Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Iris Paul, Sojourner Truth and Katie Luthera are back!

Jane Anne Settergren impersonates famous Christian women

Katie Luther was the first of three women of faith whom Jane Ann Settergren imagined herself portraying. “Katie exhibited independence, breaking free of the convent, starting a whole new life for herself,” Settergren says. “That had to be big.”

Settergren became in-trigued with Katie Luther in fall 2003 in a course on the Reformation at Luther Sem-inary, St. Paul, Minnesota. Students were encouraged to select their own topic for a final project.

Using secondary sources, Settergren developed a personal portrayal of Katie. “It’s not easy getting to know her,” she says. “We have paintings, and she’s been written about, but always in the words of others. She was formal. If we met her in person we’d call her ‘Katherina’ [von Bora, later Luther].” Carolyn Isch, a fabric artist at St. Paul Lutheran Church (ELCA), Hanover, Minne-sota, created an authentic period costume for the Lutheran Reformer’s wife.
Katie Luther reappeared, along with Dr. Iris Paul and Sojourner Truth, in a two-day retreat on women of faith that Settergren presented as her final independent project to fulfill seminary requirements.

She will offer the retreat again in spring 2006 for Glen Cary Lutheran Church (ELCA), Ham Lake, Minne-sota, where she is a member and where her husband, Paul Settergren, is pastor. They have three grown sons. Now a graduate of Luther, she is currently awaiting call.

Settergren has been motivated both by her studies and by remarks from women she meets. In her modern church history course, when she read the book From Preachers to Suffragists, Settergren says, “I was surprised to learn that there were clergywomen in the 1800s. I’ve also been amazed that, even with all the strides we’ve made, more than one woman has told me that she feels alienated from today’s church.

“Women of the past had it so much worse than we do. How did they arrive at their faith, and how did they manage to keep the light of faith alive? I don’t pretend to be these women. They were each so uniquely who they were. I don’t want to get in the way.

“I say, ‘This is what they wore. These are some of the things they said or views they held.’” Each portrayal takes an hour. Settergren adds a PowerPoint presentation and, in the retreat, small group discussion follows each portrayal.
Prior to seminary, Settergren was department head of multimedia design at Ridgewater College, Hutchinson, Minnesota.

Dr. Iris Paul is a native of India. “She comes from a wealthy family. Her parents didn’t want her to be a doctor or certainly not to marry a poor missionary, but she did both. She and her husband put their lives into God’s hands. Some of the people they worked among didn’t even have a written language. Her husband died relatively early, in 1986.

“If a woman in India loses her husband, she is cast out. But Iris wouldn’t accept that,” Settergren says. “She continues the work on her own, teaching women, empowering other widows, working toward the building of wells, roads and waterways. She understands that when people have what they need to live, they can see the Gospel of Christ at work.
Settergren learned a lot from this intrepid Indian woman, she says. “Hearing Iris speak had an impact on my understanding of being female and being Christian, as well as what God is calling us to do. She is a small woman, a bit heavy, with a big, sunny smile, and she wears colorful saris [garments worn by Indian women]. Saris are expensive, but I found [a reasonably priced one] on e-bay.

Sojourner Truth dressed in simple, Quaker style,” says Settergren. “For her I put together an outfit from Goodwill.”

Sojourner Truth (the name she took after her freedom and conversion) was born into slavery in 19th century America. Her master promised to free her. When he reneged on his promise, she ran away. She was taken into a Quaker household, and this family purchased her freedom. As one of her sources, Settergren used The Libyan Sybil by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“Sojourner was deeply spiritual,” Settergren says. “She started preaching in the 1840s, and other people wrote down her words. She preached about her conversion experience. She had tried to be a good person but found she couldn’t do it without God.” With God’s help, Sojourner said, “Lord, I can even learn to love the white folks!”

Settergren anchors her women of faith presentation to the Bible, to the story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary in their home, Martha busily preparing a meal, Mary listening to Jesus. Settergren is critical of the accepted interpretation of the story, which she says can result in devaluing practicality and valuing women for being submissive.

“Men have been the major interpreters of this story. Suppose Christ actually said, ‘Martha, why don’t you come and listen, and then we can all help with what you’re doing.’
This places value on each woman for who she is. It’s an affirmation of each woman’s religious experience.”