Another Call to Ordained Ministry Story

Pastor Gretchen Luoma Cohan had a degree already from an ELCA seminary when we met. She is now head of Spiritual Care at Skagit Valley Hospital.
Pastor Gretchen Luoma Cohan had a degree already from an ELCA seminary when we met. She is now head of Spiritual Care at Skagit Valley Hospital.

Rev. Gretchen Luoma Cohan

I had completed—graduated from—seminary when I encountered the community which was to become Gift of Grace. But I was struggling with the idea of vocation, the shape of “call” in ministry and how it all could fit with family life.  I began to work a few hours a week to help support this new-cast community with communications and visibility.  I loved this work—though it was very different from what I had expected I would be doing—because the community’s mission “making Christ known here on the corner of 40th and Meridian” flavored every detail and decision.

We hung large colorful banners, offered encouragement and hospitality to the neighborhood. We posted pithy sayings on the new readerboard. The worship style was casual, creative and energetic.  Folk/rock/blues style worship music, scripture studies and Pastor Jami’s frank preaching style set a tone for exploration and deepening of faith.  The community threw parties and delivered daffodils to neighbors.  It hosted a live nativity in which one of the sheep nearly escaped across 40th Ave.  Musicians regularly generated new compositions and arrangements.  We stocked up on toilet paper and opened the doors to be a pit stop for heavy foot traffic during festivals at Gasworks.

Gift of Grace as a new worshipping community benefited from the gifts of grace of its older members.  Anna, Signe, Hilda, Mary, Thor and Amy, among others jumped into the efforts of the new community with surprising verve.  Sometimes they shared their apprehensiveness with me about their new pastor-with-a-pony-tail and how the music was not what they were used to, but they clapped and sang along, learned new things, and offered their support in all sorts of meaningful ways.

Personally, being involved at Gift of Grace helped me come to terms with the challenges of parenting small kids, and challenging questions of earning, gender roles, work and vocation—all in a rapidly changing cultural landscape. Questions were expected, doubts welcomed, relationships fostered and no idea was too wacky to be considered by the leadership team.

The time I spent in this community ignited my confidence in Christian faith communities and especially that they could be relevant (one of my favorite words at the time).  But the insight I needed and that Pastor Jami provided in his preaching and teaching is to be relevant!  To be a disciple of Jesus is to align my life to the things that are relevant as Jesus tirelessly points out—which is both continual challenge and source of joy.   After about 5 years of active leadership and participation at GoG, I joined a staff of a large suburban-parish and brought many of the things I had learned.  For the last ten years or so, I continue to try to live out this “relevant” insight in my current call in healthcare chaplaincy.