Lead Pastor Laura Ziehl
It is my joy to serve this welcoming community of believers who gather for worship on Sunday morning and spend time in service to the community, whenever possible. I hope that you will visit us on Sunday morning, or give me a call or stop by for conversation anytime. I would love to hear your story.
Pastor Laura’s Story
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
I am blessed and honored to serve as pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran. Here is a bit of my story and how I came to join this wonderful community of believers.
I was born in Visalia, CA. My parents are Lutherans from Menomonie, Wisconsin, but I was baptized in the Congregational Church in the fall of 1963 because of an interesting misunderstanding between the Missouri Synod congregation in town and the ALC congregation to which my family would soon belong. Therefore I am ecumenical from birth and pleased that it is so.
My faith and call to ministry began at Christ Lutheran Church, Visalia. I have rich memories of Vacation Bible School, children’s choir, kool-aid and cookies. At 14 years old, I was asked to be the preacher on Youth Sunday. A member of the congregation who I deeply respected shook my hand after worship and suggested that I consider becoming a pastor. God had first suggested that idea to me when I was 10 years old, but I thought I had misheard him. I tried hard to push the idea away, but when God has a plan for you, such an effort is pointless. God knows what he is doing, even when we do not.
I graduated from CSU Fresno with a degree in Zoology and was accepted to the Veterinary School at UC Davis. At that same time, I had applied to serve as a short term missionary in Hong Kong, working in youth leadership development and in the Vietnamese refugee camps in Hong Kong. I was to return to Hong Kong 4 times in 10 years and my time there, particularly my time in the refugee camps, continues to shape my understanding of the power and fragility of this Gospel word we carry. In unspeakable conditions, the adults and children of Whitehead Detention Centre held onto hope — and they would not let it die. One of my favorite biblical texts is 1 Peter 3:15 “Give reason for the hope that is within you.” Regardless of the circumstances of this life, as Christians, we are never without hope. And we are blessed and called to share that hope with the world.
While working as a veterinarian in a small animal practice, God remained insistent and so I packed up my two cats and moved from California to Minnesota to begin studies at Luther Seminary. It was, for me, a moment of certainty and peace. In my 20 years in ordained ministry, I have served in campus ministry at CU Boulder and at Sonoma State. I have been blessed to serve: Bethlehem Lutheran, Marysville, WA , Cross and Crown Lutheran, Rohnert Park, CA and now Bethlehem Lutheran, Encinitas. Working with young children brings me deep joy and exercises of one the richest gifts God has given me. I am passionate about: the welcome and inclusion of all God’s people; excellent worship; and interfaith work in our diverse world.
I am committed to service in the wider church. I have served for the past 8 years on the Pacifica Synod council. I have also chaired the resolutions committee and am somewhat ashamed to admit that I actually read Robert’s Rules of Order for fun. I have co-chaired the Bishop’s Election Committee, synod assembly planning team and currently serve on the board of Lutheran Retreats Camps and Conferences (LRCC). Board tables aside, I am deeply honored and humbled to belong to a wide body of believers. None of us are the church in isolation, but together God is able to do with us, far more than we can ask or imagine.
One of the most profound moments of my ministry was to deliver the first baby goat, born at the Luther Glen LRCC farm. I was at camp that weekend to lead a women’s retreat. As a former vet, I found myself on the ground with a mother goat suddenly in labor. Witnessing first breath early on a Sunday morning, my two vocations met in a profound way. God’s call comes when we kneel in the dirt and find ourselves suddenly at the center of his grace and purpose.
Ministry among God’s people brings me deep joy and regular humility as I witness the gentle strength of God in the life God’s people. When I am not at church you will find me knee deep in a tide pool or playing cribbage with my two grown girls, Emily and Linnaea. The girls continue to ground me and remind me of the precious gift of the moments in our hands. Our family loves sleeping in a tent, particularly in Yellowstone. I have a fondness and joy for animals that I count as a gift. I have been blessed many times over and I am consistently touched and awed by the depth of God’s grace.
Blessings on the journey,
Pastor Sam Nelson
Bethlehem is a vibrant, fun, and caring congregation that I am honored and incredibly blessed to be a part of. All are welcome here and I hope you will join us and see for yourself!
Pastor Sam’s Sermon Blog
Pastor Sam’s Story
Hello! My name is Sam Nelson and it’s a great joy and privilege to serve a community that is as wonderful and vibrant as Bethlehem. I describe myself as a California Lutheran with Midwestern roots. I was born in the Chicago area, but my family moved to California when I was 5. I grew up, for the most part, in the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay, just south of San Francisco. My mother is also a Lutheran pastor, so I have been immersed in church life and the Lutheran tradition since before I was born.
I did my undergraduate work at California Lutheran University (CLU) where I majored in psychology and minored in religion. Despite feeling somewhat called to ministry, I decided to pursue a career in psychology and enrolled in a master’s program at American University in Washington D.C. God’s persistence finally prevailed after having my feet washed during a Maundy Thursday worship service the following year. I entered into a period of discernment and conversation with my family and friends, and after graduating with an MA in psychology, I enrolled at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC). During seminary I worked for one summer as a hospital chaplain at UCSF Medical Center, and did a year-long internship in Muscatine, Iowa.
My amazing wife Alissa teaches kindergarten in El Cajon, and we love being “tourists in our hometown,” so you will routinely find us all over San Diego County making the most of this beautiful place that we call home. I love the ocean and enjoy body surfing and boogie boarding. In my free time I like swimming, Zumba, softball, listening to my favorite podcasts like “Welcome to Night Vale,” and trying new beers with friends.
One of the main reasons that I went to seminary was to show that not all religious folks are like the ones who dominate the airwaves and are portrayed in popular media. I am an LGBTQIA+ ally, a feminist, and am passionate about equal rights for all people. I believe that the stigma surrounding mental health in this country needs to change. I have also done work in the church on sexual and domestic violence awareness.
I think that the mission of the church is twofold. First it must be a place where community is created, and people can experience healing, restoration, forgiveness, and reconciliation. And secondly, it must be a place that equips people to go out into the world to make it a better place – a closer reflection of the kingdom of God.
If you’d like to learn more about myself, my journey, my opinion on different kinds of beer, my steadfast belief in the importance of humor in preaching and worship, or about anything else, please reach out! I’d love to set up a time to talk.