Story Magazine - Spring/Summer, 2013

Tough Mind, Tender Heart

by Marketing and Communications Staff

When Laura Thelander saw Luther Seminary had an open campus pastor position, her first thought was, "This sounds like my dream job." Now, she is well in the midst of her role on campus. Since Feb. 1, Thelander has been leading the seminary in worship and offering pastoral care. She has already spent a good deal of time in conversation with students, faculty and staff.
"There are many passionate, creative and talented folks within the Luther community, and I see my role as one who invites and encourages their full participation in worship life," Thelander said. She also hopes to work with others on campus to offer students guidance and wisdom as they seek to integrate their spiritual and intellectual lives and to discover enlivening spiritual practices that they can continue throughout their lives and ministries.
A 1997 Master of Divinity graduate of Luther Seminary, Thelander has experience in both parish ministry and academic settings. She served as a pastor in Minnesota and New Jersey and received her Ph.D. in systematic theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. Most recently, she was a resident scholar with the Ecumenical Institute at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn.
Part of her inspiration as campus pastor comes from a positive interaction she had with her own campus pastor, Bruce Benson, shortly after her graduation from St. Olaf College. "I was trying to figure out what to do next in life. Among other things, he directed me to a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon of in which King called upon his hearers to cultivate a 'tough mind and a tender heart.'" These words have long spoken to Thelander and framed her life both as a student and in ministry.
Though she spent time on campus as a student, Thelander is looking ahead rather than behind. "Luther Seminary has a wonderful tradition to draw upon and a wealth of resources. The challenge will be learning how to honor and learn from the history while realistically and faithfully engaging the world in which we live today," she said.
Though some would see it as rather daunting, Thelander is looking forward to addressing the purpose and vitality of worship life at Luther in light of this history and what is ahead. Of the place of worship in an academic setting, she said, "I have long believed that intellectual and spiritual formation flourishes best when integrated within a life of corporate prayer and worship."
She is painfully aware of the many challenges Luther is facing at this time, including financial difficulties and the recent decision to cut faculty, staff and programs. In an effort to provide a constructive and restorative environment through her role as campus pastor, Thelander established prayer spaces in the weeks leading up to layoffs and planned chapel services mindful of these community losses. "I want to offer myself as a safe sounding board where individuals and various groups can express their hopes and share their anxieties and concerns."
Her message to those in the seminary community is this: "It is my hope and prayer to do my small part in contributing to the life of this school, so that as sisters and brothers in Christ, we may find joy and strength in God's presence among us."