by Shelley Cunningham Harber, '98
The Faithfulness in Ministry Cross award recognizes faithful servants of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Three awards, which are given annually to graduates of Luther Seminary or its antecedent school, recognize faithful service in three categories: small town/rural ministry, urban/suburban ministry, and specialized ministry. It is with thanksgiving that Luther Seminary honors this year's recipients: Milo Mathison, Jack Niemi and Robert Quam. Each will receive their award during Mid-Winter Convocation in January.
Milo Mathison, small town/rural ministry
The recipient of the small town/rural ministry award, Milo Mathison, was ordained in 1958 and served rural parishes in Northwest Minnesota from 1966 until his retirement in 1995. In the words of longtime colleague Rev. Jerry Erickson, he "represents the very best of Lutheran piety linked with prairie populism, always serving with a heart for the plight of farmers."
He challenged his parishioners to ministry and mission in the community and in the world not only by his words, but by his deeds and examples. Mathison made outreach to prison inmates part of his calling to share the gospel. "He has the most effective jail ministry of any pastor I have ever known," Arthur Rimmereid said. Mathison faithfully visited the regional jail every Sunday, a commitment that touched countless lives with hope and encouragement.
He dedicated time and energy to developing Rural Life Outreach, a grass-roots program that supports farmers and others in time of crisis due to loss of farms and small businesses, and has been a "hands-on" proponent of the work of Habitat for Humanity, serving as a construction site supervisor for six homes built over the past 10 years. "Milo has a commitment to social justice that is reflected in his continued ministry and political activity," wrote Dale Knotek, president of the Crookston Area Habitat for Humanity board of directors. "I have learned a great deal about building homes with Milo, but more importantly, I have learned from his Christian faith."
Jack Niemi, urban/suburban ministry
"A pattern of an emphasis on church growth is apparent in all of Jack Niemi's Christ-centered congregations," Ted Johns said. Niemi spent 29 years serving suburban congregations before joining the administration at Gustavus Adolphus College in 2001. He is being recognized for his faithfulness in urban/suburban ministry.
As pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Naperville, Ill.-- the largest congregation in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod--he led the congregation in overall stewardship growth, branching out from local outreach to support outreach work building a church and seminary facilities in Slovakia. He also demonstrated his commitment to connecting congregations in united mission while serving St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Walnut Creek, Calif., by developing a strong partnership with an inner-city church in Oakland.
He exhibited deft leadership and strategic planning skills by helping steer several congregations through extensive debt-reduction and building programs.
His outstanding work as a parish pastor, his visionary thinking, and his ability to communicate effectively and persuasively led to his appointment as vice president of church relations at Gustavus Adolphus, wrote Gustavus Interim President Dennis Johnson. "Connecting with post-modern men and women is a passion that informs Jack's programs and preaching. He has constantly concerned to know the intersection of the scriptures, theology, and modern society."
Robert Quam, specialized ministry
Bob Quam's faithfulness to the call of the gospel to identify and shape leaders for mission of Christ in today's world has borne much fruit during his 27 years as director of Christikon Bible Camp near Big Timber, Mont. Many young campers have returned to serve on the camp staff, and a significant number of the staff have gone on to serve as rostered, ordained and lay leaders in the ELCA. Former Christikon staff member Molly Sasser-Goehner, a current master of divinity student at Luther Seminary, attributes this to Quam's careful and prayerful treatment of staff and his obvious love and respect of the church's liturgy, music and the scriptures. "At Christikon, young people and their families experience their faith and the gospel of Christ through fellowship at meals, Bible study, worship and the created world. Pastor Quam is intentional about ensuring that these elements are kept in place and that they maintain a distinctly Lutheran interpretation," Sasser-Goehner wrote. "His deep faith and hope in the gospel is evident in his selection of Biblical texts for the program and his reverence of worship and music."
"I know of no person who has so ably advocated for the vocation of ministry in the church. His influence and care had resulted in dozens of candidates for ministry," Mark Ramseth, president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary and former Montana Synod bishop, said.
In addition to his passionate leadership at Christikon, Quam has served the church through involvement with the ELCA's Board for the Division for Ministry, and on the board of directors of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. He also sits on the advisory board for the theological journal dialog.
The Faithfulness in Ministry Cross was established in 1991 by the Luther Seminary alumni/ae Council to "identify, recognize, celebrate and give thanks for alums, both clergy and lay, who have lived lives of faithfulness in ministry."
Candidates must have demonstrated exemplary faithfulness and service throughout their careers in ministry, and they must be nominated by fellow alums or other colleagues.
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