Distinguished Alums 2005
February 24, 2005
Sanford W. Brown
Born in 1957 in California, Sanford W. Brown early became aware of his Mexican heritage on his mother’s side. This knowledge and its attendant experiences no doubt played an important role in his decision to devote his life to ministry to the disadvantaged and the marginalized of society. The family moved to Seattle, Washington, where Brown became a United Methodist, and in 1978 he graduated from the University of Washington. During his college years he was involved with the Crossroads Drama Group and participated in a number of stage plays.
Formal preparation for ministry was undertaken at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, where Brown earned a master of divinity degree in 1982. In l997 he was awarded a doctor of ministry degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. His dissertation was on gender, sexuality and spirituality. His research, going deeply into the men’s movement, led to a book for use in men’s groups, exploring questions of gender in the Jacob/Esau Bible story.
Brown’s 19 years of service as a pastor covered three United Methodist congregations Wenatchee, Kirkland, and Fall City, all in Washington. At the same time, he demonstrated his leadership in countless civic and community groups, including election to the board of one of the state’s largest school districts. While in Wenatchee, he and an associate successfully challenged an illegal election of the town’s mayor. Among other activities, he developed an innovative multi-media worship service and created a systematic Christian discipleship training program that has become a model for the Pacific Northwest Conference. Within one year, the church in Wenatchee, under Brown’s leadership, built and donated a Habitat for Humanity house, paid off the mortgate of a low-income preschool, and sent 38 people on a medical mission trip to Guatemala. In 2001 Brown was named executive director of Deaconess Children’s Services in Everett, Washington. During his first year there, he rebuilt the connections between this United Methodist social service agency serving children in poverty and the local churches in the conference.
In 2003 Brown was elected executive director of The Church Council of Greater Seattle. The Council has 418 member congregations representing 15 denominations. It is Seattle’s largest religious organization advocating for the homeless, the disenfranchised, and peace with justice. Of his new challenge, Brown says, “I see the job of executive director of the Church Council as a prophetic role. It requires willingness to stand against the tide of materialism, violence, and militarism that too often characterize our society.”
Sanford Brown is married to Gail Van Norman, an anesthesiologist and medical ethicist. In his private time, he enjoys playing the classical organ and piano, reading, downhill skiing, mountain biking, hiking, movies, graphic design and spending time with his two sons, Matthew and Luke.
Gordon N.C. Sorensen
Gordon Nels Christian Sorensen, the youngest of eight children of Danish immigrant farmers, was born in 1930 in Almond, Wisconsin. He entered the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point, planning to prepare for a teaching career. During that time he was elected president of the Wisconsin Methodist Student Movement and was encouraged by many of his peers to consider parish ministry. It was the thoughtful tutelage of a dynamic Methodist pastor, Jans J. van derGraaf, however, that led Sorensen to consider this career path more seriously.
After receiving an undergraduate degree in 1952, Sorensen made the decision to enter Garrett Biblical Institute, and during the following three years, he served as the student pastor of the Richmond United Methodist Church in Richmond, Wisconsin. Upon receiving the master of divinity degree, he embarked on a career in pastoral ministry that took him to six parishes in the Wisconsin Annual Conference: Lowell-Juneau United Methodist Churches, Christ Church in Beloit, First United Methodist Church in Appleton, Trinity Church-United Methodist in Beaver Dam, First United Methodist Church in Wausau, and Community United Methodist Church in Elm Grove. One of Sorensen’s strongest gifts in ministry has been that of discernment, thus assisting parishioners and others to develop and use their God-given talents for ministry. He is beloved throughout his conference for his authenticity, his sensitivity, and his availability to persons in need.
A member of Community United Methodist Church in Elm Grove and Garrett-Evangelical trustee, J. Michael McBride, says, “Gordon truly believes that each of us is put on this earth to learn, share, love, appreciate, and to give of ourselves. He was always trying to help our members discern their gifts and put them to use for God and all of God’s people. He exemplifies the epitome of compassion, caring, comforting, and gentle kindness.” When Sorensen retired from Community United Methodist Church in 1995, after 17 years of service there, the congregation honored him by establishing a scholarship in his name at Garrett-Evangelical.
Trustee and Bishop Donald Ott summarizes Sorensen’s influential pastoral ministry by noting: “Congregational leaders hope for, in their pastoral leader, what Gordon embodies: supportive presence in time of need, consistent direction with a Biblical vision, careful articulation of Gospel truths, and thoughtful searching for new ways of expressing and living the Christ-like way.”
During his ministry, Sorensen was on many boards and agencies and helped organize a soup kitchen in Milwaukee. Service to the church included director of youth work for the Wisconsin Annual Conference where he also chaired its task force on spiritual formation for eight years. This position brought him a deep sense of joy and fulfillment and led to retreat leadership in many places in this country and Canada.
Sorensen and his wife, Dorothy, live in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. He has served as interim pastor at the Ozaukee Congregational Church twice and substitutes in various Wisconsin churches during his retirement.