ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - Katie Christensen has been waiting three years for Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber to come to Alexandria to speak. Now she's fielding phone calls from fans in other states anxious about securing a seat to hear the 6-foot-1, tattooed, former stand-up comedian's message at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1.
"It's almost more of an outside buzz than an inside buzz," said Christensen, who has plastered posters throughout Alexandria advertising Bolz-Weber's talk.
Christensen's phone number appears on Bolz-Weber's online speaking schedule. Last week, someone from Wisconsin told her they're planning to drive six hours to Alexandria just to hear Bolz-Weber, said Christensen, the director of congregational ministries to youth and family at Calvary Lutheran Church, Alexandria.
Since there is no charge for the event and no way to reserve seats, out-of-towners are weighing whether to drive long distances for an event they might not be able to get into, she said. It's in the Alexandria Area High School's Performing Arts Center, which holds 1,200 people, but "she definitely sells out bigger than that," Christensen said. She is telling people to arrive early.
Bolz-Weber was once a drug user and stand-up comedian before sensing a call to preach to outcasts, she has told interviewers. She became an ordained Evangelical Lutheran Church of America pastor and formed a church in Denver called "The House for All Sinners and Saints." A third of her parishioners are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Christensen sees Bolz-Weber's work as fitting well with the work of Jesus.
"That very person that the general population wants to push out is the person (Jesus) came to speak love and grace to," Christensen said. "I think it's a beautiful message. But she gets people's attention, right? She's tattooed, she's counter cultural to the church, in some ways."
A liberal darling for her inclusiveness, Bolz-Weber has also drawn praise from the right.
In 2013, Christian writer Rod Dreher reviewed her memoir "Pastrix" for The American Conservative, saying while he opposed many of her views he admired her heart and found she had "some things to teach me about being a Christian."
She has also drawn criticism from both sides and created controversy within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America when it engaged her to speak at a national youth event, Christensen said.
Bolz-Weber will appear the next day at Concordia College in Moorhead in the Centrum, which holds 700, and so that might relieve some of the pressure on the Alexandria site, Christensen said.
Leslie Bellwood, an administrative assistant at Concordia, said she also has been receiving calls from a wide geographical area about the event. Bolz-Weber's talk there also is free and open to the public, she said.
"I believe we will have close to a full house but I'm not concerned that we're going over at this point," she said. "If people can't make it in Alexandria, they are more than welcome to come up here."