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Established in 1991 by the Luther Seminary Alumni Council, the Faithfulness in Ministry Cross Award yearly recognizes faithful servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The council presents awards to individuals nominated by their peers who graduated within the past 10 years, the past 25 years or
more than 25 years ago.
This year's honorees are Bruce Benson, '72, and Ronald Nelson, '65. These awards will be presented at the annual Mid-Winter Convocation, held Jan. 29-31.
More than 25 years of ministry: Bruce Benson, '72
St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn.
In his 30 years as college pastor at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., the Rev. Bruce Benson has connected with some 21,000 students. With amazing ease and much humility, he not only gained students' respect, but their admiration as well. In the words of one student, "Extending God's love and grace to all is as much a natural part of Bruce Benson as his iconic beard and deep voice." Through his work, Benson helped to shape not only the lives of individual students, but the path of an entire academic institution.
Benson is also a highly admired preacher and worship leader. Former students recall him as a masterful speaker and story teller who proclaimed the gospel in ways that transformed lives. He was determined that the college chapel be a place where faith and learning could meet and where questions and discoveries were welcomed alongside the proclamation of the gospel.
Benson was able to make such a significant impact because he was genuine. He put his best gifts forward: humor, humility, patience and love. In the words of his students, "He lived into his vocation so engagingly that he inspired others to do the same."
More than 25 years of ministry: Ronald Nelson, '65
Trinity Lutheran Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba
After his retirement as a full-time pastor, the Rev. Ron Nelson accepted a part-time call to work with Trinity Lutheran Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Trinity was once a busy and active congregation, but as the demographics of the congregation and community began to change, Trinity saw a significant decrease in membership.
Nelson knew the importance of Trinity's ministry, but the reality of potential closure was inescapable. In 2010, approximately 30 people, most of them older, attended worship on Sunday mornings. In Nelson's own words, "I'm 70 and I'm one of the younger ones."
Under the leadership of Nelson, the congregation moved to respond to the emerging needs of the community and address their own financial struggles by sharing their facility with a number of other groups.
Eventually, Trinity made the move to change the name of its building to Good Shepherd Place to reflect the diverse ministry taking place there. For Trinity Lutheran, the definition of church had changed. They moved from being a church for German Lutherans to being a church for the community. Nelson was quoted in the local newspaper as saying, "We've been learning what the Gospels are talking about."
Then, in 2013 Trinity Lutheran ceased to exist as a congregation. And "the last act of Winnipeg's first German-speaking Lutheran church was to give away their building so community groups could continue to use it."
Demonstrating a unique balance of patience and persistence, Nelson led a faithful community in asking "How might God be at work in our midst?" Together, they transformed an inevitable church closure into new opportunities for the benefit of a much larger community.
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