Morris George Cornell Vaagenes
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Morris George Cornell Vaagenes (1929- ) has been a leader in the national and international Lutheran and Ecumenical Charismatic movement since 1970, the largest spiritual awakening movement in history, with 650,000,000 Christians involved in its transformational power. He was chairman of the International Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit with annual gatherings. He is an ordained pastor on the roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Dr. Vaagenes is a former missionary to Madagascar and Pastor-Emeritus of North Heights Lutheran Church, a mega-church in Roseville and Arden Hills, northern suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota. He is a published author of two books, and president of Renewal International, a ministry supporting mission projects in Madagascar as well as fostering spiritual renewal Spiritual awakening in the church. As of April 2010, Dr. Vaagenes is serving as Senior Pastor of Lutheran Church of the Master in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
North Heights Lutheran Church, under the leadership of Pastor Vaagenes, expanded to two large campuses to accommodate its growing membership and ministries that include major music and drama productions, North Heights Christian Academy, Lay Ministry Training Center International, and International Institute on Church Renewal. In the book, The Multi-Site Church Revolution by Geoff Suratt, Greg Ligon and Warren Bird (Zondervan, 2006, p. 194), the expansion at North Heights is named as a trailblazer in mega-church ministry. North Heights officially closed its doors after a long running rift in the congregation; the last service was scheduled for Sunday March 13, 2016. Members of the majority of the congregation contributed to a Heritage and Vision fund to rescue the church from the brink. On Sunday, April 10, 2016, a Reopening Celebration Service was held to launch the church's resurrection. Attendance was 1,894, the largest single event ever held at the Arden Hills campus in the history of North Heights Lutheran Church.
Morris Vaagenes is the son of Rev. Morris G.C. Vaagenes and Hanna Bøvre Vaagenes. Both parents were born and lived the first part of their lives in Norway. It was at a missionary conference that a relationship began that led to their marriage in 1926. The couple had four children: Carl (b. 1927), Morris (b. 1929), Adelaide (1933–1936) and Lois (1935–1936). Adelaide and Lois are buried at Betroka Betroka, Madagascar.
In their home in Madagascar, Morris and Hanna raised their sons from the beginning to be skilled in multiple languages. Son Morris reminisces about the experience, "My first language was Malagasy. We spoke English at home and prayed in Norwegian." As is the custom of missionary families with children, Carl was sent to boarding school, and Morris soon followed. It was the year of his sisters' deaths that he was sent 250 miles away to join Carl at school. During this time he contracted malaria and was placed in quarantine.
Both Carl and Morris completed their college (Augsburg College) and seminary (Luther Seminary) education in Minnesota to the doctoral level, and went on to be ordained Lutheran pastors. Morris was awarded a Master of Theology degree in 1970 and a Doctor of Ministry in 1979, and also performed graduate work in anthropology at the University of Minnesota. In 1960, Augsburg College Board of Regents and the Augsburg Alumni Associated awarded Morris Sr. their Distinguished Alumni Award, which was followed in 1997 by Morris Jr. receiving the same.
In 1939 the Vaagenes family made its way to the United States for a one-year furlough traveling by way of Europe and Norway. While visiting the New York World's Fair, news came that WWII had begun. The Vaagenes' family furlough changed from one year to six and one-half years with Minnesota as their home base. Morris Sr. and Hanna returned to Madagascar in 1946, living through the Malagasy Revolt of 1947. Hanna's memories of the experience were recorded and are part of the ELCA Region 3 Archives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Carl and Morris remained in the United States to complete their education.
It was at Augsburg College that he met Bonnie Bieri, a North Dakotan of Norwegian and Swiss descent. Morris and Bonnie were united in marriage in 1953 prior to his graduation from seminary so that his parents could be in attendance while on furlough from Madagascar, as they were in the mission field at the time of his graduations from high school, college and seminary.
Bonnie Kay Bieri was born in Minot Minot, North Dakota, North Dakota, in 1934 to Fred and Agnes Bieri. They were a farm family in Blaisdell, forty miles west of Minot. She graduated from Dakota Lutheran High School in Minot, and then attended Augsburg College. She completed two years of college before leaving for the mission field with Morris. She returned to Augsburg College, graduating in 1967 with a degree in elementary education, following which she taught sixth grade at Brimhall Elementary School in Minnesota's Roseville School District.
Morris, son of Morris G.C. and Hanna, felt drawn to the mission field at an early age. Both Carl and Morris had the desire to serve others, as did their father and mother. Morris and Bonnie's missionary service abroad came to an end soon after the birth of Paul, their second child, who was diagnosed as having congenital scoliosis. They returned to the United States so that Paul could received needed medical care. Upon returning to Minnesota, Morris served four years as pastor of the Christiania and Trondhjern Lutheran Free Churches near the towns Farmington and Lonsdale.
In 1961, following a pastoral call to North Heights Lutheran Church in Roseville, Minnesota, Morris was introduced to the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. Searching for answers, he went to his Bible and examined Scripture, searching for validation of these experiences in current times, after which he experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit that changed his life and the future of those he served.
Clark Morphew, in an article written for the St. Paul Pioneer Press  (9/20/1997) offers this statement by Rev. Vaagenes with accompanying comments.
``I sliced up my life and laid it bare, Vaagenes said. ``I could feel the vibrations go through me. I'd had that feeling before, but I always felt it would be presumptuous to say this happened or that I had a unique experience. What Vaagenes didn't know was that his Cathedral experience would help energize one of the most powerful mystical movements in the 20th century Christian church. Aside from his personal transformation during that moment in the 1960s, Vaagenes would spend the next two decades pushing at the seams of global Lutheranism hoping to open Christianity to the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.
During his nearly forty years tenure, North Heights Lutheran Church grew from 500 to 10,000 members and from one building to two large campuses. Significant ministries were birthed, including Lay Ministry Training Center International that has included 500 trainees from 29 countries, and a television program that aired on twelve stations in ten states, Canada and by satellite over Western Europe. While under Dr. Vaagenes' leadership, North Heights Lutheran Church developed music and drama productions including a well-attended 'Passion Play'Passion play that have been to this date viewed in person by 750,000, and hundreds of millions in India on national television.
Dr. Vaagenes has been and is active in the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal movement. For 25 years, Morris served as Chairman of the International Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit held at the Minneapolis Auditorium in Minneapolis, MN, where each year attendance ranges from 10,000 to 20,000 persons. He is currently president of Renewal International, a ministry focused on spiritual renewal of the church and on mission work in developing nations with a special emphasis on Madagascar. Dr. Vaagenes continues to speak nationally and internationally, and has been instrumental in fostering spiritual renewal in more than thirty nations.
Pastor Vaagenes is the author of two books, Church on Fire!, the concurrent story of his spiritual renewal and that of North Heights Lutheran Church, and Baptism: God's Activity of Grace, a biblical examination of the meaning, mode and moment of baptism.
- Vaagenes, Morris. Church on Fire!. Shoreview, MN; Renewal International, 2008.
- Pioneer Press Article Former mega-church North Heights Lutheran shutting down, Accessed 3/9/16 "http://www.twincities.com/2016/03/07/former-mega-church-north-heights-lutheran-shutting-down/"
- Shoreview Press Article North Heights church celebrates its renewal, Accessed 4/11/16 "http://www.presspubs.com/shoreview/news/article_474efb5c-ff5d-11e5-b0ec-67f310f5fe00.html"
- Interview with Dr. Morris Vaagenes conducted by Mary Katherine May, May 2009.