“I’m a Lutheran” is a monthly profile featuring ELCA members around the country. 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.

At home: St. Martin Lutheran Church (where my dad is the pastor), Archbold, Ohio
At school: Redeemer Lutheran Church, Columbus, Ohio
Junior religious studies major at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio

My research project “Spiritual, not Religious” taught me that my experience growing up in a house where faith and church were so important isn’t the norm for my generation. There’s a growing population of those who claim “unaffiliated.” Those who are “spiritual but not religious” share the pursuit of a connection with a higher power that can be a beginning point of dialogue, which is vital to the church’s survival moving forward.

Studying abroad in Heidelberg, Germany, this semester has already given me so many opportunities to connect with the heritage of my Lutheran faith. I’ve been to Worms and stood on the ground where Luther defended his beliefs, and the week of the 500th anniversary I walked the streets of Wittenberg where it all started.

I chose to attend an ELCA university because Capital was the place where I felt at home. I believe Capital embraces the principles of its Lutheran identity. I loved that at Capital I could get to know so many people from a background like mine and those who had very different experiences from me.

My favorite Bible story is the resurrection from John 20. Mary Magdalene is so lost in her grief that she doesn’t see who is in front of her, and Jesus, in that moment when she is scared and hysterical, calls her name. That’s the moment it all changes. The resurrection is bright trumpets on Easter, but it’s also quiet naming, calling out to people in their darkest times and showing them love and grace.

An issue I’m fighting for is mental health awareness. One of my sorority’s philanthropies is To Write Love On Her Arms, which helps connect people struggling with addiction, depression or suicide with treatment, and works to remind people that there’s hope.

People are surprised that I love 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. I studied his philosophy for “Spiritual, not Religious” last summer and was drawn in by the complexities of his pursuit of truth. Also, he was the son of a Lutheran pastor, so I felt a little connection there.

I wanted to study religion because you get to examine and learn about the systems that people have used to make meaning for all human history. Studying religion allows me to work with pop culture topics and turn around and write a paper on a 16th-century mystic all in the same day.

Something I wish more people understood about young adults in the church is that when they ask questions or share their ideas and are dismissed, the future of the church is being dismissed. My friends and I need churches that meet us where we are and give us spaces to be in community in the good and bad of life, and not be reassured that we’ll understand when we’re older. The population of the unaffiliated is growing and, frankly, the church can’t afford to not embrace its young people.

Having a pastor for a parent has given me an up-close experience of the realities of highs and lows in people’s lives, and God’s continual presence amid those times. Life is beautiful and brutal, and my parents never hid that from me, but encouraged my siblings and I to talk about it. They reminded us that in the cross there are always the gifts of love and grace, even when life is too hard for words.

I’m a Lutheran because I love that the Lutheran pursuit of reform always has us asking questions and holding a mirror up to ourselves. Martin Luther’s goals were to create a community that better represented in practice the God he read about in the Bible, not to break away. As Lutherans, we are compelled to always be asking, “How can we do God’s work better?” This approach allows me to embrace questions and faith all at once, and I love it.

After college, I’d like to pursue master’s and doctorate degrees, with hopes of being a religion professor down the road!

I believe in the importance of the academic study of religion. An academic perspective allows for us to set our own systems of belief down and walk around them, seeing our own systems of faith and others in new ways.

I struggle with balancing my academic experience of religion with my personal experience. I can get too theoretical in my head, but I’ve always found that the liturgy and communion, especially, can pull me back into faith in a way that gives me an experience of God’s love and grace in the present.

I pray the Lord’s Prayer in every church I go into. For me, it’s a way that I can come into faith, stepping into the liturgy. One of my favorite pastors, Nadia Bolz-Weber, talks about liturgy as the “stream of the faithful that flowed for generations before us and will flow for generations after us.” I feel that when I enter sacred places and get to participate in worship there.

My favorite church memory is from a month after I moved to college. I was at church at Redeemer and they were using one of my favorite settings. During so many new adventures of college, a familiar liturgy and sharing communion grounded me and connected the faith of my youth to my new faith and stage in life.

Megan Brandsrud
Brandsrud is an associate editor of Living Lutheran.

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