Unconventional Lutheran pastor draws 300 to Milwaukee Presbytery meeting

Bolz-Weber says ‘Come as the sinner you are to the God who loves you’

by Duane Sweep | Special to Presbyterian News Service
Nadia Bolz-Weber. (Photo by Duane Sweep)

Nadia Bolz-Weber. (Photo by Duane Sweep)

MILWAUKEE – For Nadia Bolz-Weber, “letting go” is important for individuals and for the church—letting go of who we try to be and what the church has been.

But she reminds everyone to hang on to the gospel—the grace, the forgiveness and salvation.

Bolz-Weber, the unconventional Lutheran minister who’s been known keep her audience tuned in with humor and an expletive now and then, spoke to more than 300 people at the Sept. 27 meeting of the Presbytery of Milwaukee in the auditorium of the city’s Art Museum.

Craig Howard, the presbytery’s executive director of strategic partnerships, noted, “The event actually sold out and we had to create a wait list.” Gathering in a renowned public place like the Art Museum and being host to Bolz-Weber, Howard wrote, enabled the presbytery to “draw Lutherans, UCC and other denominations across a large geographic area.”

The author of “Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint,” Bolz-Weber spoke of the grace of God—a God who saves sinners.

A recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Bolz-Weber urged everyone to forget who they are trying to be and to be who they are. “Come as the sinner you are to the God who loves you,” she said. “The good news is that Jesus came to save sinners, but before he saved them, he hung out with them.”

Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of the Church of All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, who also authored “Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People,” a New York Times bestseller that became available in paperback the day of her appearance in Milwaukee.

Described as “tatted-up” and “foul-mouthed” by the Washington Post, she said, “The biggy for me is your sins are forgiven… God loves you as you are… No one says that [stuff] to me in yoga class.”

And in that, too, she not only has hope for the Christian church, but says the church will survive as long as the gospel is preached. “We need to let go” of the idea that “we must preserve that which was once good.”

The church, she pointed out, is not in numbers. She referenced the 1950s, “when everyone was clean-cut, married and Christian,” a comment that produced laughter in the auditorium. “Those days are gone; they’re dead and gone,” she said.

With death, of course, there’s resurrection. “New life comes out of death,” she said, and that’s what God offers with salvation through grace. “Let us step back from [saying] the church is dying,” she said, because the church is God’s and it will survive.

She carried her afternoon message into the presbytery’s evening worship when she preached on the parable of the prodigal son of Luke 15. She spoke of people she meets on airplanes – people who feel guilty, people who try to justify why they don’t go to church, people who say that being good is good enough. “Good enough for what?” she asked. Bolz-Weber said she finds people who treat her as some sort of “broker for heaven or hell.”

And she has none of it. “What is lost is found; what was dead is alive,” she said. And that resurrection – that salvation – is enough. “You already have everything you need. … Everything God has is yours, and it is enough.”


Duane Sweep is director of communications for the Synod of Lakes and Prairies and a regular contributor to Presbyterian News Service.

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