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Grand Forks' 'Pastor Kathy' steps down, recognized for reaching beyond church walls

Augustana Lutheran Church in Grand Forks held a reception recognizing the Rev. Kathryn Brown, who recently stepped down as its pastor. Photo by Chris Bjorke, Herald Staff1 / 2
Augustana Lutheran Church in Grand Forks held a reception recognizing the Rev. Kathryn Brown, pictured here hugging Neil Olson. Photo by Chris Bjorke, Herald Staff2 / 2

The pastor who helped Augustana Lutheran Church look beyond its walls into its Grand Forks neighborhood was the center of a congregation gathering Saturday to mark her retirement from her work.

"She sees the ministry of the church as not just within the walls of the church, but in the world," said Sharon Wilsnack, an Augustana member, before Saturday's reception for the Rev. Kathryn Brown, who recently stepped down because of health problems. "Someone like Pastor Kathy inspires a lot of us to be out in the world."

About 200 attended Brown's reception in the church in the city's Near North Neighborhood, many of whom talked about Brown's ministering to people suffering from addictions -- a mission she pursued because of talents she found within the church and the needs she found in the surrounding area.

"It seemed like we were in a position to help people and our neighborhood," said Brown, known as Pastor Kathy to many at the reception.

Mission of service

When Brown became ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2001, the Grand Forks native had already spent much of her career working at UND under President Tom Clifford.

When she arrived at her congregation, she found several people, such as Wilsnack, a professor of clinical neuroscience with UND's School of Medicine, who had expertise in addiction studies and recovery programs.

She also saw the troubles of the Near North Neighborhood, which contains areas of poverty and drug houses, she said.

"She started think about the neighborhood we're in and the kinds of needs there are in the neighborhood," Wilsnack said.

In 2007, Brown and Augustana received a three-year grant from the ELCA to offer new services for addiction treatment. She also collaborated with UND's counseling psychology department, Lutheran Social Services, local courts and counseling services.

Her personal involvement has included helping people work through the "fearless moral inventory" in 12-step recovery programs, providing recovery worship services and helping those with addictions feel welcomed without judgment in the church.

Brown said she was grateful to be allowed to be part of the lives of those getting treatment.

"The greatest gift to me is how people have invited me on to their journeys," she said. "Sometimes, it's 'Who's pastoring to who?' "

However, pain from multiple health problems have limited what Brown can give to a demanding service role, leading her to step down.

At Saturday's reception, visitors shared cake and coffee and lined up for hugs and good wishes for Brown.

"She's a lot of the reason we're here," said Corey Thompson. "Just the connection she made with everyone."

Call Bjorke at (701) 780-1117, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1117 or send e-mail to

Christopher Bjorke

Christopher Bjorke is the content editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He first worked for the Herald in 1997 and most recently since 2011. His jobs at the Herald have included covering local government, state politics, business and economics, and the health care industry. 

(701) 780-1117