Pastor Annie Ladnier recently started at Hope Lutheran Church, 3337 Kingsbarn Ave. She answered the following questions to introduce herself to the River Falls community.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and your family.

A: I grew up in Washington, Ill. and attended Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., majoring in sociology/social welfare. I served as the Director of Youth and Family Ministry at two congregations in the suburbs of St. Louis from 2005-2011 before attending seminary at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (of Lenoir Rhyne University) in Columbia, S.C.

I graduated with my Master of Divinity in May 2015. There, I met my husband, Lucas (pastor at Our Savior’s Lutheran, Beldenville). We are about to celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary this November.

Last December we welcomed our daughter and have been enjoying every moment with her since! We currently live in Ellsworth.

Q: How long have you been a pastor?

A: I will celebrate four years of ordained ministry on Aug. 22.

Q: Where have you previously served?

A: I served at Trinity Lutheran, Kirkwood, Mo., from 2005-2006 and Trinity Lutheran, Chesterfield, Mo., from 2007-2011 as a Director of Youth and Family Ministry.

I completed my internship at Amazing Grace and Crossroads Lutheran in Waxhaw, N.C. / Indian Land, S.C. in 2013-2014.

My first ordained call was at St. John’s Lutheran in Spring Valley, where I served for the last four years.

Q: Why did you decide to become a pastor in the first place? What drew you?

A: My own experience in the church as a youth was an enormous influence on my sense of call. The Lutheran church’s message of grace and love caught me at a time in my life when I needed assurance and community.

I wrestled with my set of gifts and passion for our world for a long time before accepting that God was calling me to lead as a pastor in the Church. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t be satisfied in other lines of work.

God used my time in youth ministry to hone my gifts for pastoral leadership and my time serving alongside teenagers on mission trips domestically and to Haiti and Mexico to instill a passion for God’s message of reconciliation and redemption for all of creation.

As a pastor I am able to preach and teach publicly about God’s justice, mercy, and love for the world and equip all people to act out that justice, mercy and love through their own callings as well!

Q:What brought you to this church?

A: I believe the Holy Spirit was at work to bring me to HOPE. I was really captivated by the congregation’s joyful and generous spirit, their desire to welcome others and reach out to their community, and their passion for caring for the neighbor.

I could sense that my gifts and those of the laity would make for a terrific ministry partnership. They also have an outstanding set of musical gifts that I adore!

They will be sharing those gifts at their upcoming “Hymns and Hops” at Rush River Brewery on Aug. 21 from 6:30-8 p.m. I was definitely intrigued to join a congregation engaged in this kind of ministry!

Q: Why was it a congregation you wanted to be a part of?

A: In addition to what I said above, I was also really intrigued to serve a congregation newer in their own identity. HOPE officially began as a recognized congregation of the ELCA in 2006 and opened their building here in 2016.

Now, they are eager to see how God is calling them to live out their mission in their neighborhood and community, how they can be a place where all feel welcomed and loved, and a place for young and old alike to wrestle through deep questions and grow in relationship to God and one another.

I have always had a heart for mission start congregations and I am very excited to join HOPE in this next phase of their ministry!

Q: What will your priorities be as pastor?

A: I believe HOPE is ripe with possibilities for being God’s hands and feet in our community and world! I hope to help stoke the imaginations of our laity in how we can best reach out into our community in a time when traditional “church” is changing, millenials are questioning how and if to live out our faith in a church community, and River Falls continues to develop.

I look forward to building relationships with those already connected to HOPE and with those in the wider River Falls community. I hope to curate more family-friendly opportunities for engagement, and to help people discover that Hope is a great place to live out your faith and spirituality.

Q: What has been a defining moment for you over your faith career?

A: I can think of many, but for me, finally going to seminary and discovering all that God had in store for me there was the single best decision of my life. My time at LTSS afforded me the opportunity to get out of the Midwest, engage an entirely new culture, learn about racial justice in ways I never would have outside of the South, and be challenged to flex my faith and leadership muscles in new ways.

I met amazing colleagues and best friends and was forever changed by nearly every professor I had there. Dr. Daniel Bell, Dr. Brian Peterson, Dr. Shuana Hannan, and Dr. Mary Sue Drier changed me for the better.

I am the pastor I am today because of the way that community shaped me. Plus, I met my husband!

Q: What are you most looking forward to with this congregation and with the community as a whole?

A: I think the priorities I already named are high on my list, but after my first interview with them, I knew without a doubt that I was going to thoroughly enjoy my time laughing and growing with this congregation! My first Sunday affirmed this for me.

Everyone has been incredibly welcoming and generous with their embraces and laughter. This is a congregation who loves each other, is committed to growing in their love of Christ and neighbor, and is eager to share it with those still wondering about it.

I’m also looking forward to being out and about in the community, setting up office hours in some local coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants to get to know the people of River Falls!

On behalf of HOPE, I invite you to come say hi when you see me! Also, please join us for S’More Worship on Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. in our Outdoor Worship Space, at Hymns and Hops on Aug. 21 at Rush River Brewery, or any Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m.! The music is always fantastic and the coffee is on for afterwards!