It is with deep sadness that I write to share the news of the death of Rev. Heidi Hagstrom. Heidi died last night around midnight, in the presence of her family members. Heidi had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer last year.
Heidi served most recently as the pastor of Fields of Grace Lutheran Parish, which was a collaborative ministry of three rural congregations in southwest Minnesota. Prior to taking that call, Heidi served as the Director of the ELCA Youth Gathering.
Heidi’s work with the Youth Gathering was transformative for the whole church. From the beginning of her taking that role, Heidi would insist that the Gathering was not simply an event, it was a ministry of the whole church and a way for the church to “be” together.
Under Heidi’s leadership, the Gathering transformed into a day of service, a day of interactive learning, and a day of connecting within our synods and strengthening local relationships. I remember being at an early planning meeting when Heidi described launching 12,000 young people and adult leaders each day into the community to serve. We were all surprised at the audacity of the dream, and one person looked at her and said, “I have no idea how we could pull that off.” Heidi smiled and simply said, “I have faith that it can happen.”
Heidi’s belief that God’s Holy Spirit was already at work in the communities the Gathering would visit and the congregations that would participate was deep. All we would need to do, Heidi believed, was to tap into the work of the Holy Spirit.
Heidi’s work was to lead the largest regular undertaking in the life of the ELCA. And she did so with a humble, pastor’s heart. She never accepted credit, but instead would point at her beloved colleagues, team leaders and volunteers. And she would always acknowledge the work of God in our midst. Heidi was always interested in the individual. I experienced this when she, in a phone call at a busy time, or a conversation at a meeting surrounded by others, would ask me, “How are you doing, Todd?” And she meant it.
Heidi was committed to the Gathering being a ministry for the whole church. And her vision of the church was wide and inclusive. She was a leader in ensuring that her planning and leadership teams were widely representative of God’s vision for the church.
In 2016, Heidi was presented the “Tom Hunstad Award for Excellence in Children, Youth and Family Ministry” for her contributions to the life of the church and the way she cared for those who work in congregational ministry.
Heidi will be missed. But as people of God, we cling to the promise of the resurrection that comes through Jesus. It is a promise that Heidi held to tightly, especially since her diagnosis. As a community, we will pray for Heidi’s family and friends, and for all those whose life and faith were affected by Heidi and her work.
As we learn more about the funeral service, we will post the information on the Network’s Facebook page.
Holy God, your beloved Son took children into his arms and blessed them. Help us to entrust Heidi to your never-failing care and love. Comfort us as we bear the pain of her death, and receive us all into your everlasting arms, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.*
* from the funeral liturgy; Evangelical Lutheran Worship; accessed at SundaysandSeasons.com