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By Dan Rudy 

Wrangell Lutherans welcome new pastor


A newly arrived minister has been making the rounds in Wrangell, meeting with folk inside and outside of church for the past few weeks.

Nancy Gradwohl began her ministry at Island of Faith Lutheran Church July 17, at which time Bishop Shelley Wickstrom of the Alaska Synod Assembly was on hand to formally install her. Wrangell will be her first assignment, being newly ordained by the Lutheran Church in June.

Hailing from Edmonds, Washington, Gradwohl was previously a middle school teacher for 15 years, specializing in language arts and social studies. Before that, she raised a sizable family of six sons, four of whom have since attended her alma mater, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California.

Gradwohl said she had been drawn to the ministry since an early age, but had found that path closed to her at the time.

“I wanted to do it since I was a kid but women weren’t allowed to do it then,” she explained.

After retiring from teaching and serving as a lay pastor, she eventually decided to pursue seminarian studies and become ordained.

Though also accepted at Luther Seminary in Minnesota, Gradwohl opted to stay closer to home and proceeded with her undergraduate studies first at Seattle University, then at Pacific Lutheran. She studied at the latter for a year and a half, and found the campus atmosphere interesting.

“I was probably one of the oldest students there,” she said.

Gradwohl described her life up to that point as conventionally middle class, and her studies at Berkeley broadened her view. At one point she participated in a cross-cultural study, where eight seminarians lived on the floor of a San Francisco church. Their mission was to minister directly with the homeless, keeping to their daytime schedules, queuing up in food lines together, and generally experiencing life on the city streets.

Two lessons Gradwohl took away from the study were that “time is endless” – or that, without jobs, money, or even a place to sit without loitering, the homeless have very long days to fill – and the myriad, constant pressures of street living caused otherwise rational people to develop serious mental issues.

“It was amazing, in a really sad way,” she said, coming into contact with down-and-out men and women young enough to be her own boys. The experience was also uplifting, as Gradwohl met people and made connections with people in the city’s alleyways, parks and gay bars.

“Everywhere we went we were graciously received,” she recalled. “I met people that were my neighbor that I never would have met before.”

Settling now into Wrangell, Gradwohl hopes to share that message of faith through grace and the perspective she gained. She has been getting to know the locale, for instance meeting with the local quilting group and people of the Wrangell Ministerial Association.

“I like the cooperation between churches, between different faiths,” she said of the latter. “It’s a really friendly community.”

As she has done elsewhere, starting this coming week she will host “knit and pray” sessions on Mondays at her home, at the rear of the church. The fellowship sessions will last from 4 to 5 p.m., and are open to the wider community.

Gradwohl is also working with the library to arrange reading material for a book club, which she would like to start up come September. Also that month, she would like to reactivate Saturday morning activities for local youth, with crafts and activities. Gradwohl is an avid football fan, and with the NFL preseason already under way will be looking for ways to fit the game into her weekly schedule.

Being new to the community, she said she is open to suggestions, and would be interested in pursuing projects that fit the local interest. Her hours are posted at Island of Faith, or she can be reached at 874-2743.


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