by Angela Busch, M.Div. Middler
Along the hallway to the sanctuary at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church, several framed photographs adorn the walls—black-and-white pictures of men in clerical collars and black suits, dark hair swept to the side, stern expressions. Next to the end of the line of photos, a woman's framed face breaks the trend: short, slightly graying hair, a wry smile playing at her lips and the corners of her eyes.
Pastor Carol Stumme, '82, didn't expect her photo to join those men's on this hallowed hall when she joined Luther Memorial's staff as an interim pastor in 1999. At age 66, she'd already retired from the ministry. Luther Memorial, a church that was fully expecting to close its doors within six months, hired Stumme as sort of a "hospice" pastor. Luther Memorial and its wall of preachers seemed destined to truly become a "memorial" in every sense of the word.
But God had different plans for the congregation. After seeing a few shy Hmong children hanging around the neighborhood and church, and knowing that a growing number of Hmong families were moving into North Minneapolis, Stumme decided that mission outreach to the Hmong community was Luther Memorial's future.
"Pastor Carol brought the kids out for pizza, and at first they didn't say much," remembers Pastor Nengyia Her, then an assistant to Stumme and as of January 2010 the new full-time pastor at Luther Memorial. "Then the kids started to come to church and participate in the service. Their parents came to see it. They like to see their kids behave that way. The kids are the key."
Today, more than 11 years after Luther Memorial hired Stumme to help the church shut its doors, the congregation has become a beacon among inner-city Lutheran churches: a success story of integration between whites of European descent, the Hmong community and other ethnic groups: a true testament to the ideal of Christian community.
As Her says, at Luther Memorial the kids have been the key. And perhaps that's why this church in particular needed Stumme.
When she began her studies at Luther Northwestern Seminary, Stumme was 45 years old and hesitant to pursue ordination.
"I have five children," she said. "And I really, really enjoyed being a mother. They were my life. So I thought maybe (becoming a pastor), this was one way I could continue being a mother. The walls of my family could just continue spreading outwards."
Stumme's understanding of motherhood has always been perhaps more diverse than the average family: she and her husband, the Rev. Dr. Wayne Stumme, adopted three biracial children in the midst of the racially turbulent 1960s. She remembers one of her neighbors putting up a fence to prevent their children from playing with Stumme's children.
"But I was very proud of my family, because they said something for me," Stumme said. "I'm always been comfortable with people who are different. I've been around enough people of different cultures that you eventually realize there's something universal that binds us all together."
It was that understanding that sustained Stumme's work with the Hmong and white members at Luther Memorial, and previously during her 12 years as pastor of Saint Peter's Lutheran Church, an inner-city congregation in Columbus, Ohio.
And while she maintains it was a long and not always easy process at Luther Memorial, today the church's worship each Sunday remains filled with the voices of white and Hmong parishoners alike.
Pastor Her says the Hmong people have accepted Stumme despite the fact that their culture does not generally approve of female ministers.
"She is more like a mother to the Hmong people. Women and children turn to her more easily than the male pastor. If their kids don't listen to them, the parents turn to Pastor Carol. She says she'll talk to the kids, and the parents feel better," he said. "We can all learn from her about never giving up. She does not want to give up the mission ... she wants to keep it going no matter what."