Story Magazine

First Quarter, 2007

Alum-in-Residence Brings 35 Years of Experience to Classroom

by Shelley Cunningham, '98

The alum-in-residence program brings an alumna/us onsite who attends classes for a week with current students, providing an experienced voice and demonstrating the relevancy of classroom learning.

Holm, who has served as senior pastor of Normandale Lutheran Church in Edina, Minn., since 1993, is known in the Twin Cities for his solid, imaginative leadership. During his week on campus earlier this spring, Holm was delighted to engage in conversation with students about how what they were learning at seminary intersects with the life he experiences in the congregation.

"I was curious to see how they would wed academic enterprise with practice," he said. "It was a most thrilling thing for me to engage with students about it."

"How do you do stewardship with pastoral integrity?" he was asked in one course. In another, students asked "How do you creatively go about Bible study and teach Scripture? What is your definition of 'church,' and what does it mean to be a member? How do you see Normandale as a prophetic congregation? What is your favorite synoptic gospel, and how do you use it in preaching?"

"I was stunned to see so much connection between their subject matter and my parish life," he said. "I tend to stereotype from my own academic background. It was pretty straightforward, by-the-book back then."

Plenty has changed--both for Holm and for the church--since he entered Luther Seminary in the late '60s.

"The church was a very different place then," he said. "It was more insular. People expected certain things from the church, and the church expected certain things from them." Now, he believes, there's a more global context. Congregations are more connected around the world. Normandale has a long-standing relationship with Lutheran Health Care Bangladesh that enriches its sense of mission both near and far. This has been a growing area for Holm. "It wasn't until (I was serving my third parish) that I started seriously thinking about how we used our resources beyond ourselves."

Holm admits he has changed plenty since his student days. "I almost didn't make it through my first year {at Luther Seminary}," he said. As a University of Wisconsin-Madisonalumnus, Holm said, "I was persona non grata when I started" at Luther Seminary. "I hadn't gone to any of the Lutheran Schools--St. Olaf, Concordia, Gustavus--and I wasn't in on how to behave."

He speaks fondly of the positive role that then-president Alvin Rogness and his wife, Nora, played in his life at that time. He also counts Alvin Rogness as one of his most trusted mentors.

He says the confidence--perhaps even cockiness--that sometimes got him in trouble as a young seminarian has given him the courage to try new things in the church. "I see my role as part of a crucible, to be confrontational and to take risks, to stretch my congregation. For example, let's not just talk about poverty...let's have Bible study in the street. Let's go to the neighborhoods where it's evident and talk with the people." He's done that at Normandale through innovative ideas like Marching Off the Maps, a major fundraising campaign that benefited the church's own building as well as housing for the homeless, new initiatives and endowment funds.

Discussing unique approaches that he has taken, Holm points to his friendship with hymn writer and poet Herb Brokering as the cornerstone of his passion for creative imagination and imagery in worship. This Lent, he and Brokering brought an incubator with two dozen chicken eggs into the sanctuary so the congregation could experience the anticipation and expectation of bringing forth new life at Easter. Children, especially, were enthralled by the warming lights and the tiny cracks that appeared in the eggs along the way.

"I'm not sure the big church has ever integrated creativity into the curriculum," he said. "That's a mistake."

Does this sound like a paradox, coming from a man who admits worship at his church is "all about the smells and bells?" "Of course," he said, smiling. "The stuff we're doing is right out of the emergent church. It just has tradition as the frame."

Paradoxes such as this are not new
to Holm. More than three decades in the parish have taught him to live with the paradoxes--as well as the successes and failures--of ministry. When he graduated from seminary, Holm says, "I had really big dreams. It's embarrassing to say how many have come true." But he is quick to point to the source of his passion: his deep faith in God's creative power. "I have known so many incredible people along the way. I have had so many incredible opportunities. What God has done for and through me ...it's been really neat."