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Looking Back On 2023

WELCOME to the 2023 Annual Report! Here's a word from your pastors, sharing highlights of this past year.

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Council President's Report

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Toby Biebl
Council President

2023 was a year of transition and a year of preparation for Westwood Church.  It warms my heart to report that Westwood continues to thrive.  I believe the Church is well positioned to continue living its faith with vigor as we look towards 2024.


In 2023, the Church successfully supported several transitions in our pastoral leadership, including Pastor Tania’s decision to step down from the Senior Pastor role (to continue working in a reduced capacity), Pastor Jason’s acceptance of our call to be Westwood’s new Senior Pastor, and Pastor Sarah’s acceptance of our call to be Westwood’s new Executive Pastor.  While much of these transitions were thoughtfully planned in 2022, the successful execution of these plans occurred in 2023.  We are very thankful for the shared leadership model that our pastoral leaders have embraced and made part of the Westwood culture.  Central to this leadership model is humility, which I have seen in action as our pastors have selflessly and respectfully offered both space and support of each other in adjusting to their new roles.  We are thankful for the leadership God has graced us with.


Amidst the pastoral leadership transitions, Council has also been hard at work, displaying great intentionality and thoughtfulness.  This past year, we examined how Westwood can best live out its faith and vision over the next three to five years.  With the coming end to the Prayer of Good Courage Project (Westwood’s two-year appeal to jumpstart the Rise Early Learning Center), Westwood’s previous Road Map is also nearing completion.  With this in mind, the Council set out to develop a new Road Map in 2023.  The Council held internal listening sessions with Westwood members on the topic of vocation, invited external community leaders to help us understand how Westwood can best show-up to the world around us, and surveyed our church community to understand how well Westwood has empowered its members to be the hands and feet of Christ.  Council reflected on all of this information throughout the year, culminating in a weekend retreat in late-October through which it developed the initial draft of a new Road Map.  In November and December, the Road Map was reflected on and revised, and we recently presented the final Road Map to the congregation in January.  My sincerest compliments to the Council for doing the work to develop the new Road Map, and I am excited to see our Church follow this vision in ways that enliven our faith, deepen our vocations, and connect us as a vital member to the success of our neighbors.


On a personal note, I am choosing to step down from my role on Church Council to better dedicate myself to my mental health.  Being part of Council has been meaningful and joyous for me, and I am very appreciative of the opportunity to put my faith in action as part of Council.  Most importantly, I am thankful for the thoughtfulness and care that Council continues to display.  I am very confident that the group will continue to do wonderful work in leading the strategic vision of Westwood.  Of course, I look forward to continuing to see everybody at church and being a member of our Westwood Church community.


With thanks,

Toby Biebl

The 2023 Annual Report from our Minneapolis Area Synod by our Bishop, Ann Svennungsen.

Nominations Team


Paul Wogen

Carole and I joined Westwood in 1975. I’ve served on Church Council, the Foundation Board and the WECC Board and have sung in the A Cappella choir for over 45 years. I enjoy playing golf, reading and spending time with family and friends.

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Rachel Palermo

My husband Mike and I have been attending Westwood for almost 10 years. We have two daughters, one whom is currently attending WECC. I am a nurse, and I enjoy reading and spending time outdoors when not at work. 

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Allison Bailey

After attending regularly for several years, I was excited to join Westwood in 2021. I am a Biology teacher at DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis. I enjoy cooking, watching movies, and spending time with my family.

Re-Elected for Year 2

Justin Puliot, Sara Rowan and John Scott

Thank You!

Council Nominees


Dan Albright
(4 year term)

Our family joined Westwood after moving into the neighborhood in 2007. My wife, Kirsten, and I have been residents of St. Louis Park for 30 years where we raised our two adult children, Jens and Lillie. We appreciate engaging with caring communities that seek the greater good.

My career in finance has included positions in the financial services industry and I currently work in the Planning and Analysis group at RBC Wealth Management U.S., in Minneapolis.

I volunteer as part of the audio-visual team and as the chair of Westwood’s Financial Management Advisory Group. I am also on a team that assists RISE Early Learning Center leaders on finance matters.

I am excited for the opportunity to join the Council as it guides Westwood’s mission and journey.

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Tim Dufault

(4 year term)

Time has moved with great speed in our lives here at Westwood. Jan and I joined the church in 1993 after we purchased our first house in St. Louis Park. What attracted us to the church continues to energize us today – the congregation's commitment to making everyone feel welcome and to serve as a resource to our communities and the world. We have two adult children, Connor and Chloe, both baptized and raised at Westwood.  Previously, I served on various committees and design teams.


Professionally, I am an architect by training and currently running a small software start-up with a focus on serving the design and construction industry. Before this company, I spent 30 years with the architecture firm Cuningham, as a principal for 20 years and as its President/CEO for 15 of those years. I left Cuningham in 2022 to focus on the start-up that we created while I was leading the firm.


I appreciate the opportunity to serve on the church council, and as the President-elect as we move forward with our Journey Outward.

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Audra Howard

At Large Member
(3 year term)

My name is Audra Howard and I live in Plymouth with my husband, Adam and our two girls, Carolyn (7) and Anna (4). We started attending Westwood in 2019 and became members in 2022. In my professional role, I serve as an IT manager at Andersen Corporation.


Westwood has become an integral part of our family and we feel so lucky to be welcomed by this vibrant faith community. I'm honored at the chance to serve on our Westwood Council.  


Sonja Western
Representative At-Large
(3 year term)

My name is Sonja Western and I live in North Minneapolis with my husband, Todd IV, son, Todd V, and stepdaughter, Hadley. I was baptized at Westwood and have been involved in various ways since I was a child. I attended Sunday school and youth group. I was confirmed at Westwood and traveled to Dodoma, Tanzania shortly after that. More recently, I served on Westwood's racial equity team and traveled to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the Equal Justice Initiative's Legacy Sites. 


I have been a teacher for eight years and currently teach 7th-grade math. I enjoy reading, cooking, and exploring all that Minneapolis has to offer with family and friends. I am looking forward to this next step in my faith journey and taking part in shaping the future of Westwood as a member of our church council.


Luke Yost

Representative At-Large
(Filling last 2 years of an At Large Term)

My name is Luke Yost, I have been going to Westwood for over 8 years, a member for 6. I have enjoyed leading various small groups, helping with block parties, volunteering, and attending concerts, educational series, and worship. I look forward to serving in this role. 


I live in St. Louis Park with my partner Matt, and dog Dudley. 

We thank the outgoing Council members for their faithful commitment these past years

Toby Biebl, Lara Cleveland, Nicole Dimich,
Dave Hill & Tom Hegblom

Thank You!

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In 2019, my husband Trevor and I began working with the first group to start up Westwood's racial equity team.  We crafted Westwood’s racial equity statement with this team. This work is messy, meaningful, and ongoing.  In 2020, I began serving as a member of the Rise Early Learning Center board of directors.  This work as a  Rise Early board member has become one of the most fulfilling parts of my career as a lifelong educator.   


Westwood embraces the all are welcome message entirely.  As a family with busy teenagers, we ebb and flow with our regular church attendance.  Yet, each time we enter for worship service, we are greeted and welcomed like family. We are reminded that we are a part of God’s family no matter how imperfect we continue to be. We always feel welcome at Westwood and are proud to be part of a community where ALL are genuinely welcome.

Our family relocated to MN from the Caribbean in 2016 and officially joined Westwood in 2017.  This was a tough shift as we left a home church in Grenada that was fully integrated into all parts of our lives, and were all grieving the loss of our church community.  We shopped around and visited many Lutheran churches, and Westwood emerged as the best fit for our family for many reasons.  

Connection is most important to us, and Pastor Tania and Pastor Jason won my heart with their leadership. They are authentic leaders who focus on God’s love and grace and prioritize relationships. Having a good sense of humor helps, too!   Next, we are a black biracial family, and Westwoods' commitment to racial equity and bold approach to pushing through all social justice work match our family's values.  Lastly, Westwood offers a thriving children’s ministry. We wanted a place for our children to continue their faith journey and to grow as critically thinking Christians. 



Jenelle Bullen

Financial Report

Total Gifts Given


faith giving for pledgers and non pledgers

Average Gift



Household Contributions


given to the

General Operating Fund

Core Values

My family and I began attending Westwood about 2 years ago and became more involved over time as we met more people and found the right niches for us. The focus on family and social justice issues, as well as the open welcoming stance was what initially drew us to Westwood. I appreciate that Westwood meets congregants where they are in their faith journey. It is very welcoming to those of us not raised in the church who don’t have a solid biblical background or religious knowledge. I attended adult confirmation class led by Pastor Sarah this summer & fall and was confirmed for the first time in October. This class helped me connect with my faith more deeply and recognize how God works in the world and through us. I felt the Holy Spirit at work through the friendships and interactions. I feel more grounded in my faith and fulfilled by the rituals of church knowing more about why we do them. ​

Margaret Wiatrowski


Core Values

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Race Equity: 

The Race Equity team was shepherded by Jen Mohr until June, when she left Westwood in order to dedicate her full energy to race equity with CLNE.


  • Staff worked through the Racial Healing Handbook under the guidance of Kelly Chatman, who met with staff monthly in the spring.  

  • Poet and musician Joe Davis, along with members of his Poetic Diaspora, came to Westwood three times, including as our Advent music Sunday special guest.  

  • The Journey Outward small-group curriculum focused intentionally on aspects of race equity in each of the sessions.  

  • We presented an uplifting concert accompanied by a networking reception featuring the Chicago Community Chorus, under the direction of Dr. Keith Hampton, cantor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.  

  • In the Fall, the Staff committed to monthly cultural competency field trips, including visits to Hocokata Ti and the Hmong Cultural Center. 

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LGBTQIA+ Belonging  

  • The centerpiece of 2023 was our Pride Block Party on Wednesday June 21. We moved the event indoors for the first time due to weather and air warnings. An estimated 150-200 people gathered for a picnic, games, booths, ice cream truck, chalk, stickers, tattoos, and vendor booths from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), and OutFront Minnesota. The Westwood Library provided LGBT books and resources, and Rabbi Weininger from Adath, 1st openly gay rabbi in conservative movement of Judaism, shared his story.  ​

  • We finished the event with a PRIDE March along Cedar Lake Road. It was a moving and joyful evening!   

  • In addition, in 2023, Westwood had a worship service that affirmed the belovedness of LGBTQIA+ people; hosted two concerts of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus; highlighted National Coming Out Day and World AIDS Day on social media; had fellowship events and a small group study for LGBTQIA+ people & allies; and hung our Welcome Statement in the Narthex to show the character of our community to all who enter. 

Congregational Stats



+11% from 2022

Worship Attendance

(ave. weekly in-person)


Worship Attendance
(ave. weekly livestream)


  • Facebook



New Members


via new member class



WECC Report

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In 2023, WECC has lived out Stewardship in a number of rich and meaningful ways.  


  • WECC has directly impacted the lives of over 115 children, 84 families, and 32 employees who have found comfort, care, and community within our relationship-based early learning program.  

  • WECC serves as an inspiration and model for educators and leaders within the field of early childhood education, including Rise Early Learning Center.   

  • WECC successfully renewed and maintained all its distinguished accreditations and certifications which serve as confirmation that quality components are upheld.  

  • WECC values its employees and strives to create a workplace culture that reflects the respect, recognition, and professionalism they deserve.    

  • WECC continues to embrace parent partnerships by prioritizing two-way communication systems, embracing an attitude of listening and creating opportunities for dialogue.  

  • WECC honors the extraordinary potential of children and promotes the rights and possibilities of children by fostering an inclusive learning environment and recognizing that children are active and engaged participants within this community.   


We are extremely grateful for your support as we provide our community with an extraordinary Christian early learning environment. This matters.  

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Steve Kalpin

The summer of 2023 gave us yet another opportunity to connect with other Westwood families --Family Camp at Camp Wapo! We were thrilled to see so many families come together for fun and fellowship. The weekend was full of exciting activities. Our children spent most of the weekend outdoors playing games like gaga ball and frisbee and crafting friendship bracelets with friends from church. This gave the adults a chance to chat and connect as well. Camp Wapo has a beautiful lake where the whole family was able to swim, splash, and dive off of the floating dock together. Later, by the lake, there was an all-camp talent show where Westwood kids were able to show off their talents and shine! It was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with old friends and to create new friendships.  

Throughout the weekend, there were several opportunities to worship together. The camp worship songs (with actions!) were nostalgic for many of the adults and new to most of the children. On the last day, there was an outdoor church service by the lake. There is something really special about praying and singing together while looking at God’s beautiful creation.  

The weekend gave parents a chance to get to know Camp Wapo, where Westwood children and youth attend summer camp. Many of the kids said that they can’t wait to go to summer camp with their new friends at Camp Wapo next summer! 


Community Partnerships

It has been an eventful year with Westwood’s Community Partnerships.  In addition to the big news of Rise Early hiring staff and launching the program, 2023 saw us renew our relationship with our friends at Arusha Road Lutheran Church in Dodoma, TZ as 14 Westwood people made the trip.  We look forward to a delegation from Arusha Road visiting Westwood in April of 2024.  Here are some more highlights.


  • Over $164,000 of our Faith Giving dollars was shared with local and Tanzanian partners. 

  • Community Meal served over 300 people twice in December matching a number we haven’t seen in many years.  What a fantastic team puts on that meal! 

  • Westwood provided a $20,000 matching grant for STEP’s Give to the Match drive. 

  • Center for Leadership and Neighborhood Engagement was added as they helped support Westwood’s Racial Equity work. 

  • Support was also shared with the Dodoma Christian Medical Center, Redeemer Lutheran Church, the Minneapolis Area Synod, and the WECC Scholarship Fund.  Your faithful giving and volunteering to and through Westwood matters in the thriving of many.  Thank You! 

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Westwood Lutheran
Memorial Foundation

For more information on the Memorial Foundation, please visit

Program Highlights

Congregational Care

God’s call for us to be His hands and feet in 2023 was felt and seen through; rides given, cards sent, quilts created, shawls knit, communion served, funerals supported, grief tended, visits enjoyed, games played, love lifted and God’s word studied. Love, generosity and faithfulness was palpable, the ripples of which are still in motion. 

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A Cappella Choir was selected by audition to perform a feature concert for the State Conference of the American Choral Directors Association.  

Westwood Ringers joined with other Twin Cities area ensembles for the Regional Handbell Festival. 

Worship Team continues to add new instrumentalists and vocalists as they lead our 11 am worship service each week.

The number of young people singing in the Children’s Choir and Cantemus continues to grow, as more than 65 participants gather in song on a weekly basis.

Music + Worship

Here are a few fun facts related to worship this year:  

  • Our average in-person weekly attendance was greater than 450 for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic and represented a 12% increase over 2022. 

  • Our Online Worship presence continues to garner more than 100 screens on a weekly basis. 

  • We saw a large increase in volunteers participating in our ministries of Hospitality, Audio/Visual, and Sanctuary Adornment—We are THANKFUL for you all! 

  • We baptized 25 children and received 75 new members this year.  

  • 10:00 AM Summer Worship Average (14 Sunday services) 288 (up 70 people per wk) 32% increase 

  • 6:30 PM Wednesday Worship Average (31 services) 34 

  • Easter Attendance (3 services) 1295 

  • Christmas Eve Attendance (5 services) 1,360 

Westwood has become one of the most desired spaces for concerts in the Metro West area. We hosted more than 20 concerts and welcomed over 4,600 people into our beautiful facilities. Here is our list of musical partners in 2023:  

  • Bach Roots Festival 

  • Bach Society of Minnesota 

  • Chicago Community Chorus 

  • Magnum Chorum 

  • Minnesota Chorale 

  • Northern Lights Chorale 

  • Oratorio Society of Minnesota 

  • The Singers 

  • Synod Senior Band 

  • Tanzanian Health Partnership 

  • Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus 

  • VocalEssence 

Our worship was blessed by the participation of so many guest musicians: 

  • Magnum Chorum  

  • VocalEssence Singers Of This Age 

  • 29:11 International Exchange from South Africa 

  • Melanie DeMore 

  • Moira Smiley 

  • Synod Senior Band 

  • Joe Davis and The Poetic Diaspora 

  • Loring String Quartet  

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Elsa singing.HEIC

Children, Youth & Family Ministry

  • 46 family camp attendees. 

  • VBS returned and we had 76 VBS campers / 8 of these were campers from WECC!

  • It ran smoothly thanks to 40 VBS volunteers  

  • 50 kids registered for Parent’s Night Out with 20 youth and adult volunteers. 

  • 6 meals and gifts delivered to families with new babies.  

  • Faithful Families started in September, a reimagining of Messsy Worship. Families with children age 0 – 2nd grade come together to sing, pray, and play! With pastor visits and monthly communion as well as music from Josh Larson.  

  • L.I.F.T. Is a regular Wednesday night draw for 1-5th graders.

  • 128 Children registered for The Message.


In 2023 we had a change in staffing, with the departure of Jen Mohr and after a search with great candidates, we hired Alison Broman as our CYF Coordinator. She works with both children and youth, and has been a great addition to our team! Ann Sundermeyer took on a greater leadership role with Early Childhood families and director of VBS! We are thrilled to have these women serving on our CYF team and they have brought many new gifts and so much excitement to their roles here!

Youth ministry happens in all sorts of ways at Westwood, from our youth taking active roles in serving Community Meal, singing in choir, attending parent/student learning, taking Westwood U courses and serving a ton of places here and in our local community! 

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Peggy Riley

I waited 10 years to go with Westwood to visit Arusha Road Lutheran Church in Dodoma, Tanzania.  Finally, the timing was right.  Travel of any kind is a gift but going to Tanzania was a journey of a lifetime.  I wondered what God would show or teach me.  We were greeted by the people of Arusha Road Church with great warmth and celebration.  On our first visit to the church, I spotted our boxes of dried food stacked in their meeting space. Later we visited Dodoma Christian Medical Center and several schools. I met many loving people including our drivers who took care of us for 11 days. Our caring and loving partnership with them was humbly and beautifully expressed. I was so proud to represent Westwood. Our brothers and sisters there met us with generosity, kindness, and love. Building these relationships was an important goal and I also got to know other members of Westwood as we shared this amazing experience together.  I’ve had a glimpse of God’s HUGE love for all people.  I understand in a new way that God’s love is present all over this big, beautiful world and it connects us all as we stand side by side.  It was confusing, overwhelming, and exhausting at times but also amazing, magnificent, wonderful, and full of love.


3rd Chapter Ministry

One year into my new role and new ministry area, I am so grateful and excited for how this transition has played out, with my wonderful pastoral colleagues Jason and Sarah, the whole team, and the large group of participants/leaders in this 3rd chapter life stage! This is an age group, many post career and kids, who are asking important questions about our time, gifts, legacy, connections with others and God, and I’ve been delighted with the feedback that Westwood is addressing this age group in a new and helpful way! 

The ministry kicked off this fall with a large progressive dinner/conversation, elderhood small groups, and now this winter are doing a few book studies (in person and online to include our snowbirds), a Jan/Feb process to guide people through writing an Ethical Will (putting our values, life experiences, insights, etc. on paper as a part of our legacy), and other social events, speakers and possibly a summer week at a retreat center. 

I’m grateful to be continuing my ministry 2/3rds time at Westwood and encouraged by the interest in this 3rd Chapter!  



Pastor Tania Haber 

Prayer of Good Courage

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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