Story Magazine - Spring/Summer, 2013

2013 Faithfulness in Ministry Cross Honorees

by Christine Hallenbeck, M.Div. Middler

The Luther Seminary alumni council recognizes and celebrates the ministries of all graduates with the Faithfulness in Ministry Cross awards. This year the ministries of David Whelan, '95; Debra Samuelson, '83; and Paul Christenson, '59, are recognized.

Since 1991, the Faithfulness in Ministry Cross awards have acknowledged and celebrated the commitment of individuals to keep ministry alive. The Luther Seminary Alumni Council awards three Faithfulness in Ministry crosses each year.

25 Years or Fewer of Ministry: David Whelan, '95
Peace Lutheran Church, Menomonie, Wis.


J. David (Dave) Whelan lives and serves to connect Sundays to Mondays. Through his own roles as a pastor, police chaplain, community volunteer, son, husband, father and grandfather, Whelan embodies "being church, where you are."
"In all aspects of J. David Whelan's life, there has been no separation—his whole life's call has been to preach, teach and live God's Word," said his colleague at Peace Lutheran Church in Menomonie, Wis., Diaconal Minister Heather Kistner.

As Peace's senior pastor, Whelan has led through significant congregational changes. His visionary outlook resulted in the calling of Kistner, a strong statement in the connection of Sunday to Monday.

"He understands that preaching ultimately goes beyond the church," said Todd Swartz, a member of Peace, "and seeks to be part of the Spirit's work in creating a new people and a new community."

More than 25 Years of Ministry: Debra Samuelson, '83
Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Minneapolis


Debra Samuelson's ministry is one of creativity and connection. As senior pastor of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, she empowers people of all ages to serve in the congregation, as well as in the broader community and world.

Though Samuelson arrived amidst painful congregational conflicts, her compassionate, faithful leadership helped bring the church to a season of vitality and hope.

"She made this church into something wonderful—most people didn't think it was possible," said high school student Morgan May.

In her two years at Good Shepherd, the congregation has established a performing arts ministry, deepened relationships with other faith communities and grown intergenerational connections.

"God truly blessed Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd when he sent her to us," said congregation member Ronald Hovland.

More than 25 Years of Ministry: Paul Christenson, '59
Retired, Red Wing, Minn.


Paul Christenson exemplifies the abundant life in Christ. Throughout his life and career, and now into his retirement, he has composed music, advocated for peace and justice and empowered youth to engage in such issues.

"Paul has a creativity, resiliency and energy that is really quite amazing," said Augsburg College Pastor David Wold, a longtime friend and colleague.

"His life is a witness to what it means to be called as a servant and to love one's neighbor," said members of First Lutheran Church in Decorah, Iowa, where Christenson served as senior pastor from 1972-1987.

His service in Decorah included music performances with his wife and six children, ecumenical outreach efforts to refugee communities and the establishment of an organization for adults with disabilities.

"Music, family and community in response to God's call to serve others in his name," said First Lutheran member Marilyn Roverud. "How Lutheran!"