"When I was growing up, I thought I wanted to be the first black woman ordained in the Lutheran Church," Laura Griffin recalled.
But that goal, she came to realize as she gained more spiritual maturity, "wasn't the right reason to pursue ordination." And since ordination was not an option for women in the Lutheran church when Griffin, 33, was making vocational choices, she went on to become a teacher.
Part of the childhood dream persisted and matured, however. On Sunday, Griffin will be ordained to the ministry of the American Lutheran Church -- as it happens, the second black woman ordained in that branch of Lutheranism. The ordination will be at 6 p.m. at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 222 M St. SW.
As a child growing up on Chicago's far South Side, Griffin recalls spending a lot of time hanging around the Lutheran churches her parents belonged to for almost as long as she can remember. "I used to love the church," she said. "I'm sure I was a plague to my pastor, asking questions . . . things like, 'Why don't people today have the kind of faith that Moses had?' "
When she and her husband Gerry, a management consultant, moved here in 1978, they began attending St. Matthew Lutheran in Southwest Washington, and in a short time the church hired her as a community worker.
"About a year into that, the pastor went on sabbatical and I assumed some of his duties." The first Sunday she was slated to preach "was the first time I knew I wanted to be a minister," she said. Standing in the pulpit that first Sunday "this one woman looked up at me so expectantly . . . . I prayed that God would use me to preach to these people . . . . I felt calm and that God was with me.
"The very next week, I went to Wesley Seminary and signed up for a few courses."
Convinced that the ordained ministry was indeed for her, she enrolled full time in the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg, Pa. She fulfilled her internship year, required by her denomination for all ordination candidates, at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, Va.
"A wonderful place to be . . . a congregation so nurturing," she said.
She was "not at all certain" when assigned to the all-white parish "that I wanted to be the only black person." But the experience was a good one for her. "I found the congregation strong, close-knit and supportive."
Griffin, who will become associate pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church in Forestville next month, does not dwell on the double barriers of race and sex she has had to surmount to become a pastor in her church. "I personally can't testify to having had problems either way," she said.
With the ordained ministry open to women in all Lutheran churches except the Missouri Synod, women pastors are no longer rare. Women make up nearly one third of the enrollment of Lutheran seminaries today.
Judith B. Helm, a white classmate of Griffin's at Gettysburg, also will be ordained tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 5101 16th St. NW.
But in a church that for most of its existence in this country has been self-consciously Teutonic and Scandanavian, there have been few blacks. Griffin says there are fewer than 30 blacks among the ALC's 7,314 ordained clerics.
That is changing, however. "The church is basically saying that as Lutherans, we are no longer looking at ourselves as an immigrant church which gathers Germans or Scandanavians together, but as a part of the community," said the Rev. Kim Erno of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Silver Spring.
Before taking over his present pastorate, Erno headed LAMPS -- Lutherans Affirm Ministry in a Pluralistic Society -- in Prince George's County, an effort to help Lutheran congregations in the county, with its growing black population "be a church that reflects the community," Erno said.
Today there are two black Lutheran bishops, one of whom, Bishop Will Herzfeld, is presiding bishop of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.
Griffin said that Lutheranism is moving away from ethnic exclusiveness. "The buzzword right now is inclusiveness, pluralism," she said.
Carolyn Green of the Division for Parish Services in the Philadelphia headquarters of the Lutheran Church in America said, "We are dropping the word 'minority.' " Black Lutherans, she said "are fully a part of the total church, working along with our white brothers."
After all, she said, "the Gospel is for all."