Pastor Sandra was born in Long Beach, California, the daughter of William and Olivia Dager. Her close-knit family includes a sister, Dianne McFadden and a brother, Dr. William Dager. She was baptized, confirmed and ordained in her home congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church, Long Beach. She earned an Associate of Arts degree at Long Beach City College and a Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from St. Olaf College, where she sang in the St. Olaf Choir.
Her interest in service to the church began in her undergraduate days, where she was actively involved in Lutheran Campus Ministry in Long Beach. After graduating from St. Olaf, she worked for Lutheran Campus Ministry as a Campus Ministry Associate under Pastor David Ellingson, who encouraged her to consider ministry in the Lutheran Church. After discerning that she was indeed being called to ministry, Sandra began her theological education at PLTS and graduated from Yale Divinity School with a Master of Divinity degree.
Pastor Sandra’s journey to ordination took quite some time. Her lay ministry included a two-year stint as the Director of Creative Worship at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Garden Grove, California, five years as a Campus Ministry Associate at California Lutheran University, one year as an Interim Campus Ministry Associate at the University of Southern California, and two and a half years as an Interim Pastor serving with a bishop’s dispensation at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California.
While serving at California Lutheran University, Pastor Sandra married and had a daughter, Christina Christiansen. (Now grown up, Christina married her high school sweetheart Andrew Hedge. Shortly before the 2020 pandemic, the First Lutheran congregation had the pleasure of hearing Christina sing during the service.)
Upon receiving a call to serve as the Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, Sandra was ordained in September 1998 at her home congregation. The service reflected her love for creative, memorable Lutheran worship services that draw heavily on many people’s gifts. The New City Parish raised the roof and electrified the congregation with a stirring rendition of the spiritual, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize.” Dr. Wyant Morton, director of the CLU Choir, directed a large choir comprised of singers from all of Pastor Sandra’s ministries in Southern California. She sang the acceptance of her call: an aria from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion: Ich will dir mein Herze schenken (“Lord, to Thee My Heart I Proffer”). Pastor Sandra served as the Associate Pastor at Emmanuel until her call to First Lutheran in 2004.
Pastor Dager’s primary interest was in worship and liturgy. The First Lutheran congregation benefited from her thoughtful sermons and trained operatic voice. Additional contributions included creating a Mutual Ministry Committee; developing a mentor program for confirmands; inviting the five ordained ministers who were members of the congregation to preach; and collaborating with Pastor Matt Smuts on a joint Grace Lutheran/First Lutheran Reformation Vesper service, which was held at First Lutheran.
She often came up with creative ideas. One especially interesting project was to bring together an exploration of music and theology. Paintings by member Marguerite Fletcher evoking the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary hung in the sanctuary. Director of Music Gwen Adams suggested a program of early Renaissance a cappella antiphons that referred to Mary, which were performed by the choir under the direction of Choir Director, Jacques Desjardins. In addition, a guest violinist and guest cellist played sonatas on the Rosary, accompanied by Gwen Adams. An informative talk preceded the concert and a wonderful reception followed.
Pastor Sandra’s skill in counseling, especially with the sick, was outstanding, and several members were helped immensely by her presence during illness, uncertainty, and grief.
After leaving First Lutheran, Pastor Dager served the church in a variety of capacities: Senior Pastor at Grace Lutheran, Richmond; Interim Pastor at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity in Vallejo, and Interim Pastor at Epiphany Lutheran Church in San Leandro. She also held the position of Adjunct Professor of Liturgical Leadership at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, where she taught The Excellent Liturgist and The Art of Chant to students from a variety of denominations at the Graduate Theological Union. At the request of Pastor John Sullivan, Dr. Dager agreed to serve in a non-ordained role as Minister of Music and Liturgical Educator at Hope Lutheran Church in Santa Clara for two years.
A desire to enhance pastors’ liturgical presence and performance prompted Pastor to pursue a Doctor of Ministry degree in liturgical theology at the Graduate Theological Union. Her thesis, The Embodied Liturgist: Contributions of the Alexander Technique and the Primal Patterns Theory to the Development of a Holistic, Embodied Pedagogy for Liturgical Presiding, was completed in 2013. Certified in 2016 as an Alexander Technique teacher (a holistic psychophysical method of postural education) and also certified as a leadership coach and consultant in kinesthetic energy patterns through Focus Leadership LLC, Pastor Sandra uses her background in the church and a holistic approach to help worship leaders and faith communities realize their mission, identify what is preventing them from thriving, and inspire them to become the best versions of themselves.
Many thanks to Pastor Dager for co-authoring this profile. —— Jill Knuth