Our Pastors

Office hours: it’s always best to arrange an appointment in advance through email or phone.  Mondays is a day of rest for both of us.   The pastors often meet with visitors in the Parlor on the ground floor, across from the office.  

Rev. Bernt Hillesland

I am husband to Katherine and father to five children from elementary to college age. I get to spend time immersed in the Bible and Christian tradition, which I find to be always rich and surprising. As a pastor, what really keeps me going is to see how faith and compassion move in peoples’ lives, often in ways they don’t expect. I’m a curious person with many interests: elaborate cooking projects (pureeing ancho chiles), 19th century American literature (Moby Dick!), exploring outdoor areas with my family (open spaces Santa Cruz Mountains…), and music (listening to Bartok and playing “trad” music on mandolin, such as Celtic and Old Time.  I even coordinate a jam).

I was baptized in Washington State. I grew up in Eastern Washington (Pasco), an arid region known for its farms, wineries, nuclear reservation (Hanford) and the big blue Columbia River.

I began to experience a real call to ministry during my last year at St Olaf College in Minnesota in a class called “Vocational Ethics.” The professor said, “with four years of college, it makes sense to take one class on what to do with the rest of your life!” I shared with that class a letter: people from my home town asking me to consider ministry. The idea seemed strange but interesting. I hadn’t felt drawn to church at all during my college years.

After graduation I set out on an adventure: the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where I would experience a new side of Christianity: living in intentional community, progressive Roman Catholic spirituality and working at a drop-in center for street people where I preached my first sermons. A call to ministry was taking shape. I found I was still drawn to the Lutheran tradition, which I studied at ecumenical Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. After an internship back in Washington (Hoquiam) I finished my seminary studies at PLTS in Berkeley. I fell in love with one of the seminarians …

I have tried to seek out a variety of ministry experiences – such as seafaring and campus ministry. How will the church adapt to a changing world? My first call as a pastor was as an associate pastor at St Marks Lutheran Church by the Narrows in Tacoma, WA. Afterwards, I served at smaller St Luke Lutheran Church in Woodland Hills, CA. I am very excited to begin, now, at First Lutheran in Palo Alto!

Rev. Katherine Marshall

When I was three years old, I announced to my family that I was going to be a Dancing Pastor when I grew up. Years later, this life-long goal has come to mean very much to me in my journey as a Lutheran pastor who not only still loves to dance salsa and ballet, but loves the dance we all share as people of faith between our many rich and differing histories and cultures.

I grew up the daughter, granddaughter, great-granddaughter, and great-great-granddaughter of pastors. My parents, two sisters, and I spent the first ten years of my life in Puerto Rico where I got to speak Spanish and share my parents’ ministry work with Latino Lutherans. From a very young age I experienced and appreciated the church in all its variety as I moved and danced around the country first as a pastor’s kid and then as a pastor (New York, Chicago, Minnesota, San Diego, Berkeley, Oregon, Washington, Los Angeles and now Palo Alto).

I graduated from California Lutheran University (Thousand Oaks, CA) in 1996. At CLU I studied abroad in Central America to use my Spanish and learn about people’s struggles living in poverty and their experience of religion. This was one of the many experiences that inspired me to go to seminary. I wanted to help others develop and nurture their experience and relationship with God individually as well as in community. My own faith questions and struggles, along with the incredible faith stories from the poor in Central America helped me value and appreciate even more the very real and current need for church in our world.

After graduating from CLU, I studied at Union Theological Seminary (New York, NY), Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, CA) and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (Berkeley, CA) where I met my husband Bernt Hillesland. My seminary experience included a year internship at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Portland, a small urban church committed to community based organizing. And my first call was to Christ Lutheran Church in Tacoma, WA, where I was ordained in 2005. I then went on to be pastor at Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church, in Chatsworth, CA for six years. I am now very happy and excited to be at First Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, co-pastoring with Bernt Hillesland.

As a pastor I am now more than ever committed to sharing the good news of God’s love and grace with those around me. I believe deeply that the world, especially in the United States, needs to hear more from Lutheran theology. It needs to know a loving and forgiving God instead of the stereotypical divisive and judgemental one we hear about in the media and current politics. I also want to help the church teach, support, and nurture God’s people so that we all have a strong personal relationship with God that better prepares us to bring the good news to others.

My personal life is a full and busy one. I have been blessed with a wonderful spouse and five amazing children (Joseph, Samuel, Isaac, Madeleine, and Paul). Each and every one of them teaches me something every day and makes my life more meaningful, rich, and fun. We enjoy going to the park, talking about our days, and being silly. My favorite things to do when I have time to myself include running, going for walks, dancing, and taking yoga classes. I also treasure spending time with others, reading and writing.