Angela Denker's careers as a journalist and Lutheran pastor have led her to interesting places through the years. She has worked as either a sports reporter or in a church in California, Florida, Chicago, Las Vegas, Missouri and Minnesota in a short time before and after graduating from journalism school in Missouri and Luther Seminary in St. Paul.
As a writer, she's been published in Sports Illustrated, Washington Post and Sojourners, and in August she produced her first book, "Red State Christians: Understanding the Voters who Elected Donald Trump." In early December she was interviewed live on CNN.
Despite national exposure and opportunity, Denker decided this month to accept a calling as the new pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Brownton. The position will provide her a platform for her public writing ministry, and she will be able to tell the story of the Gospel in an explicit way, and not have to sneak it into an athlete profile.
“I always felt called to be a pastor,” said Denker, who started out as a high-profile sports writer and has composed a blog since 2014. “I think I shared a call in journalism and ministry as a sense of seeking for truth. As a journalist I was taught that I want to expose the truth to be a guardian of the people. As a pastor I still see my role as helping people to find truth. I just also believe that truth dwells in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”
After traveling to promote her book this past summer, Denker was talking to a friend from seminary, Joe Midthun, a pastor in Darwin and Watkins.
“I was telling Joe how I really missed the nuts and bolts of pastoral ministry, preaching, confirmation, baptism and caring for people in need,” said Denker. “Joe said I should look in the Southwestern Minnesota Synod where he served. I emailed Bishop Jon Anderson who told me about the opening in Brownton.”
Synod staff also reminded Denker how she was originally assigned to the synod after graduating from seminary in 2013. She was unaware of it because her husband, Ben, took a job in Chicago as a mechanical engineer and they moved to Illinois.
“Now I am here and it all worked out,” Denker said. “I just wanted to be in a smaller congregation where they had a lot of children with a variety of ages. A lot of the smaller, big city churches mostly have seniors.”
Denker said she wanted a three-quarter time position where she had time to write and be with her children. She called it a unique situation, one hard to find. Members at Grace said the same thing about trying to find a pastor to fit the situation. It was a match made in heaven.
“Being a solo pastor will allow me to do more ministries and not spend so much time in meetings or with staff supervision,” Denker said about a larger congregation. “I get to do more things central to the heart of the church.”
Denker will bring a wealth of experience in many different settings. For example, her internship in 2011 was in Las Vegas in a unique congregation that has five worship services, including a country western gospel service.
After graduating from Maple Grove High School where she excelled in basketball, volleyball and track, Denker earned a degree in magazine journalism at the University of Missouri.
She was an award-winning sports writer in Columbia, Missouri, when in college and took a summer internship to cover sports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2006. In 2007, Denker received a job offer in Naples, Florida, covering minor league pro hockey, plus the NFL, Major League Baseball, high school football and the 2009 Super Bowl.
The call to ministry won out and Denker graduated from seminary in 2013. Pastoral calls included a solo call at a small suburban Chicago church, and pastor of community life and discipleship at a large southern California congregation.
“The only reason I left Orange County was we felt too far from family in Minnesota and Missouri, which was at the center of our life,” said Denker. “Ben found a great job in Minneapolis and we could finally afford a house.”
Between calls and after the 2016 election produced political division, Denker saw a lack of writing from a Christian perspective in the broader media.
Feeling called to resume her public writing ministry, Denker focused on writing her book and served as a half-time interim teaching pastor at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan for seven months.
“For the book, I saw the stereotyping of Trump voters and wanted to explain the diversity of red state Christians,” said Denker, who hopes to build empathy and dialogue without shying away from telling hard truths about the politicization of religion and the prevalence of Christian nationalism in churches across America.
Denker said she enjoyed her first Sunday at Grace, especially working with the Sunday school Christmas program.
“I have been impressed with a real sense of ownership and pride among the people at Grace,” Denker said. “My hope is to continue that and build up the leadership of the next generation, helping them strengthen their relationship with God.”
Denker blogs at A Good Christian Woman ... Not that One, where she tries to “keep my writing muscles sharp.” The blog posts often relate to the week's Bible text or sermon, but not always. Her Christian blog can be found at angeladenker.com.