Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sinner and a saint

Tattoos on the arms, curse words on the lips and a story of grace

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Call her cranky, call her a sinner, but please don't call Lutheran minister Nadia Bolz-Weber "pastrix."

Oh wait, maybe you can.

After all, the founding pastor of House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver, co-opted that demeaning label for women of the cloth for the title of her latest book.

"Any time you can take an insult and make it your own, it's a win," explains Bolz-Weber, who speaks in Winnipeg Friday, Oct. 4 and Saturday, Oct. 5.

And she's not the only one who believes in transforming words, and even lives. On her recent book tour promoting her new bestselling memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, the recovering alcoholic and former stand-up comic has attracted crowds of up to 900 people wanting to hear her story, and maybe share some of theirs.

"I think people are eager to have a whole life faith, to have the sacred story connected with their reality," explain Bolz-Weber of the huge response to her book, which exposes her struggle with drugs and alcohol, her move to faith, and her efforts to stay there.

She makes no apologies for her former life, for her armful of tattoos, for swearing, or for her current situation as an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, mother of two, and wife of another Lutheran pastor.

"I can be crazy and sardonic, but quite kind," explains Bolz-Weber, 44, writer of a weekly blog called The Sarcastic Lutheran (

"I think the transparency of this is who I am totally invites people into the space to be who they are."

That invitation has grown her little band of misfits celebrating the traditional Lutheran liturgy into an established community now pondering whether to split off into a second site. Now numbering about 240, the congregation donates money to another emerging church and every year sponsors a pastoral intern to start a new church.

"This whole population of my church who are very cynical and suspicious of authority trust me to be their preacher, and you know why? Because I'm preaching to myself and I allow them to listen," she says of her church.

These days, a lot of other folks are listening in as well, wondering how Bolz-Weber's honest message of grace and acceptance applies to mainline denominations in decline.

While in Winnipeg, she will speak to local Anglicans, as well as having a public conversation with Bishop Donald Phillips of the Diocese of Rupert's Land.

"I'm hoping she will give us an idea of how to meet people where they're at," explains Rev. Helen Kennedy of St. George's Anglican Church in Transcona.

"She is kind of on the leading edge of where the churches are going."

Bolz-Weber doesn't pretend to have all the answers, but she's more than willing to tell her stories, and relay her belief in the future of the Christian church and its message.

"I think people are ready to hear a Christian thing and they're ready for a Christian faith that is more beautiful and disruptive than what they've been sold before."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 28, 2013 D15


Updated on Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 10:02 AM CDT: added colour photos

11:39 AM: Fixed cutline

October 1, 2013 at 2:59 PM: Fixed size of congregation.

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