“I’m a Lutheran” is a monthly profile featuring ELCA members around the world. The profiles showcase ELCA members in all their diversity, connecting one another through individual faith stories as Lutherans. Sentence prompts are provided to each person featured. If you’d like to nominate someone for “I’m a Lutheran,” email megan.brandsrud@elca.org.

Incarnation Lutheran Church, Shoreview, Minn.

Actor/writer/director/motivational speaker

My favorite church memory is learning to harmonize. My mother was the senior choir director, so my sister and I would sit near the choir loft during services. During the prelude I would harmonize with the organ, and during hymns my sister would lean over and whisper the lyrics to me so I could sing along. Church became a place to make music, and to this day I love to harmonize, even when I don’t know the words.

Appearing as Mavis in the original “Church Basement Ladies” was (and is) life changing. When I accepted the role, I was simply an actor looking for work. I had no idea I would go on to become the writer for a series of musicals, and I had no idea the show would be so successful. Being part of these shows has altered the course of my life and given me many wonderful opportunities.

I believe God has a hand in my life. In this crazy career I’ve chosen, I’m always scrambling to figure out what’s next. But I believe that if I take the time to listen, he guides me. And when I make my many mistakes (or when I have a great success), I imagine God gently shaking his head, enjoying the wonder of his creation!

The Looney Lutherans performing trio is an unexpected joy. It’s wonderful to get in a car with a couple of friends and travel around to fairs, festivals and senior living communities so we can laugh, harmonize and have a good time!

I pray for peace. For patience. For tolerance. For myself. For the world.

I like writing and performing church-themed works because it gives me the opportunity to combine my faith and my passion. As the daughter of missionaries, I thought I should travel around singing Christian songs and giving testimonials to youth groups around the world. But I wanted to sing and dance on stage while making people laugh, think and feel. Being part of the Church Basement Ladies and the Looney Lutherans allows me to do just that, while also witnessing to a larger audience in a subtle way.

I share my faith by trying to live my faith. Trying to be my faith.

I struggle with quieting my mind. I sometimes feel so driven to achieve my purpose and to make an impact on the world that I don’t take time to listen and to trust. (This is why I pray for patience and peace!)

The thing I’m most proud of is keeping my mouth shut—when I manage to. But I’m also proud of my drive. I know it can overwhelm others, but I know that my drive, my desire to achieve, has played a big part in the success of the Church Basement Ladies franchise. Our strengths are also our weaknesses so, while I am proud of my gifts, I am even more proud when I use them wisely and well.

People are surprised that I am an introvert. Although I’m extroverted, I recharge alone.

If I could change anything, I wish we could all learn to listen to one another, try to understand the other’s point of view and then react.

Connecting theater and church is a natural way for me to combine the two things that define me but, more importantly, the two are natural companions. Religion and storytelling have been intersecting for centuries.

As a playwright I think a lot. I think about the characters, how they feel and what situations they might find themselves in. I think about what they sound like and look like. So when it comes time to hand the work over, it can be difficult to let go of the world in my head. That is my biggest struggle—letting go and trusting that other people know what they are doing too. It has led to some (small) conflicts with those I’m working with, but so far no bridges have been burned or relationships severed!

In 10 years I see the church changed. The world is changing and churches change with it. I believe in the need for an open, welcoming, loving church, and it breaks my heart to see the church fractured by social issues. These issues aren’t going away and will continue to have an impact on our church—for better and for worse. The church is a place of community and support. I hope we can continue to find ways to connect with our members and reach out to our neighbors in a changing environment. At the end of the day, it’s about grace and love.

The biggest impact on my faith was about 20 years ago. I’d been working in the South, attending a Pentecostal church that had regular altar calls and much talk of the rapture, followed by questions like “Are you right with Jesus?” I was raised in the Lutheran church, believing I was saved by grace, but I began to doubt my faith. Driving home from Tennessee, my car broke down in Des Moines, Iowa, where we’d lived during my childhood. After a tear-filled call to my parents, I called some family friends who lived in the area. They took me home for the night, and this confused Lutheran sat with this couple who had known me for years and asked them, “What do we believe?” After an evening of discussion (and comfort), I drove away the next day feeling loved, blessed and reassured that I was, indeed, “right with Jesus.” I carry that conversation with me daily.

My favorite role to play is the one I haven’t played yet. I’m always looking for the next challenge, the next opportunity—on stage and off. A director once asked me if I could play the accordion. My response? “I can learn.” I figure I’m halfway through my career; I’m eager to see what else I can learn.

One story I’d still love to write or perform is my own, but I’m not sure what that is yet. To date I write the stories of others. Maybe someday I’ll figure out mine.

For me, writing is a puzzle. I don’t write chronologically but start with the corners and the frame. Then I piece together images, moving them around as I begin to see how the picture fits together. Like Sudoku, I’m always trying to think a few moves ahead: If I put this there, it will have an impact there. To me writing is a fun problem to be solved.

I’m a Lutheran by baptism and by choice. I was raised a Lutheran and confirmed a Lutheran. As an adult, I took a Lutheran basics class. As each piece of our Lutheran theology was discussed, I thought, “Yes, that is what I believe.” I am a sinner, saved by grace. What an enormous relief.

Megan Brandsrud
Brandsrud is an associate editor of Living Lutheran.

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