Meet the Fortress Press Team: Laura Gifford, Acquisitions Editor

Sep 5, 2022 9:15:00 AM / by Laura Gifford



You’re new to the Fortress editorial team, so my first question is, What attracted you to apply and ultimately join the Fortress Press team?

I am a cradle Lutheran and have known about the organizations that would become Fortress Press ever since I was a little kid paging through the Lutheran Book of Worship at church. I always have loved to read and write. My all-time favorite job up to this point was as editor in chief of the Pacific Lutheran University Mooring Mast. I am also a native Westerner with roots in Oregon. Happily, the world has changed in ways that make it possible to live in the Pacific Northwest and join the editorial team at Fortress Press. I am a scholar and a historian, but I’m also an ELCA deacon and have felt persistently called into the conversation surrounding how we live lives of faith in contemporary America. When I realized I could become part of that conversation with the best religious publisher in the country, I was eager to apply. Just over two months in, I’m confident it’ll outrank the Mooring Mast.

How are you looking to grow the ministry list? What challenges are you seeing pastors and clergy members facing that we can help address?

Prior to joining Fortress Press I served two years with ELCA Churchwide as Candidacy and Leadership Manager for Regions 1 and 2—the American West. (I always maintained I won the time-zone award on my team, as I had to keep track of four of them.) Candidacy is the process ministers-to-be journey through as they prepare to become rostered pastors and deacons. Working with such a large collection of new leaders, I noticed several important trends.

First—and this is a trend replicated throughout progressive denominations—we can no longer expect that calls will be full-time or limited to a specific parish, or even one denomination. We need to help rostered and lay leaders creatively envision how to do ministry in new and different ways. Cooperation, coordination, and creativity are key.

Second, rostered ministers bring a wider range of experiences to their work than ever before. “Pipeliners”—young adults who enter seminary straight out of college—are an exception to the rule. Diverse experience brings both unique opportunities and unique challenges. Congregations and ministers alike are grappling with the implications. Is a first-call pastor with twenty years of experience in education truly “first call”? How do we help equip midlife adults for effective growth and recognize the gifts they bring?

Finally, the world presses ever more heavily upon the hearts and minds of rostered leaders and the people they serve. Systemic inequity and injustice, the pressures of a changing climate, and the fractious political landscape all challenge our capacities to love well and forge connections. We need all the wisdom we can gather.

I totally did not creep on your LinkedIn page while I was brainstorming questions, but what motivated you to shift away from being a historian to attending seminary and now to becoming an editor?

When God consistently nudges you in a particular direction, it’s a good idea to listen. I’m a historian by both nature and training. Context is everything. I deeply believe that we as humans need to know our past in order to understand our present and make informed decisions about our future. My research specialty is post–World War II American politics, animated by a desire to explore and understand the history of partisan polarization.

Consistently, however, I found myself nudged into the realm of ministry. I served as a youth director. I served on the board of directors of Lutheran Community Services Northwest. I wound up on All The Committees. Finally, a minor geographic move prompted a deeper period of soul-searching, and I realized God might be calling me into rostered ministry. I entered ELCA candidacy and was rostered as a Minister of Word and Service—a deacon—in March 2019.

The ELCA deacon roster is a very cool thing because it’s geared toward folks called to ministry at the intersection of the church and the world. Deacons are called to use their unique specializations in ways that stretch and expand the church’s witness. (Of course, all believers are called to do that, but deacons take extra vows and can wear fun cross-body stoles.) My gifts lie in the realm of education, formation, writing, and that all-important historical context. Serving as a deacon called to editorial work with Fortress Press allows me to use all those gifts in ways that are deeply fulfilling—for me, and I hope for Fortress and the wider church too.


What is a piece of media you’ve consumed recently that has resonated with you? It can be a book, TV show, or movie. And why did it resonate with you?

I love learning about how everyday people did everyday things in the past. A British historian named Ruth Goodman has written and produced a variety of books and television programs based on her work in the field of living history—actually doing those everyday things the way a Tudor or a Victorian or whoever she’s studying would have done them. I’m always excited when I find that she’s published a new book, and just recently I finished reading The Domestic Revolution: How the Introduction of Coal into Victorian Homes Changed Everything. Turns out we’re infatuated with soap as the source of all cleanliness because sticky coal smuts made it necessary. So fascinating.

Topics: Interviews, Meet the Fortress Press Team

Laura Gifford

Written by Laura Gifford

Laura Gifford is an ELCA deacon and holds a PhD in American history from the University of California, Los Angeles. She has written extensively for both Lutheran periodicals and academic publications. She’s drawn to historically informed research that helps us understand how we might best live into God’s vision of wholeness. Laura lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, teenage daughter, and a cat who enjoys joining her for video meetings.