Pastor Michael Stadtmueller isn’t what most people would call a runner. “I’ve never even run a 5K,” he admits. But this September, the senior pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, CO will team up with 11 other ELCA pastors to run the Ragnar Colorado Relay, a 188-mile relay race through the Rocky Mountains.
“I’m excited and nervous,” Pastor Stadtmueller says, “but the ELCA Malaria Campaign is great motivation.” His relay team, the Faster Pastors, is running the Colorado Relay to raise (at least) $10,000 for the ELCA Malaria Campaign.
The Faster Pastors collaboration began in the Midwest in 2009, when Pastor Chad Kohlmeyer and five of his pastoral colleagues from the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin ran the Ragnar Great River race. They ran to raise money for camp scholarships and their companion synod in Malawi.
Then Pastor Kohlmeyer came to Atonement Lutheran Church in Boulder, CO, and joined the Rocky Mountain Synod’s Malaria Campaign Task Force. The Task Force was already doing great work with congregational leaders, and Kohlmeyer thought the “Faster Pastors” idea could be a good complement to those efforts: a way to create a non-traditional avenue to build energy and education around an important cause.
“Supporting the ELCA Malaria Campaign is a justice issue for me,” Kohlmeyer explains. “I have experienced the horrible effects of malaria personally, and had the gift of receiving excellent medical care. The idea that our collaboration together could save lives motivates me.”
The other Faster Pastors are equally motivated. Pastor Joel Pancoast of Zion Lutheran Church in Loveland, CO, says “while I’m a little anxious about this run, I signed up to do it when I heard that malaria is completely preventable and treatable. So I can put myself through a little pain to make prevention and treatment accessible to our sisters and brothers in Africa.”
Friends, congregation members and community organizations are stepping forward with donations of gear and supplies—and even a logo—for the Faster Pastors, so that all of the sponsorship funds they receive can come directly to the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Those donations will be shared with the ELCA’s Lutheran companion churches in Africa to fund their programs of malaria education, prevention and treatment.
The ten congregations served by Faster Pastors teammates are already starting to get excited about the ELCA Malaria Campaign. A few weeks ago, Pancoast and his spouse, co-pastor and running partner Sonja Pancoast wore their running shoes as they led worship at Zion, to introduce their congregation to the idea of “outrunning malaria.” Generous members have already approached them to ask how they can support the ELCA Malaria Campaign through the hard work of the Faster Pastors. (The Rocky Mountain Synod will serve as the conduit for support– details coming soon!)
Leta Behrens, associate pastor at Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, expresses her confidence that the Faster Pastors—and the ELCA Malaria Campaign—will make a difference. “Even though the Colorado Relay is a little crazy and might be a huge feat for me, outrunning malaria is possible,” she declares. “I think it’s a great way to make some noise, share the story, and run for justice in the name of Christ.”