Story Magazine - Second Quarter, 2005

FTE President Ann Svennungsen Finds Joy/Challenges in Call

by Maria Thompson, Director of Communications

As a parish pastor, Ann Svennungsen, '81, encouraged many to listen to where God is calling them. She's continuing that call on a much larger scale as the first woman president of The Fund for Theological Education (FTE)

"We're looking at what comes next--wonderful, faithful, bright leaders," she said. She is the first FTE president to come directly out of parish ministry. "I can speak with integrity and passion about ministry and this work. I want young people to receive an honest description of pastoral work. Through theological exploration of vocation, we hope  that talented young leaders will be drawn to pastoral ministry."

FTE is a leading advocate for excellence and diversity in Christian ministry and theological education. Each year, it provides more than $1.2 million in fellowships and other support to gifted young people from all denominations and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Prior to joining the FTE, Svennungsen was senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minn.

Her passion for her work at FTE comes through loud and clear. "Christian faith is born and nurtured in community and communities need leaders--people prepared to shape, guide and lead...We want to help congregations think of vocation as part of discipleship. There is an ecology of institutions that helps invite young people to think about vocation. There's a ripple effect."

"I've been a pastor for 24 years. It's amazing what one is called to and sometimes how you are challenged ...I have friends who have made a lot more money than I have but they always say, 'You have a very interesting life.' There are lots of rewards and fulfillment in ministry."

While Svennungsen is thoroughly enjoying her national leadership role, she does miss many aspects of parish ministry. "It's been very different not preaching every week, not entering into people's lives--into the heights and depths. That's a really unique thing about pastoral ministry. Also in a parish, you do a host of different things during the week and then present a small work of art on Sundays."

In order to keep learning and feed her ministry, she is proactive about speaking and preaching throughout the year. "There's a depth of growth and wisdom in weekly study of scripture and theology, reading the newspaper with the question 'What do we say?' based on who we are as God's people." She has also been lecturing and writing, including a recent article in Congregations, "When a Woman Leads the Flock."

What words of wisdom does she have for new Luther graduates entering the parish? "Pay attention to relationships-- with God, with your family, with mentors and peers. Look for mentors-- friends and colleagues with whom to share the journey in meaningful ways. And then, look for young people who you might encourage to be pastors. Be open to the gifts of God drawing you into that journey. It's a lifelong adventure and an amazing journey."

Svennungsen met with 2004 FTE fellow and Luther student Karis Thompson at a recent Twin Cities event.