6 Questions and a Glass of Milk with...Craig Nessan
I have been called as a professor to Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, since 1994. Prior to that I was a parish pastor in two congregations, first in Philadelphia, PA and later in Cape Girardeau, MO. In between these two calls, which I cherished, we lived four years in Germany for graduate study. My major teaching areas are contextual theology, pastoral theology, leadership, and theological ethics.
I love my engagement in the formation of our students as leaders in the mission of the Gospel and value the character and ethos of our seminary, which now incorporates not only residential students but also many distance students within a single worship-centered teaching and learning community.
Since 1999 I have also served as academic dean, giving administrative leadership on behalf of the seminary and the larger church. I now hold a chair named for one of my beloved professors, serving as the William D. Streng Professor for the Education and Renewal of the Church. Reading, writing, and music are three of my passions.
Together with Cathy, my wife of 46 years, we have six adult children and seven grandchildren.
1. Can you describe your call to ministry?
I recall first imagining myself in the role of a pastor during my confirmation years at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Lansing, Michigan, my hometown. It was during those years that my sister was diagnosed with leukemia, a disease for which at the time there was no cure. We were grateful as a family for the dedicated care and visits by our pastors during the years of her illness. This also heightened my own attention in my confirmation and catechism lessons to the meaning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which spoke to me about God's participation in sharing our suffering and the hope for resurrection life. I came to embrace that there could be no better calling for me to pursue with my life.
2. What is the best part of your ministry now?
I came to serve as a professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary with a deep love for pastoral ministry. The best part of my vocation here involves the opportunity to participate in the formation of students for lives of service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as church leaders. I continue to thrive on my relationships with our students, graduates and members of the larger church, helping to give leadership in teaching and learning communities. Life-giving relationships with the Triune God, one another, and creation are at the heart of church as the body of Christ. These relationships mean everything to me. They are the meaning of shalom.
3. What is one fact about you that would surprise people?
In a recent classroom exercise, students were surprised when I told them one of the things that I enjoy doing with my hands involves home improvement projects and yard work, especially planting perennials. During the winter I strategize where there still might be room for planting and which plants we might try in that location. I also am a connoisseur of classic rock and roll music, especially from the 1960s and 70s, although I enjoy music of all kinds.
4. Do you have a favorite Baptism memory or story about your own Baptism?
I was baptized on September 14, 1952 at my home congregation, where I also was confirmed, married, and ordained. The white dress that I wore at my baptism was also worn by my father at his baptism and has now been worn at the baptisms of some of our children and grandchildren. My godparents were a dear Aunt and Uncle, who took my brother and me into their home, together with our father, after the tragic death of our mother. These godparents truly lived out their baptismal promises in a way that forever changed my life. Today I like to affirm baptism as the primary ordination of every Christian into a life of faith and service to others as our neighbors.
5. Can you tell us about the Life of Faith Initiative and some of your favorite resources?
The purpose of Life of Faith Initiative is "to stir up a culture change that frees us to make the service by the baptized in the arenas of daily life the central focus of the church's mission." We are seeking to encourage congregations to transform their understanding of mission to focus on equipping the baptized to name and claim all their roles and relationships in daily life as the primary ways they live out their ministries as disciples: caring for neighbors in their families, workplaces, schools, neighborhood, local community, and in global relationships. We have a Facebook group and a webpage
. The resources include the amazing book, The Scattering: Imagining a Church that Connects Faith and Life, by Dwight DuBois and "An Intergenerational Curriculum on the Affirmation of Baptism," which I wrote.
6. How can we pray for you?
Please pray for God to give me energy and good courage for living out my own baptismal vocation in the several arenas of my own daily life: attending to our family, my ministry through Wartburg Theological Seminary, my local involvements (including through our interreligious group, Children of Abraham), and my connections with friends, graduates, and colleagues across the country and world. Each of us has responsibility to live our lives to enhance the common good of God's beloved community, which includes advocacy for the whole creation and especially for those suffering from discrimination and lack of the most basic necessities for a decent human life. In turn I pray for those of you living out your vocations as Christian educators.
If you would like to recommend a Lutheran or others with a passion for lifelong learning for the "6 Questions and a Cup" column, please let us know!
We thank you for food and remember the hungry.
We thank you for health and remember the sick.
We thank you for friends and remember the friendless.
We thank you for freedom and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service so that our gifts may be used for others.
Christian Education Network of the ELCA
Building a community which equips, encourages and empowers those engaged in lifelong faith formation in a changing world.
The CENetwork will:
- Identify and evaluate resources and educational opportunities
- Facilitate communication and conversation
- Offer guidance, networking and mutual support
- Nurture spiritual growth online and face to face
Check out our website
CENetwork of the ELCA
P.O. Box 9304
Rochester, MN 55903
Phone messages may be left at