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UW-Eau Claire Campus Pastor Promotes a Message of Inclusivity

May 15, 2018

Lori Marie Jones was born at Iowa Lutheran Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa, and she jokes that that was when she became a Lutheran.

In her early years, Jones was a girl living in Newton, Iowa, a high school cheerleader and an active member of her Lutheran church.

At age 16, Jones had a conversation that would change her life. A male friend had come to her to express his doubts about his life plan to become a pastor. 

Pastor Lori poses with her handmade sign she uses to befriend students on campus. © 2018 Emily Geving

Everything her friend had worried about, like having to sing and speak sermons in front of people, excited her. She stayed silent about it though, expecting that inevitably she would change her mind.

But, she never did. Jones zipped through her Spanish major at the University of Northern Iowa in three years so she could get to seminary. She attended Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minn. and knew she was where she needed to be. She met a strong circle of women friends at seminary that she still has today, and perhaps more importantly, she met husband, Phil Ruge.

In 1998, Pastors Lori and Phil Ruge-Jones and their children, Luisa and Lucas, moved to San Marcos, Texas where Phil found a job at a church and Lori worked as a campus pastor at Texas Lutheran University.

“I really love the energy and questions that young adults bring,” says Ruge-Jones. “Sometimes it’s nice for young people to have an adult they can trust who is not a parent. It’s a unique relationship.”

In 2016, the family moved to Eau Claire where Ruge-Jones was hired as the campus pastor at University Lutheran Church, serving the Lutheran community at UW-Eau Claire.

Ruge-Jones strives to make the ULC a welcoming place to be. She notes that her church is the only Christian organization on campus is LGBTQ affirming and she is invited to LGBTQ campus events.

The goal, she says, is not to get people to attend her church, but to be the church wherever she goes.

She frequently hangs out at the W.R. Davies Student Center with a sign that advertises “mom advice” and “free recipes.” She wants to go out of her way to connect with college students.

She’s been to many musical performances and sporting events to see her students in action.

“I always say, ‘invite me to your things, I’ll come,” says Ruge-Jones.

Ruge-Jones’ approach to evangelism stems from the way her grandmother, Marie, lived her life. She lived a quiet life of service; making quilts and caring for her neighbors when they were sick.

“She never talked about God,” says Ruge-Jones, “but the way she lived taught me how to be present as a Christian.”

Ruge-Jones says she continually asks herself, “Was I nice? Did I feed somebody? Did I have an interaction that made a difference?”

Being present in the secular world is a part of Ruge-Jones’ philosophy. She attends drag shows, shops at farmers markets and stays up to date on social issues.

She is passionate about equal rights for women, the LGBTQ community and immigrants. She’s currently reading the autobiographical “Waking Up White” by Debby Irving, one of four books on her bookshelf at the moment.

Ruge-Jones has many Christian texts, novels and hymnals in her office.

“These are all of mine,” she says. “My husband and I have shared collection at home.”

The Ruge-Joneses take inspiration for their sermons in more than just their books. They also incorporate pieces from the Bible study they attend together each week and from their shared love of Biblical storytelling.

Biblical storytelling is the practice of memorizing Bible passages and reciting them as written in a sort of performance. Ruge-Jones speaks all of the Gospels in this way, completely memorized and without text in front of her, as she believes it is more engaging.

Amber Cody, a UW-Eau Claire student and Spanish major, enjoys that Spanish is incorporated into the ministry. It’s a way of creating a more inclusive ministry experience. Cody also admires the way Ruge-Jones is willing to make special dietary accommodations to her parish community during communion. Ruge-Jones offers a variety of options in bread and wine to ensure that nothing about being human gets in the way of the communion celebration.

Ruge-Jones contrasts the communion table with Facebook, calling them opposites.

“Nobody is filtered out here,” she says. “Everyone is invited to the table.”

Perhaps that is how to best sum up Ruge-Jones’ ministry here at UW-Eau Claire, with a message of bold inclusivity.

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