Nadia Bolz-Weber has been appointed ELCA’s first pastor of public testimony

August 23, 2021 (RNS) – Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber was recently appointed as the first pastor of a public witness to the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States.

Bolz-Weber, who has often caused controversy, is perhaps best known for her best-selling books, including “Shameless: The Sexual Reformation” and “Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint,” a prayer and memoirs filled with curses about her journey from of alcoholic stand-up comics to a Lutheran pastor.

She was invited to the role of pastor of public testimony by the Synod on Rocky Mountain of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, whose bishop Jim Gonia, she said, has supported her ministry since she first applied to the seminary.

The pastor of public testimony may be a new place for ELCA, but other denominations have called the clergy to similar roles in public. For example, the predecessor of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordained Fred Rogers from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighbor” as a television evangelist, Gonia noted during Bolz-Weber’s installation service on Friday (August 20th).

Bolz-Weber laughed compared to the beloved children’s TV presenter, calling it “counterintuitive”. But, she said, it works.

She watched a popular documentary about Rogers and his show “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, The day after she left the church she founded, the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, to continue her current job. public theologian. The film brought tears to her eyes, she said. It also convinced her that it was possible for her to perform the new service for which she had turned her life around.

“The motivation comes from pastoral care and a desire to achieve a wider reach than one community,” she told the Religion News Service.

That self-funded work will look no different from what she has been doing since she left the House for all sinners and saints.

“I still pay for health insurance,” she said. “It’s not like I got a new job. I have to keep doing my job, and my religion will say, ‘This work is pastoral in nature.’ ‘

In addition to her books, Bolz-Weber’s public service includes a podcast from PRX and Mole called “Confessional,” in which people admit their worst moments and the pastor in turn offers a personalized blessing. He will also continue to speak, write a newsletter via email called “The Corners,” and lead an “experimental set of spiritual adversities” online called “The Chapel”.

Her work is often based on a message of grace and compassion – a message, she said, she must hear herself. She called her leadership style “fuck it, I’ll go first,” sharing her struggles to make others feel comfortable acknowledging their own.

That message is based on Lutheran theology, she said, which is why it’s important to stay connected to ELCA. (The United Methodist Church refers to ELCA through a joint alliance approved by the General Conference in 2012).

“Almost everything I say is just a translation of really basic Lutheran theology, and they gave me that language at all,” she said.

Bolz-Weber also offers quarterly messages to several ecumenical ministries in Denver, which were sent along with the Synod on Rocky Mountain. These are the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John in Denver; New Beginnings, the adoring ELCA community within the Denver Penitentiary; and Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, a congregation at Presbyterian Church (USA) in Denver that hosted the installation on Friday.

“We thank our friend Nadia, who brings us together. She has a way of doing it in the world, ”said the Rev. Clover Reuter Beal of Montview during the service, which was broadcast live by the church.

In his message, Gonia noted that this was Bolz-Weber’s second call to the ministry at ELCA and “has been accomplished for a long time”. The entire ELCA bishops ’conference had to sign the newly opened place, which he said he had talked to the pastor since she left the House for All Sinners and Saints.

“Certainly for our Synod on Rocky Mountain – one of 65 synods in ELCA – we have never had a call like this before, where we acknowledge that Nadia has a ministry that goes beyond the walls of any church,” the bishop later told RNS.

That ministry brings a “special articulation of the gospel” to people who might not otherwise be associated with Christianity, he said. Not so much unlike Mr. Rogers neighborhood.

Chicago-based Emily McFarlan Miller writes for major Protestant denominations for the Religion News Service.

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