Story Magazine

Second Quarter, 2003

Alum-in-residence Ron Vignec Shares Vision for Public Ministry and Community Building

by Nathan Loer, '03

Alum-in-Residence Ron Vignec lectured in classes, met with faculty and students, and preached in chapel during his week of residency.

With his bushy white beard and T-shirt apparel, Ron Vignec, '78--who was on campus February 24-28 as the 2003 Luther Seminary alum-in-residence--has a very interesting appearance for a pastor.

He has an even more interesting ministry. In 1985, Vignec founded in Tacoma,Wash., and began serving as its pastor. Salishan is the largest public housing development west of the Mississippi River, whose 3,500 residents are mostly immigrants from Cambodia,Vietnam, Mexico and Russia, many of whom speak very little English. Under Vignec's leadership, the housing project has been transformed into what he would call an "authentic community."

During his nearly 20-year tenure, crime has dropped drastically, neighborhood groups have emerged and the residents have been empowered.

The participants in the Salishan/Eastside Lutheran Mission meet each week for worship--but they have never had their own building. "We always had a worship space, but in a public building," Vignec said. "That's why we have such a low budget.We've never paid rent or utilities. The understanding has been that we use those spaces in exchange for community service."

Approach to Ministry

Vignec's approach to such community service and community building has been one of seeing the residents of Salishan as assets for the mission rather than problems to be solved. "I call it the University of Salishan. We've really got something to teach the world and the residents are a huge part of that," he says. Salishan/Eastside Lutheran Mission

The alum-in-residence program, sponsored by the Luther Seminary Alumni/ae Council, provides an opportunity for graduates of the seminary to return to campus for conversations with students and faculty about their current ministry and how their seminary education equipped them for service.

One way that Vignec connected with students and faculty at Luther Seminary was through his chapel sermon. Quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., Vignec began his sermon by saying, "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted."

He spoke of the gifts that people bring to life and ministry that do not need to be "adjusted" for the sake of conformity. Diversity and quirkiness, he said, "are the things that make for life in our communities."

He concluded his sermon by telling listeners to "enjoy yourself if you are creatively maladjusted. Because God has given us the gifts on how to live the gospel out in community, homes, in work and in church."

Throughout the week, Vignec spoke in classrooms and around dining room tables about the need for leadership and ministry that is truly public. "Church is not about buildings," he said. "It's about public leadership, leading people to really experience new life in their homes, jobs, communities. It's about speaking on things like sinner and saint and justification by faith--but in the public language of the people."

Fostering community and creating public ministry will require strong leadership, says Vignec. "By virtue of being ordained in the church, you are a leader. Eventually, we need to get away from Lutheran modesty and embrace that title."

Public Ministry and Authentic Leadership

For Vignec, public ministry and authentic leadership have taken a particular form. He regularly leads important community events, including public services of blessing following a homicide, suicide or other deaths in the community. He often shares that leadership with other faith traditions, predominately Cambodian and Vietnamese Buddhist monks.

When leading such events, Vignec must find new ways to communicate Lutheran theology and Christian witness. "I walk in. I know my faith and my theology. I recognize that I'm a guest, and I lead publicly."

Vignec also regularly accompanies government officials from human service agencies on guided community tours, connecting the visitors with residents for real conversations.

He is quick to add that public ministry is a risky venture. "Once you become public, you make yourself vulnerable to the world's way of looking at things. But that's the only way you become authentic. And it's always worth it to build community."

Vignec is not a "native born" Lutheran. "I'm an 'adopted' Lutheran, so I have a different perspective on the church," he says, referring to his baptism into the Eastern Orthodox Church. "Growing up in New York City, there wasn't an Orthodox church in our neighborhood, so my mother sent me to the Norwegian Lutheran church down the street."

His unique roots must have something to do with his creative leadership and vision at Salishan. And for one week, Luther Seminary had the privilege of being introduced to his vision for Salishan and the rest of God's church.


Know an alum with an exciting ministry?

Nominate her or him for Alum-in-Residence

The Luther Seminary Alumni/ae Council is receiving nominations for the 2003-2004 Alum-in-Residence Program at Luther Seminary. All Luther Seminary graduates are eligible. The alum-in-residence stays on campus for approximately one week, preaches in chapel, speaks in classes, meets with faculty, visits formally and informally with students, and eats meals in the dining room. All expenses are covered by the Office of Seminary Relations. The schedule is flexible to meet the needs of the seminary and the candidate. To nominate someone, send a letter of submission by August 31, 2003, to:

Office of Seminary Relations
Luther Seminary
2481 Como Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55108
For more information, call 651-641-3448, or toll free at 888-358-8437.