March 2019- Women's Ministry/ Faith and Feminism

What has been the role of women in Our Saviour’s history?

While it seems that traditional structures and systems meant that the earliest women were not amongst the decision makers, they were clearly active, mission-oriented and, although behind the scenes, clearly visible and influential.  I can almost imagine the conversation (in Norwegian) that led to the formation of Our Saviour’s:

She: Don’t you think it’s time to call a pastor and start a church here in our new country?

He: Well, yes, now that you mention it, I was thinking it might be a good time to do that.

She: Perhaps you could gather a few of the men at the mill and propose that?

He: Well, yes, I might as well do that.

She: I’ll be glad to set up our parlor and set out some coffee, you just let me know when they will be coming over.

Early records show mission funds, events and committees formed by women and for the women of Our Saviour’s.  Of course, music, arts, and hospitality were offered as options to be involved outside of the preaching and decision-making realms of the church, but it is obvious that leadership was forming amongst the women in ways that out-paced the men of the congregation.  It seems that at several points in the early years, while the deacons (men) sat in endless discussions, the women dealt with the practical needs and just made things happen.  Whether it was the purchase of land for the site of the present church (made in a trade for a site they purchased at Franklin and 10th Ave), or the purchase and construction of the pastor’s residence, raising funds for music leaders or supporting mission sites along the growing edge of the city, the Our Saviours’ Miss and Mrs’s were a driving force for the congregation.  In the early 1900’s the women even ran a refreshment booth at the Minnesota State Fair.

Also from early records it is clear the women of Our Saviour’s were keepers of their Norweigan heritage and language and culture, helping new immigrants adjust to being away from home.  It took many years for Norwegian to disappear from the meetings they held.  The last of the women’s organizations that served to bind them together lasted until 1983.

While the general history of Our Saviour’s is a list of the nineteen men who signed on to the letter of call for their first pastor and the many men who followed as pastors.  But women were active leaders as well. One of the early leadership roles was through music. The hiring of Ms. Amy Molstad as the women’s music director created a parallel path to the standard worship leadership led by the male pastors.  Over the course of many years, their formal concerts, benefits, and reunions provided a place for socializing and outreach.   Pearl Gorvin, Ruth Fardig, Karen Moberg, Rhonda Degelau, Amy Hartman, Judy Halverson and Mary Preus, Catherine Preus and many other talented women have continued to share this music leadership thread.

Church education efforts also drew women leaders through the years and Mabel Sihler, Lydia Borgendale, and Laura Nelson have become something of legends along the way.  And, of course the keeper of the kitchen keys (always a woman) always held as much power as the pastor.

Another position that offered a public lay leadership role was that of “pastor’s wife.” Phyllis Sorteberg brought her passion for arts into her prominent role and led the congregation’s efforts to create festivals, concerts, and events, beautiful vestments and banners.  Nancy Lee’s musical talents were at always work during her time alongside her husband Pastor Hans Lee.

With such a strong foundation, it’s no surprise that Our Saviour’s would become a place for one of the first women allowed into “called ministry”  with Lynn Ziese serving as an intern in 1973.  Marilyn Breckenridge, Mary Albing, and Marlene Helgemoe followed in her path.  Cathy Malotky joined her husband Dave Englestad in 1986 to become the first woman pastor to serve at Our Saviour’s.  When Cathy and Dave left to take a call at Buffalo Lake MN, the synod was encouraged to provide a woman interim pastor, and thus Janet Tidemann joined us in 1989. And although Pastor Janet didn’t fit the original call profile, after 10 years of serving as an interim (the longest in synod history) Our Saviour’s was able to convince the synod to adjust its rules and allow us to call Janet Tidemann as an associate pastor, where she served until 2009 and took on the role of visitation pastor and finally pastor emeritus as her Parkinson’s limited her physical ability but not her spirit to serve our congregation. 

Elaine Olson served alongside Pastor Hans Lee and then as the congregation considered moving to a solo position, a call was presented to Laurie Eaton to lead the congregation. With the call to Martha Schwehn Bardwell, to fill our growing congregation’s needs it is clear Our Saviour’s continues to be a place that nurtures women as pastoral leaders.  

During the most challenging point in Our Saviour’s history, the time of the 1995 fire, three women guided us in prominent leadership roles. Gayle Lamb as Council president (not the first as president, that was Rena Rustad in the 1970’s), Pastor Janet, and Shelby Andress (our strategic planning facilitator) nurtured and inspired a congregation that needed to heal, re-imagine itself, and rebuild. A number of theologically trained and rostered female members are currently active in our congregation and continue to shape our mission and ministry in ways that reflect those earliest years, only now we know their first names too: Elaine (Degelau), Amy (Hartman), Sandy (Aslasken), Amy (Bluemenshine), Suzanne (Burke), and Karen (Stevenson). Their prodding and wondering has brought us new ministries (Cherish All Children, The Coming Home Collaborative, Godly Play) and encourage us to keep alive and ready for more.

-Daniel Swenson-Klatt