CHINOOK — Anna Haugen is spreading the gospel in Chinook and Naselle.
As the new pastor of two Lutheran churches, she is excited her new assignment brings her back closer to her Northwest family.
And the winter climate here is way, way warmer from her last pastorate in North Dakota and her seminary training in equally snowy southern Pennsylvania.
Since arriving to take over from Nels Flesher during early fall, she has been getting to know her congregations. Sundays her pace ramps up, having to rush between the 9 a.m. service at Naselle Evangelical Lutheran Church and the 11 a.m. service at Chinook.
One practical challenge early in her tenure was the death of Daniel Sass, the congregations’ musical accompanist. Haugen is eager to hear from anyone willing to step in, either as interim or long-term. The assignment plays $100 a week.
While her home base is at the Chinook Evangelical Lutheran Church, she spends Tuesdays in Naselle because that’s when that office is staffed. She hopes this schedule will allow her to spend time absorbing community history at the Appelo Archives Center, too.
Her philosophy is to lead, but encourage participation.
“It’s really easy to coast, to get things started then just keep it going, especially when everyone is so busy. We tend to make church the lowest priority,” she said.
“I am not looking to change for the sake of change. It’s not the pastor’s ministry. It has to be the congregation’s ministry. But I am hoping to help set things up so they are more active in ministry.”
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ECLA) is the more liberal of the three main branches, with a significant emphasis on social ministry. It’s motto, “God’s work, our hands” resonates for Haugen. “We don’t want to rest on our laurels,” she said.
“A lot of times, the temptation for Christians is to get into a rut, because we are doing things that we were doing 20 years ago and people say, ‘We don’t want to do anything different.’ The first things a pastor should be asking is, ‘Where is God here?’ and ‘Where do the world’s needs intersect with our gifts?”
Haugen is 36. She grew up in Monmouth, Oregon, where her parents still live. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in history at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, then returned to Oregon to work for a while, initially resisting the call to serve.
She earned a master’s degree in divinity at a Lutheran seminary in Gettysburg, Penn., the church’s oldest training institution located at the battlefield site. A year as a lay minister in Pennsylvania was followed by pastoring churches in central North Dakota for more than five years.
Hers was the biggest church in Underwood, a town of 700, and she also pastored a tiny flock in a coal mining area 15 miles away. “They were lovely people, the ‘salt of the Earth’ type, deeply Christian,” she said.
With her parents in Oregon, and her siblings in Lacey and Newberg, Oregon, she was delighted when the Chinook-Naselle job opened. It also enabled her to play her oboe with the North Coast Symphonic Band, which is based in Astoria.
Haugen is on the autism spectrum, which means her brain is “wired” differently to traditional minds. Her father and a brother have autism, too.
Social skills and communication techniques vary among autistic people. Recent research has broadened awareness, but Haugen believes one strategy would help more.
“What you need most is not more therapists or ‘outside experts,’ we need other autistic people to talk about how they handle things, although from the outside people we need understanding, compassion and a willingness to be flexible.
“One thing that would make a difference would be getting together with autistic people and asking, ‘Is this just me?’ and, ‘Does anybody have suggestions how to live as an autistic person?’”
But this different “wiring” has an up-side that Haugen embraces.
“Autistic people have special interests that we can talk your ear off,” she laughed. “Mine are the Bible, theology and Christian history. I get paid to talk to people about them — it’s wonderful!”
Services, 11 a.m. Sundays
Naselle Evangelical Lutheran Church
Services, 9 a.m. Sundays
(This will reverse in January)
For information, call (360) 777-8416
The Rev. Anna Haugen’s sermons are posted at wordsoffaith.wordpress.com
‘Where do the world’s needs intersect with our gifts?’
— Anna Haugen