A 1970 cum laude graduate of St. Olaf, Thompson has been the director of alumni and parent relations at the college since 1997 and has held leadership positions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for 15 years.
"I'm delighted Janet has agreed to serve St. Olaf in this position," said President Christopher Thomforde. "We are fortunate to have such a gifted person in our midst."
Among Thompson's initial goals are to form a diverse church relations advisory council that includes people of different races, genders, regional backgrounds and levels of experience with the college.
She also wants to help St. Olaf develop workshops and other gatherings for learning and renewal, and to help students develop into future church leaders. "Outreach" and "diversity" are among the catchwords of her agenda. "This is a paradigm shift for church relations," Thompson said. "We're going to say to congregations and the church, 'How can we be of service to you?' I want to be a catalyst for change in the college and in the church."
Prior to Thompson's hiring, St. Olaf commissioned a study of its role in church relations -- led by Lutheran pastor and St. Olaf Regent Reuben Groehler -- that included feedback from nearly 1,000 students, pastors, church leaders and parents of students. The findings resulted in an enhanced strategic plan and nine specific goals. One initiative that "strikes a chord with me," said Thompson, is to help the college become a "teacher" within the broader boundaries of the church and among people of many faiths.
She also strongly supports Thomforde's goal to have St. Olaf become a "sanctuary" where social issues are addressed.
"We want to be a place where people can discuss difficult subjects, such as biomedical ethics or homosexuality, in a reasonable manner," she said. "How can we stimulate people to think about faith and politics or faith and science?"
Thompson says her career and numerous volunteer activities have naturally led to the church relations position.
A member of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Eagan, she has been vice president of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA since 1997 and was the first layperson to serve as conference dean.
For a decade she was director of registration for the ELCA National Youth Gathering, and she currently serves on the ELCA Church Council, the national board of directors.
"The fact that I know so many people in the church will give me resources beyond imagining," Thompson said. "It's hard for me to think about a question or a struggle in which I wouldn't know who to go to ask for help."
During the years she was home raising her children, Siri and Nate, Thompson volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, the Junior League and the Girl Scouts, in addition to her involvement with her church.
Thompson grew up in Northfield, and her father, Duane Kringen, was business manager at St. Olaf.
Just as the college works to preserve its Norwegian-Lutheran roots while welcoming people of other ethnicities and faiths, Thompson wants to combine her cherished "sense of place" at St. Olaf with a new vision of church relations that "lifts up and encourages" people to reach out beyond their comfort zone.
"There's a spirit here," she said. "I feel like Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, who was surrounded by 'a cloud of witnesses.' I am surrounded by people who care."
St. Olaf News Bureau