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Pastor combines levity, love of Christ

Inspired by German martyr to become ordained
by: Shanda Tice, Pastor Larry Jorgenson, left, serves communion to visiting pastors at the service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Gresham on Sunday, April 15. Jorgenson has served in churches from Belgium to Switzerland to Alaska before coming to Gresham. He says he’s glad to be part of Trinity especially because it founded Zarephath Kitchen, which serves meals to those in need.

The Rev. Larry Jorgenson can talk about kazoos, Christ and the Comedy Central, all in the course of the same conversation.

His ability to discourse on wide-ranging topics matches his ability to minister just about anywhere he's been, from Belgium and Switzerland to Alaska and Oregon.

Jorgenson, 57, was installed as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, 507 W. Powell Blvd., on Sunday afternoon, April 15. One of the highlights of his installation was a rendition of the Rev. Sherman Hesselgrave's hymn 'It's a Great Time to Be Trinity Lutheran Church!'

Hesselgrave, an Episcopal priest, serves both Trinity and St. Michael and All Angels Church in Portland's Hollywood District and composed the hymn for hundreds of kazooists - sort of.

'You don't write for kazoo,' Hesselgrave says. 'You write for the people and the tune is just singing.'

Along with Bishop Paul Swanson of the Oregon Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jorgenson blasted the tune through his kazoo as did the 200-plus people attending his installation.

'I think it was an important thing to do,' Jorgenson says. 'I think Jesus had a sense of humor.'

Christ's parables are filled with unexpected twists and turns designed to both amuse and inspire those who heard them, Jorgenson says.

But the pastor clearly has a serious side, and says he was inspired to consider the ministry by the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was executed in the waning days of World War II after Nazi authorities linked him to a group of officers who tried to assassinate Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer's life raised questions in Jorgenson about the cost of discipleship.

'I wasn't too interested in being executed, but I was interested in thinking I might get executed,' he says.

Indeed, Jesus died a violent death, Jorgenson says, and it's the duty of Christians to assist all who suffer and not run from such challenges.

'The greatest moments for me as a pastor is when someone has invited me into these times that are hard,' he says.

He adds that he always makes sure to thank family members of deceased believers for letting him preside at a funeral.

Jorgenson was born in McMinnville and graduated from Sweet Home High School in 1967. He went to Alaska that summer to work in a logging camp before enrolling at Gonzaga University, where he first studied Bonhoeffer.

He then attended Portland State University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in English. He moved to the University of Louvain, Belgium, where he lived and worked from 1970-81. While there he obtained doctorates in theology and journalism.

Jorgenson went to work for the World Council of Churches, the world's largest ecumenical organization, in Geneva, Switzerland. It was there he also met his wife, Barbara, a Zurich native whom he married in 1983. The couple has two grown daughters.

Ordained a Lutheran minister in 1987, Jorgenson served as interim bishop of the Alaska Synod from 1998-2000. Among the many services he has performed for Alaskans was pasturing two Inuit churches in the villages of Teller and Brevig. He traveled by either boat or over ice to reach the villages, he says.

'There were times when the temperature was minus 50 degrees, and the boilers broke down,' Jorgenson says. 'A couple of times I ran into storms, lost my bearings and couldn't find the way.'

The natives' connection to the land rubbed off on him, he says, adding that he was inspired by the idea that an Inuit hunter didn't so much kill a whale as benefit by the whale's decision to sacrifice itself for the community.

'Sacrificial love lay at the basis of the community and the earth's systems,' he says.

Indeed, he almost witnessed a man sacrifice himself for a village when a propane tank next to a house was beginning to bulge with heat.

'One of the men walked up to the tank, unhooked it and carried it to the ice, where it cooled,' he says, calling the man's effort 'the most heroic act I have ever witnessed.'

Salmon in Alaska were as 'common as tomatoes in the Midwest,' he says, noting he and his compatriots came to prefer peanut butter.

He adds that despite whatever suffering they experienced, the Inuit had a great sense of humor.

'People were unbelievably generous,' he says. 'I have seen children chewing a piece of gum bite off half and give it to another child.'

As for his new position, Jorgenson says he's glad to be associated with the church for many reaons, including the fact that Trinity founded Zarephath Kitchen, which serves meals to those in need.

'When I went to apply for a (postal box), the postal authority asked what brought me to Gresham, and I told him I was incoming pastor at Trinity,' he says. 'He immediately remarked 'Oh, that's the church with the soup kitchen.' That's a good way to be known.'