Judd Larson ’74 first came to Luther when Preus Library had just opened. Chapel was held on the second floor of Koren. Ensembles such as Nordic Choir and Concert Band rehearsed in the heating plant. And when students in Ylvisaker, where Larson roomed, needed to make a phone call, they had to use the one phone in the corridor on their floor.
Larson was back on campus this past January Term and spring semester as an interim campus pastor after Pastor David Vasquez left to become president of the Pacific School of Religion in January. Larson and his wife, April Ulring Larson ’72, had spent the intervening years as pastors, answering the call of Lutheran churches in rural Iowa; Rochester, Minn.; La Crosse, Wis.; and Duluth, Minn. April served three terms as bishop of the La Crosse Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
The Larsons, who married at Luther, attended Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, together. They had three children, who all graduated from Luther—Katie Larson Ode ’01, Amy Larson Calhoun ’01, and the late Ben Larson ’06, who was killed in the Haiti earthquake in 2010. The family’s ties to Luther College (and Decorah—April grew up here) are strong. April served on the college’s Board of Regents for 15 years, and the Larsons retired to Decorah in spring 2014.
“April failed retirement first,” Larson says, smiling. She answered the call to become pastor of Decorah’s Good Shepherd Church last fall. And Larson soon received his own call. “[College Ministries] Pastor Mike Blair called me up, and there were any number of reasons I could think of for him to be calling me. But he asked me about being an interim campus pastor, and that was not one of the things on my list that he could be calling about,” Larson says.
However, Larson says, “When your alma mater calls, you can’t say no. It was not a hard decision for me to make. I really love these young adults, they’re amazing people. I’ve always been energized and engaged by this age group.”
During his interim service, Larson says, “Mainly what I do is work with student leaders, which is really fun.” The student leaders include those organizing the Focus Sunday evening student-led worship and Wednesday evening prayer. “I do Bible study, provide students someone to talk with—it can be very stressful being a student—and also provide service to faculty and staff. Being a campus pastor at Luther, our ministry is really with the whole Luther community,” he says.
The college Larson serves now has changed from the place he attended as a student. Besides the addition of buildings, he says, “One of the big differences between this particular position and being in parish ministry for more than 35 years is the role of technology.” In addition to attending chapel in the Center for Faith and Life now, and students all having their own phones, the ubiquity of computers and use of Google calendars present new experiences for Larson at Luther. Students all have their own phones, nearly everyone conducts business on some type of computer, and all seem to have their own Google calendar. “That’s been the first big adjustment,” Larson says, “how I enter into all those calendars!”
Larson will complete his interim appointment at the end of the semester. College Ministries has engaged in a Year of Listening process to discern the future shape of the ministry. Plans for the future are still in progress.