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The ‘Nadia Problem’: Tokenism and the Church

The ‘Nadia Problem’: Tokenism and the Church

Emmy Kegler, a soon-to-be-ordained pastor in the ELCA, and Eric Worringer, an ordained pastor, have written a blog post that asks an important question: Do we have a ‘Nadia Problem?’

They refer to Nadia Boltz-Weber, the founding pastor of the House for All Saints and Sinners, whom they are quick to praise and hold up as exactly what the institutional church needs at this time and place.

However, they argue, the church does Nadia and itself a disservice by being quick to claim Nadia’s ministry as its own, and then doing very little to emulate it anywhere else: hence, the “Nadia problem.”

They explain:

She has been raised up and celebrated as a voice, particularly before our youth and young adults, as “a new way of doing church,” putting the “evangelical” in “Evangelical”, and so on. Then we send kids home from Youth Gatherings and college weekends and seminary visits to places where church continues in much the same way it always has. We love that Pastor Nadia speaks of a church without committees, where anyone is invited to help craft their celebration of Lent and Holy Week — but most of our churches are still maintained and guided by specific people and rigid time commitments. Pastor Nadia offers up the voices of her LGBTQ members in a compelling and moving video about their experiences in church, while a good part of the ELCA is still wrestling with “the 2009 vote”. “The Nadia Problem” is that she is being promoted as an example without churchwide acknowledgement that she is actually an exception, and that the Spirit-led and community-based construction of House for All Sinners and Saints has not even begun to move into the churches now fretting about the loss of their “All-Star Team.”

Our concern… is that because Nadia has become an example, it allows the institution to use her image and ministry while still largely continuing on its own path, rife with institutional anxiety and attitudes of scarcity, and bemoaning the loss of a generation of institutional pastors. We continue to produce leaders equipped to explain what it means to be Lutheran (using our institutional memory), when what the world hungers for is a real and meaningful experience of a God worthy of worship and service. What we pray and yearn for is not an institution with one Nadia as an example, but a transformational generation of leaders of all ages that are able to cope and proclaim the Gospel as well as she has.

Are there places in the Episcopal Church where we have this same tendency to hold up one example of successful ministry rather than to do the hard work of systematic change ourselves?


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Paul Fromberg

Are there places in the Episcopal Church where we have this same tendency to hold up one example of successful ministry rather than to do the hard work of systematic change ourselves?

I’m the rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. I’m also a close friend of Nadia – and Jimmy Bartz. I’m also really, REALLY curious about the church and how it works and doesn’t work.

I’m the second generation of ordained leadership for St. Gregory’s. One of the challenges in this role is how to keep our community from living in the past. Our founders – Rick Fabian, Donald Schell and Ellen Schell – created a congregation of the church that did the same thing that Nadia’s church does: making community that is designed on something other than slavish imitation of the next cool thing. Instead, they went to the heart of what it means to be a real, living community. This is something that ANY congregation of the church is capable of, if it dares to take the risk of abject failure. Back to being the second generation of ordained leadership… what we are finding is that the experimental nature of St. Gregory’s is an ongoing project. We still have things to discover about what it means to be community. We make mistakes. We celebrate discoveries. We infuriate ourselves and others. But, we are dedicated to transformation – we want to see more of God in our corporate life and in the world (and not necessarily in that order). We always welcome strangers to come and bring a new image of God to our community. We also welcome spiritual tourists, practitioners, co-conspirators and others who are just looking for what God is doing. But please, do not seek to re-create us in another place. Simply be open to what God is doing, pay attention to strangers, admit beauty into your congregational life, and be willing to risk everything for the sake of the Gospel.

We DO have what Nadia and Jimmy are bringing to birth in their communities – we have it in every congregation of the Episcopal Church. Our challenge is to let it transform the corporate life of our parishes.


Paul Fromberg


@Patrick–I’m not sure who I’d bet on in a throw down between Jimmy and Nadia. Jimmy’s pretty mellow.

@Megan–while I admire Nadia and what she is doing with her alternative congregation, I have my doubts that it’s a sustainable or replicable way of doing ministry. Maybe it is, I don’t know. And if it isn’t, maybe it doesn’t matter–this ministry (like a lot of ministries) may be “successful” by many measures without being financially self-supporting.

Many of the alternative ministries I’m familiar with across TEC do interesting, important, ground-breaking work–and, from what I know, they’ve all struggled to figure out how to sustain themselves (Thad’s may be the exception here).

One way of keeping an alternative ministry going is by expecting (paid, ordained) leaders to be bi-vocational, which seems to be possibly the case with Nadia (I’m guessing at least some of the way she supports herself is through her writing, speaking engagements, etc). That’s neither good nor bad, it’s just a different model of ministry than we learned in seminary. And not many people, I think, have the talent (or the calling, or the energy) for the second, salary paying job.

Don’t get me wrong: I admire Nadia’s ability to capture the imagination of a wide swath of the church and the media–the world needs different ways of picturing what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Jason Cox

Patrick Hall

Yeah we do. Check out Jimmy Bartz and his Thad’s community in the Diocese of LA. He’s just not as commodified as Nadia, which is to his credit, IMHO.


Dude, we don’t even HAVE a Nadia. We have to covet the ELCA’s.

Heidi Shott

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