New bishop recounts her pilgrimage through ministry to her new role
In her first three months with the Northwest Intermountain (NWIM) Synod, Bishop Meggan Manlove often posted on Facebook photos of congregations she visited and selfies with church members as she traveled from Leavenworth to Pocatello and places in between.
The posts express her belief that ministry is about being present with people in their lives, building relationships and sharing stories.
Meggan was elected to a six-year term at the Synod Assembly, April 28 to 30, in Pasco. She began July 1.
On Saturday, Oct. 7, she will be installed as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) NWIM Synod at the Cathedral of the Rockies, Boise First United Methodist.
She is the synod's fourth bishop and the first one from Idaho.
ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton will preach and install her. More than 300 people will attend, including pastors and deacons of 88 synod ministry sites, former bishops, bishops from 64 other ELCA synods, ecumenical and interfaith partners, family members and friends.
From 2010 to June 30, Meggan was pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Nampa, Idaho. Before that, she served from 2004 to 2010 at Soldier Lutheran Church in Soldier, Iowa.
Meggan was born in St. Paul, Minn., where her father worked in outdoor ministries and her mother in the youth division of the American Lutheran Church. When she was four, they moved to Custer, S.D., where her father directed two Lutheran camps and her mother led the chamber of commerce.
After high school, Meggan studied history and English at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., graduating in 1998.
Unsure what she wanted to do next, she joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working for a year with refugees at a Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center in Syracuse, N.Y. She learned about Ignatian spirituality and the Catholic Worker Movement, and worshiped at a Jesuit college.
"One Sunday, I visited a Lutheran church and felt like I came home," she said.
The center was then resettling refugees from Kosovo and Bosnia. At an after-school program, she worked with Vietnamese, Hmong, Haitian and Bosnian refugee youth.
"I knew about refugee resettlement from Lutheran Community Services but had never been on the front line. Hearing their stories opened my world view and awareness," Meggan said.
During college, she went to work at Camp Christikon near Billings, Mont. Its camp director led many campers and staff into ministry. She was among them.
To have a big city experience, she chose to go to the University of Chicago Divinity School. She earned a master of divinity in 2002. Because it was not a Lutheran seminary, she studied a year at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.
For her intern year from 2003 to 2004, she was part-time in Lutheran campus ministry at Eastern Washington University and part-time intern at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Cheney.
Meggan conducted many funerals there, which she said was good preparation for her first call in rural Soldier, a community of 200 between Sioux City and Council Bluffs.
"I did my first wedding and first funeral in Soldier on the same day," she said.
"As the town pastor, I attended many ball games and did pastoral care in the bleachers," Meggan said.
When she came to Soldier, the community was affected by the 1980s economic downturn and the farm crisis from big agriculture taking over family farms.
The church, which is of Norwegian heritage, was the only church in town and drew about 60 to worship. It had two buildings, an old one in the country, where they worshiped in the summer, and a newer one in town, which they later tore down and rebuilt with air conditioning. Then they worshiped only in June at the country church.
When the insurance company said it would stop insuring the older church unless it had new siding, she helped the church raise $40,000 for siding.
Meggan also served on the board of Lutheran Lakeside Camp, owned by many Lutheran churches in Iowa. At her second parish in Nampa, Meggan continued to have strong ties with outdoor ministries, serving on the board of Luther Heights in the Sawtooth Mountains.
Nampa grew to nearly 117,000 in her 12 years there but experienced an economic downturn in 2008, like the rest of the country. People lost jobs and the housing bubble burst.
Trinity Lutheran, which had about 70 attending until COVID, was the only ELCA church in Nampa. Since the pandemic, many worship in person, but some still worship online.
"Before I came, the church dug up its front yard to make a pantry garden, tended by expert gardeners. The produce went to food pantries," Meggan said.
The church also helped start a Traveling Table mobile food and produce distribution in North Nampa.
Trinity joins with ecumenical partners to do shared worship and youth activities. It is also part of the Treasure Valley (TV) Cluster, 10 ELCA churches that offer joint confirmation, church council retreats, online worship services and a website with daily devotions.
In the 1990s, Trinity had leased land around it to the Sisters of Mercy, who built 16 affordable homes, managed for more than 20 years by Mercy Housing. In 2014, Mercy Housing was leaving Nampa and wanted to sell the houses and land. Trinity bought them and created a nonprofit, Trinity New Hope.
Meggan learned about affordable housing as Trinity New Hope worked with city, county and state governments and other nonprofits to serve people in shelters, keep people in homes, change laws and expand the housing stock.
In February 2020, just before the pandemic, she went for training in spiritual practices offered with a Lilly grant at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley and at a California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Meggan led three cohorts on spiritual practices online.
"Although I prefer in person, I found we could build community in powerful ways across a vast geographical area," she said. "I became comfortable with video conferencing."
In 2016, Meggan studied with San Francisco Theological Seminary's ecumenical doctor of ministry program. She earned the degree in 2021.
Believing there is power in storytelling, she wrote her dissertation on "Equipping Lutherans in How to Tell Their Faith Stories."
"Storytelling is a healing tool for individuals and communities. I am relational. It's how I see the world and how I see ministry," she said.
Meggan was ready for a change when she was nominated to be bishop.
She shared thoughts on what the church needs to be about today:
• People need to read scripture with the best scholarship, and to know the whole biblical narrative, not just a few verses to make a point.
• In whatever context they are, people need to know their neighbors' needs.
• Lutherans have no need to apologize for their liturgy, because it shapes people in life-giving ways.
• One practical need arises because not all of the synod's 88 congregations can afford full time pastors. So the synod is finding ways to equip lay leaders to be ministers.
• The ELCA's ecumenical partnerships and full communion relationships with many denominations allow for sharing pastors, buildings and campus ministries.
• Churches can build relationships so they can do housing together or find other unique ways to respond to what is happening in their communities.
To encourage congregations, she travels to visit them and hear stories of the people and the churches.
Meggan finds anxiety among people who love the church and want to pass God's love on to neighbors and future generations.
"I visit churches to remind people they are part of something bigger—a larger church," she said.
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