Remembering Howie Wennes
After graduating from St. Olaf College, young Howie went on to Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minn. to earn his master’s in divinity. His wife of 54 years now, Mary, gave it three months at the time — one of the few occasions she has ever been wrong.
This weekend, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pastor Wennes’ ordination. His ministry has included serving as Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as Interim President of California Lutheran University, and as Interim Senior Pastor here at Ascension for 20 months, after the retirement of Pastor Willis Moerer.
“The church has taken me places I never expected to go and I’ve loved every minute of it,” says Pastor Wennes, who earned his doctor of divinity from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif.
One week after he and Mary wed, they took off for Japan to teach at a Christian school in a small town outside of Kyoto. They were the only Americans there. The stint gave them a global outlook and started them on a path of international service with far-flung locales, including Pastor Wennes’ trip to North Korea as part of a famine relief effort.
Small wonder his grandchildren get a kick out of quizzing him — “Grandpa, where have you been?”
The more Lutherans learn about how effective we are in global mission, hunger and disaster relief, the more excited we are about getting involved, finds Pastor Wennes. He has been a staff member of the ELCA Hunger Appeal and helped Lutheran World Relief oversee the disbursement of a half-million-dollar grant to aid victims of a tsunami in India in 2004, monies dedicated to hurricane relief in South
America in ’97, and more.
He’s been to Africa four times. Mary has been six. With each trip to Africa, says Pastor Wennes with a smile, “I cut out my whining for six months — to see what people do with so little, and with such great attitude.
“We once had a U.S. Ambassador look at the work we were doing in North Africa and say, ‘You Lutherans — you always show up first, before the cameras or anyone else,” he recalls. The ELCA knows what it’s doing and follows up, he says, thus earning international consideration as a “trusted vehicle” for directing contributions.
The same is true locally, as he points out. “If anyone’s paying any attention at all, they know the work LSS is doing.”
Pastor Wennes received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from CLU in 1987 and has served on the Board of Regents. Currently, his titles are President Emeritus & University Ambassador. He was instrumental in the school’s launch of its Theology and Christian Leadership major, and the obtaining of a $1.5 million endowment to secure its future.
Pastor Wennes clearly has a special place in his heart for Ascension, sounding emotional when he talks about the way this congregation has stepped up with close to $100,000 a year to support the church’s work far and near through Gifts of Hope.
As far as our future, he assures, “I’ve seen lots of congregations go through transitions. We’re following a good process with the Spirit’s guidance and very strong pastoral support.”
Congratulations, Pastor Wennes, and blessings on you, your family and your work.