“I was just a completely un-churched kid,” he says. “The only thing I didn’t like about [Gustavus] was it was a church school. But I went there despite that.”
He was nonetheless intrigued by the religious components of the College, from chapel to his religion courses. And ultimately, those influences shaped and formed the man who in May finishes his second term as president of the Gustavus Association of Congregations, the body that connects Gustavus with more than 500 congregations.
“I started out like a lot of young people: if you asked me, I’d have all the answers to life. The older I got, the more I studied and the more I realized I didn’t, which caused me to dive deeper.”
Gustavus had the resources for his pursuit to flourish. So today, whether it’s the College’s effect on churches through the Association or Gustavus’s religious foundation inspiring one inquiring student at a time, the key to maintaining that energy and influence is the position of director for church relations.
It’s why the Association is attempting to generate funds to turn it into an endowed position, making it a formal and permanent role at Gustavus.
“By endowing that position, it ensures that’s going to be part of the community for a long time to come,” Hogenson says. “And that’s important. That matters. That makes a difference.”
Today’s director for church relations is the Rev. Grady St. Dennis ’92. He sees his role as that of a spark plug to keep the relationship fresh and rewarding between Gustavus and more than 500 ELCA churches.
“It’s a two-way road of blessings,” St. Dennis says. “The mission of our church relations work is to strengthen the presence of the Church in the life of the College and to strengthen the presence of the College in the life of the Church.”
The two-way road of blessings is a busy one. What Gustavus provides congregations is myriad—from retreats that serve thousands of youth and adults each year to pastor-to-pastor health conferences and the expertise of the College’s staff to lecture, consult, and help congregations when called. What the congregations provide is an assured future in spiritual growth and influence at the College. This comes by way of prospective students and leadership roles within the College.
Those are just a few examples—a snapshot of traffic. And it’s the director for church relations who serves as the one making sure both sides are engaging and benefiting, and that the roots of church-related identity are regularly attended to and lived in so as to continue to feed Gustavus as it lives from its foundation as a Christian-based, yet religiously diverse school.
The College’s Swedish immigrant founders declared that Gustavus would be rooted in its Christian faith and serve a wide religious diversity. The Lutheran roots of Gustavus are taken very seriously, as the College has built its identity around them and seeks to live from them.
“The work I do naturally flows out of the College’s identity. It is one important way we live out our calling as a church-related college,” St. Dennis says. “From its very founding, Gustavus has always taken a grassroots and highly relational approach to living in our Lutheran roots. Our definition of community has always been broadly understood to include both internal as well as external relationships. One key role I have is to help nurture and grow those relationships, and to invite mutual engagement of the College with its many church and community partners.”
This story was written by freelance writer Joe Tougas, who will write a series of stories related to Campaign Gustavus this year.
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin