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Honoring Alumni

The Alumni Award for Leadership, Witness, and Service recognizes Luther Seminary graduates who live out the mission and vision of the seminary. Since 1991, the Luther Seminary Alumni Council has presented awards to individuals nominated by their peers. 


Nominations for the award are due April 30.

Contact Jake Hennes, for nomination details.

Timothy Kellgren, ’71

More than 25 years of ministry
Timothy Kellgren has made a lasting impact on the community of Petaluma, Calif., through the many social ministries he has founded and supported in more than 25 years of ministry with Elim Lutheran Church. His impact on this community is so deep and lasting that in 2014, the same year as his retirement, the city of Petaluma voted Pastor Kellgren as 2014 Citizen of the Year. Kellgren is a man whose faith has made him an activist for a better community and a better world in ways large and small; global and local.

Kellgren had his eyes constantly on the needs of the Petaluma community. Affordable senior housing, shelter for the homeless, food resources for the community, a preschool and a medical clinic are all results of Kellgren’s tireless work to help his congregation live out their faith in the community. A congregation member says, “In Tim’s view, all of these activities are simply the result of acting upon his Christian faith—a faith that calls him to ‘radical love’ for his fellow humans and to strive for social justice in every corner of the world.” These effective and creative ministries offer the church community a way to live out their faith and share their gifts through service and relationship with their neighbors in the community.

Kellgren’s leadership led Elim Lutheran church to ministry across the globe, as well. A relationship with the New Life Band from Arusha Tanzania developed into ongoing support for the ministry of the church in Tanzania. Elim Lutheran has provided support to build a hostel where female students, teachers and visitors live while teaching, learning and serving. This relationship between Elim and the New Life Band has resulted in shared ministry between the United States and Tanzania and many visits for education, worship and building lasting relationships. He also initiated the congregation's annual mission to build houses in Mexico.

Pastor Kellgren was loved deeply by his congregation at Elim Lutheran during his many years there. Kellgren prioritized building relationships with his congregation, especially the children and youth. One congregant says that Tim offered the “most engaging preaching I had ever heard—at once deeply comforting and rousingly uncomfortable to the material and self-focused aspect of myself” while another declares that “we as parishioners could see the faith, love and Holy Spirit literally pour out of this man, week in and week out!” Pastor Tim was a truly gifted leader, talented preacher, effective teacher, and a man of many accomplishments, but he will be remembered for his unwavering faith in Christ that was always central to his ministry.

Nijhar Jharia Minz-Ekka, ’96

Less than 25 years of ministry
Nijhar Jharia Minz-Ekka is a true pioneer in women’s ministry in India and will be an inspiration to women in India for years to come. Her passion for sharing the gospel as far and wide as she can has been a worldwide adventure, from her native northern India, to Minnesota where she completed her Master of Theology at Luther Seminary and her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. Minz-Ekka holds the honored distinction of being the first woman to be ordained in her church body and the first woman in the North Western Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church in North India to earn a Ph.D.

Ministry in northern India is in Minz-Ekka’s DNA. She is a fourth generation Christian leader in northern India, a region where the church is still being established and ministry can be dangerous work. A colleague says that “watching the ministry she and [her husband] Neeraj and her parents have dreamed of and brought to reality demonstrates faithfulness to the gospel, and lives filled with faith to purchase property, develop the mission of the school, raise funds and complete a Ph.D., all while raising four children. Her dedication to her faith and work speaks to her commitment to her calling to ministry.”

The Christian community in Ranchi, India, led by Minz-Ekka and her family, works not only to build the church and share the gospel, but also to build a Christian seminary to educate the whole community. When developing the mission of the Navin Doman Theological College, they have been diligent to offer holistic programs giving the students opportunities to grow in Christ and serve the entire community by being salt and light. Apart from theological education, students are nurtured to be mentors to children in the neighborhood. As part of this, the school offers English classes, Bible studies, general health information and health clinics.  Plans for the future include community health ministry, trainings for lay ministers and teaching better agricultural practices.  This openness to the community can lead to better understanding and acceptance between diverse religious groups in the community.

Working with women has been a cornerstone of Minz-Ekka’s work in India and the United States. During the construction of the theological school, she often intentionally sought out interactions with the women working as laborers. She approached each woman regardless of her faith and asked them to share their stories. By listening to them, she gave them dignity and helped them understand their value and see the importance of their work despite a culture that told them otherwise. This intentional listening helped these women to regard the Christianity she represented with respect. Minz-Ekka has a gift to connect with people in love and openness, making genuine connections and sharing her faith.

Rachel Thorson Mithelman, ’83

More than 25 years of ministry
Rachel Thorson Mithelman is a vibrant leader whose passion is helping congregations extend a welcome to the communities beyond their doors.  Following 10 years in rural and small town ministry, she spent  over 20 years in two downtown congregations, Our Savior’s in LaCrosse, Wis., and St. John’s in Des Moines, Iowa. In these congregations extending hospitality has resulted in congregational renewal.  One parishioner wrote, “She helped us become aware of tremendous needs in the LaCrosse community and especially in our neighborhood.  She would preach on these pressing issues from the pulpit, teach the gospel of hospitality and justice in Bible study and tell stories about the people she was meeting and ministering to in church council, board and congregational meetings.  She stirred our hearts and led us to act.”

This gift for helping downtown congregations that were once much larger and more prosperous continue in vibrant and meaningful ministry includes helping them review and give thanks for their heritage while exploring and rejoicing in the unique gifts given for the present moment.  In partnership with Mithelman, the congregations in LaCrosse and Des Moines have both embraced new identities as centers for mission, grateful to serve Jesus as he appears to them in the unique downtown community: in the homeless and hungry, the wealthy, the traveler and the artist, as well as those often rejected by others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  With Mithelman’s help, these downtown congregations have established thriving community relationships through feeding the hungry, sheltering survivors of domestic violence, providing clothing for women in poverty, and reaching out to children in under-served neighborhoods through after school instruction in the arts.  

Mithelman helped her congregations see the needs of neighbors around the globe as well as those next door. She was one of the early supporters of the Lutheran World Relief Coffee Project, and has assisted St. John’s in establishing a companion parish relationship with a congregation in the Pare Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. She has led several journeys by St. John’s members to Tanzania to foster relationships, worship together and participate in projects benefitting women and children.  

Mithelman is a faithful leader for her community. A congregant leaves words of praise: “Pastor Rachel provided the moral and spiritual guidance that helped us see the face of Jesus in all those who came to our door, a reminder that we were not burdened but privileged to serve others.”

Past recipients


Stephen Quill, '72

TRUTH Houston, Missouri City, Texas

Wherever there was a challenge that needed a gospel witness in his community, Stephen Quill was on the forefront of using innovation and creativity to address a human need, to unite a divided community or to address a pressing social issue.

The list is huge. And most of the initiatives he started continue to this day. Some of these initiatives include the Austin Hispanic ministry program, the New Hope Free Clinic, Family Promise for the homeless and many MATRIX experiences.

Quill is also adept at getting others involved. In order to sustain these ministries, congregation and community leaders were needed to serve with their gifts and talents as well. He introduced new ministries and followed through with their visions and commitments, even in the face of initial resistance from people in his congregations and communities.

As one of Quill’s colleagues remarked, “No matter how long it takes or tough the fight, Steve never gives up and always believes that if the cause is right, then God will bring people to see the light.” In all of his ministry, Quill has remained focused on the gospel message. He is well known for his inspiring preaching. In the words of one colleague, “Steve is truly evangelical, in the sense that the table he sets is for all. Steve has been able to keep an open heart and mind for all kinds of people without forgetting that his purpose is to make the gospel known in word and deed.”

Quill finds pleasure not in the success of numbers, but rather the success of communities in meeting the needs of those who have been cast aside, and in authentic relationships honoring differences and unity. Another colleague says, “Steve’s preaching comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” In the words of his own bishop, Michael Rinehardt, “Pastor Stephen Quill is a gift to the ELCA.”