ELCA’s first executive director of global mission died

1/24/2014 12:00:00 AM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) – The Rev. Mark William Thomsen, the first executive director of global mission at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) churchwide organization, died Jan. 20 in Wautoma, Wis., following a three-month battle with cancer. He was 82 years old.
            Prior to his leadership role at the ELCA office, Thomsen led the global mission unit of the American Lutheran Church, which merged with the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America to form the ELCA in 1988.
            "Mark's visionary leadership provided a strong foundation for the development of the ELCA's global mission engagement, with a particular emphasis on interfaith relationships, and in opening the division to the gifts and expertise of people of color and language and women," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica, executive director for ELCA global mission. "Mark was a gifted theologian with a passion for the formation of strong leaders deeply rooted in scripture and totally committed to God's mission to the world. We give thanks to God for Mark's life and his faithful witness to the gospel."
             Born Feb. 24, 1931, in Owatonna, Minn., Thomsen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the former Dana College, Blair, Neb., in 1953. He earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, in 1956, and a Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J., in 1957. Wartburg is one of eight ELCA seminaries.
            Following his retirement from the ELCA office in 1996, Thomsen joined the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago as director of the Doctor of Philosophy program and Master of Theology studies from 1997 to 2006. During his final two years at the seminary, Thomsen also served as director of the Chicago Center for Global Ministries. Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) is an ELCA seminary.
            "Mark Thomsen was a theological giant, whose consummate organizational and networking skills brought into practice a new understanding of mission within the ELCA and the global Lutheran world," said Dr. Esther Menn, dean and vice president for academic affairs at LSTC.
            Menn said Thomsen "was especially celebrated for his excellence in teaching, notable publications, and collaborative initiatives" noting a Lutheran World Federation conference Thomsen organized "to engage in dialogue with future church leaders studying at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. We celebrate Mark's many contributions, even as we grieve his loss," she said. The Lutheran World Federation a global communion of 142 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States.
            Earlier in his career, Thomsen served on the faculty of Luther Northwestern Seminary (now Luther Seminary) in St. Paul, Minn., from 1980 to 1981; pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Dubuque, Iowa, from 1972-1980, and on the faculty of Dana College from 1967 to 1972. Luther is an ELCA seminary.
            Soon after his ordination in 1957, Thomsen and his wife, Mary Lou, traveled to Nigeria where they served as missionaries for 12 years. For the first year, Thomsen taught at the Secondary School in Numan and served as principal of the Lutheran Seminary in Lamurde, where he also started the first English-speaking seminary for the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria. He was the academic dean of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria in Bukuru from 1959-1966.
            Thomsen is survived by his wife, Mary Lou, their four children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Feb. 15 at Hope Lutheran Church, Wautoma, Wis.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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