Brandon Lutheran welcomes Pastor Pagnotta

Jill Meier, Journal editor
Jill Meier/BV Journal
Pastor Elizabeth Pagnotta accepted the call to serve as the Senior Pastor at Brandon Lutheran.
When Pastor Elizabeth Pagnotta stepped into her new role as the senior pastor of Brandon Lutheran Church Sept. 1, one could say she hit the ground running.
With a sermon to give at Wednesday night worship and a funeral that same week, Pagnotta had little time to acclimate to her new surroundings.
Pastor Pagnotta, however, was up to the challenge. Serving as the senior pastor at St. John Lutheran in Madison, she said, prepared her well.
“I learned a lot there and loved that community and that congregation,” Pagnotta said. “It was my first call and they really supported me and taught me and I got to expand my skills there.”
St. John Lutheran has about 600 members and the rural congregation has about 30 members.
While coming into a new congregation presents its own challenges, doing so during the pandemic has certainly added to the challenge. 
“As I’m trying to get the landscape of this community, this faith community and how things go, everybody says there’s a ‘pre-COVID’ and ‘now, we used to do this before COVID’ and now this is how we do it,” Pagnotta said. “So, I have to learn two different ways of how it’s been going on and now how we’ll go forward will be different, too. It really is a time of transition on multiple levels and to kind of get a landscape of that is hard. I was just telling the quilting ladies that it was so weird for me not to stand in the back of the church and shake hands (following worship) and get to know people that way. So, how do we get to know each other now? Seeing people in masks, you know it’s hard to get to know a person that way, but we’ll figure it out. I think it will be a slower process of getting to know people just because of the distance and the groups not happening the same way, but I’m hopeful that we’ll get there.”
Pagnotta, 38, was encouraged to consider a career in ministry by pastors of her church in Brookings, where she grew up. Her longtime interest in music and growing up in the Lutheran church is what connected her to church. 
“I was a leader in music in a few different places,” she said. “I loved music and really felt a calling to serve the church that way. Then I had a few pastors that said, ‘You know, God might be calling you to do something a little different and you’ve got some skills in other places,’ so it developed from there.”
Had Pagnotta heeded the advice of her college speech professor, she may not have become an ordained pastor at all.
“I like to joke about how I took a speech class in college and my speech teacher gave me a ‘C’, and I was an ‘A’ student. She said, ‘You’re never going to ever be able to be a public speaker.’ I was sort of hurt by that and it made an impression, too. Then I had pastors say, ‘Don’t take that to heart,’” she said.
Pagnotta said she was drawn to Brandon Lutheran and its sister congregation, Split Rock Lutheran, for the vast opportunities the call presented.
“In talking to the council and a lot of different leadership, there’s such great stuff percolating that is ready for the right push forward. The energy, I can just feel the energy here and that energy is in the quilters making a zillion quilts. Of course, everybody knows that the youth and family of this congregation are a really important part, but all ages have this energy that I’m kind of excited to be part of,” she said. “And I think the partnership with Split Rock was really appealing to me. I love that the congregations work together in that way and support each other. It’s fun to have the busy bustling programs of this bigger church and also the really wonderful things about a rural church, so I get the best of both worlds in that way.”
Pagnotta fills one of the two pastoral vacancies at Brandon Lutheran, which were the result of Pastor Scott Hackler relocating to Arizona and Pastor Dan Nelson relocating to Minnesota. With the senior pastor position now filled, the church board begins the process of calling an associate pastor. In the interim, retired Pastor Bob Hansen handled the pastoral duties at Brandon Lutheran.
Pagnotta said there are pros and cons to starting fresh with two new pastors.
“There’s a lot of great staff here that have covered and worked hard to cover a lot of places,” she said. “The pro of that is we will call an associate pastor here soon and it will be a person that compliments me, rather than me coming into a system that’s already been set … so, we’ll get to start fresh together, and I think that should make for a good working relationship.”
Pagnotta said she looks forward to working with all age levels and programs of the church.
“Youth ministry has always been an important part of my ministry and an important love of mine,” she said.
Prior to being ordained as a pastor, she worked as a children’s director and led the children’s music program.
“It’s important for me to know those kids and families, especially when that is such a big part of this congregation,” she said. “I’m not sure what that will look like but it will involve me teaching some confirmation and leading some chapels with the preschool, so I will be doing some things like that.”
Pagnotta comes to Brandon Lutheran with open mind and no agenda of new ideas she’d like to implement. 
“The important thing for me is to listen and get a sense of the community and then see there where my gifts will be able to move things forward,” she said. “Some things in my leadership will reflect my personality because I don’t know some of the past things (that have been done). I’m sure that things have changed a little bit with me leading worship that I don’t even know yet.”
Pagnotta and her husband, Nick, are parents to two boys, Finn, 4, and Jack, 1. At present, Nick continues to work in Madison at Valiant Living, an organization that works with adults with disabilities.
“He’s a social worker there, especially tending to their medical needs,” she said.
With music playing an integral part in her life, Pagnotta said she enjoys going to concerts and being outdoors. “We love being outside, hiking and doing the state park (here) is really exciting to be able to spend some there,” she said.
She also enjoys “sitting and reading and having coffee,” that kind of stuff.
She plays the piano and was an organ major at Augustana University, despite piano being her “first love.”
Pagnotta said she’s excited to learn more about the Brandon community. 
“Everybody that I’ve talked to is really complimentary about the place. It’s important for me to be involved in the local community, to shop here, go to sports events and be involved here, and I’ll be looking forward to getting a little more invested in that,” she said.
The Pagnottas have purchased a home in Brandon, which came with Lynx paw print painted on their driveway.
“My son, Finn, thinks that is the coolest thing to have this paw print on the driveway,” she said, “so, we’ve had lots of conversations about what a Lynx is.”


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