older people who have been harmed) in North America leave the church. Often, there’s a disconnect between what people say in the pew and show forth in their lives. Younger people want people of faith to really live out the Spirit’s gifts of peace, kindness, gentleness, and love in their interactions. (Galatians 5:22-26) When I hear disparaging and inaccurate words about people of other races or backgrounds, or when I see people of other sexual orientations denigrated to the point of suicide, I don’t see Jesus and it hurts the church. When we minimize the importance of women’s voices and perspectives, we lose out on half of God’s glory for the world. When we pray for the world and all creation on Sundays, but then turn around and are wasteful and careless, it makes one wonder.
I firmly believe that God is the Creator and sustainer of all that is; including all the stuff in the world that’s non-human! So, I have a deep desire to promote life and abundant life through my faith. In some churches, there’s a real disconnect that people feel between our bodies, minds, souls, and creation. The Bible richly expresses the goodness of all those things and the importance of integrating them.
When you look out over the congregation at either church or look at the latest count in the offering plate, are you encouraged, or concerned?
I’m deeply encouraged. Our little congregation at First Presbyterian is so gifted and mighty. There’s about 40 of us that gather on a Sunday, but their spirits are so big, you’d think it’s hundreds. They’re warm, receptive, and open. They really love each other. You couldn’t ask for more as a pastor. I’m seeing some real resurrection occurring. We have some children in Sunday school, which I offer every other Sunday. We have a few little babies that babble during worship and it’s wonderful.
At Trinity, it’s always wild! There’s a lot of energy over there. They have fabulous programming for children and youth. I’m honored to offer adult education for both churches and the response has been wonderful. People of both churches are always hungry for more knowledge about Jesus and they make my job a true delight.
What do you think of the Crookston community? How about its faith community?
Honestly, because it’s winter, I feel like I am not well-acquainted with Crookston yet. I like to take walks at night and I don’t see many out and about! Andy and I are new, so often we feel a bit isolated. A few weeks after we arrived, we suffered a devastating loss that we were very open with our congregations about. That was such a difficult experience that I’m not sure we’re back to our full selves yet, but we are getting there through the prayers of our communities.
We are so happy to have a library, a movie theater, a wonderful downtown, and friends at our churches. I want to give a shout-out to Wonderful Life Foods! Andy and I wouldn’t survive without the fabulous gluten-free options.
We’re not very athletic and we don’t have any children yet, so we find it hard to find friends who have some free time! We’d like to change that, so if you enjoy board games and dance parties, let us know.
The faith community in Crookston is very diverse, which is exciting. Not everyone is delighted that I’m a woman and a pastor, but for the most part, the response to me has been very warm – even from folks who disagree with women’s ordination. (I could go into the importance of women’s leadership in the early church, but won’t do that here.) I love that I can have a conversation with Benedictine nuns, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Assemblies of God folks, evangelical folks and non-religious people all in one day. It makes my life very rich and I welcome it.
Care to share any thoughts on the current President of the United States? How does he make you feel as a member of the clergy? Or as a woman?
I pray for the president every day. I pray that his heart would be humbled and that he would have the interests of all people in this country at heart. No president (or person) is perfect, but I have been shocked and disheartened by his language surrounding women, their bodies, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans…the list is long. As a person of faith, everyone is my neighbor and I’m charged with loving and advocating for them.
If someone (like the president) claims to be a Christian and speaks the way he does about living and breathing human beings, I would say that they are not following in the way of Jesus. It doesn’t matter how much you pray or proclaim your Christianity if you are conformed to the ways of the world. Lutherans talk about being saved by grace through faith, and this is an excellent thing and wonderful gift because we cannot save ourselves with our own limited wisdom and power. But we also believe that when the Holy Spirit gives you the gift of faith, your heart and life are transformed for the service and benefit of others. I have not been convinced that the president has allowed himself to be transformed by the Spirit. I don’t mean to come off as holier-than-thou. I depend fully on God’s love and care and I get stuff wrong all the time. My relationships are not perfect, and my heart isn’t always in the right place. But I’m open to God’s continued work on me.
After the president was elected, I felt very disturbed in my spirit because I assumed that that meant the entire country thought that his rhetoric and behavior was acceptable. I’m not a one-issue voter, but I know a lot of folks who agonize over abortion or other difficult issues like that one in the voting booth. I’m pro-life. I understand it, but I really think that by electing the president we have – whether we meant to or not – we sent the message to people that harmful sexual behaviors are not really all that traumatic or evil. We showed kids that they don’t need to be thoughtful or respectful with their language. Andy and I were living in Minneapolis at the time, and some of his students were concerned about their physical safety because of their skin color. That’s where we’re at right now.
I come from a family with a rich history of military and public service. My grandpa, Malcolm Tweten, was a legislator for many years in North Dakota. I’ve always been proud to live in this country. I’m still proud to live in this country. But it has always been difficult to be an American and follow the way of Christ – which calls us away from nationalism, pride, power, wealth, and consumption. The Spirit gathers all kinds of people together in the church – we’re from all backgrounds and we become new families. That’s the beauty of it. And when you exist in giant, blended families, it’s essential to watch out for one another and love each other because the world doesn’t know how to do that. We must model it.
As for being a clergy woman, I think I meet with the most difficulty from other people in my general surroundings. I’m often called “kiddo” or “little baby” because I look very young. My mom has Sami heritage (indigenous Scandinavian) and she’s got a very round face and round eyes. I share her features. I’m proud of my heritage, but I look younger than I am. People look at me and see inexperience.
We never know what people have been through just by glancing at them. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve held the hands of the dying. I’ve counseled couples of all ages. My husband and I have lived through a miscarriage and deal with questions all the time about when we’ll finally have children or if I’m delaying things because I’m a “career woman.” So. I might be 27, but I’ve lived. And I try to ask people who comment on my age if they felt like babies when they were 27. They always say, “Of course not.”
I’ve noticed that when I introduce myself and explain my calling, I’m often met with annoyance or suspicion. But, all of my male colleagues are met with admiration and deep respect. That’s really hard. But I didn’t get into my kind of work to be loved and cherished. I worship a God who washed feet, touched suffering bodies, and died on a Roman cross. I didn’t get into it for the glamor!
Do you possess any quirky or unique talents, skills or habits that people outside of your inner circle are most likely unaware of? Care to share any?
I really love singing jazz and bluegrass. I’m not sure that’s quirky or unique. I’d love to just sing all the time.
This is more of an obsession, but I LOVE pigs. I see them and I get very weepy. I worked for a summer as a Bible camp counselor in the Badlands and spent some time on a ranch in Wibeaux, MT and grew very fond of the pigs there because they were a little smarter than the cattle and the sheep. They’re such wise creatures and I find their funny little bodies, snouts, and curly tails to be totally endearing. Andy asked a good friend of ours to invite his “teacup” pig, Zeus, to our engagement day festivities. That pig is 80 pounds.
I’m very good at cleaning and organizing. Organizing closets soothes and delights me. I’m happy to help with yours if you’d like!
Describe where you think/hope you'll be in 10 years, or what you think/hope you'll be doing, personal life-wise and career-wise.
10 years! I’ll be an old woman of 37 by then. (Kidding – 80 is the new 40 I’ve heard.) I hope we adopt a bunch of kids and are living out our callings in the Spirit. I hope that our home will be a mess with kids’ stuff and noise. I have no idea where we would want to live, but I’ve always wanted to be somewhere a little more temperate! I’m a Fargo gal born and raised, and the cold doesn’t bother me, but it does bother my knees! Our very best friends (Courtney and Jerad, and our godson, Ignatius) are currently living in South Carolina and that doesn’t sound too terrible. We’d love to live close to them and be near our godson.
Please describe yourself in ten words or less…
Hard-working. Goofy. Expressive. Hopeful. Prayerful. Dance-y. Joyful. Strange. Bookish. Lutheran.