With her multiple tattoos and piercings, Pastor Twito serves her flock with a distinctive style.
The tale of Alexis Ann Twito begins on Christmas day in the year 1981. Born at Sinai Samaritan Hospital in Milwaukee, a world of choices awaited her….
Well, for starters, when she was a 5th grader attending Henry David Thoreau Elementary School, she made a choice to haul around a huge red backpack she describes as “definitely not cool.” Her younger brother John, on walks home from school, would ask her if she was carrying bricks in the thing, but it was filled with books, not bricks.
Being a bookworm paid off when she inched her way to the head of the wait-list at Samuel Morse Middle School for the Gifted and Talented. A “joiner,” she chose to be active in softball and student government at Rufus King High School, and perhaps most importantly in debate (she co-captained the debate team), a discipline that piqued her interest in things political: crime reduction, improved foreign policy with Russia, improved education in the United States, and finally, renewable energy policies.
On the route to becoming a teacher, as class president at Rufus King (she graduated valedictorian in 2000), she dove into several Milwaukee School Board meetings, and participated in a protest advocating for more public school funding and better pay for teachers. In high school she attended Teacher World Camp at UW-LaCrosse.
The girl with the big red backpack was busy making choices.
As a young politically active, outspoken (and churchy kid), she was somewhat of a black sheep in her family. They didn’t quite get the simultaneous political and religious thing. It was through her paternal grandma Ruth (the two remain close), that Alexis learned “how to live unashamed of your faith,” as she puts it. From 8th grade (when she was confirmed) through high school, she was a leader, both in youth groups and in her congregation.
At age 13, while visiting grandma Ruth in Minnesota, Alexis had her first tattoo. By age 16, her ears were double-pierced She’d continue to explore this trend of expressing herself throughout adulthood.
“Many church members always said I was going to end up a pastor. But I didn’t listen,” she says. Some teachers tried to block her route to teaching. They told her it was a “thankless job.” Her mother nearly cried and claimed that as a teacher, Alexis would never earn fair wages; her talent would be wasted and her life spent working too hard.
It was at Augsburg College in Minneapolis that she found a place in the world of theology. Stimulated and challenged by the implications of faith and ethics, she says, “I knew God was calling me (no, it was not a Burning Bush moment) away from what I felt was a comfortable/secure future as a teacher,” she recalls. When she told her mom that she was going into the ministry, her mother was only slightly more pleased than about the earlier idea of becoming a teacher.
Augsburg suited Alexis. She involved herself in Campus Ministry, Outreach Ministry, and became a member of the Diversity Committee and Admissions Ambassador. She worked as an editor for the school newspaper and labored in the writing lab, and whenever possible, she joined in on community service.
And she had her nose pierced.
Her sense of fairness was keen. Augsburg had a “Queer and Straight in Unity” group. She joined. Mission trips took her abroad; and she tried her hand at justice and advocacy work “As a sophomore, after 9-11, I organized a letter-writing campaign on campus, to elected officials, encouraging prudence and peaceful retaliation instead of war.” Alexis Ann Twito graduated magna cum laude in 2004, with a major in English and Religion, and a minor in Spanish.
Then came her year as a missionary volunteer in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she worked with homeless and vulnerable adults in adult community education classes, teaching basic literacy, math, computing, art, drama, and life skills. Her eyes were opened to inequalities. “I learned so much that year,” she says. She felt her whole life was coming together in that one experience in that one year, so much so that she had a large green Celtic cross tattooed on her right foot to symbolize God leading her path.
In 2006 she entered The Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, still unsure of what kind of ministry lay ahead. What she did know was that it would be focused on peacemaking, advocating for the vulnerable, working for justice, and for loving others, as her next tattoo would read. Graduating in 2010, her Masters in Divinity (with a concentration in urban ministry) was followed by her June 26, 2010, ordination at her home congregation, Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, near 5lst and Bradley Rd. in Brown Deer.
And so it was that the girl with the big red backpack made choices that led her to becoming a full-fledged Pastor. Her first call was as Assistant Pastor (of Social Concerns and Children’s Ministry) at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she served for two years before receiving her call to Capitol Drive Lutheran Church on 53nd and Capitol. She claimed her place behind the pulpit on September 1, 2012.
During the part of our interview that took place in her ice-blue Kia as we sped to and from Mukwonago (where she was visiting a fellow pastor), we stopped at a Dairy Queen for lunch. Alexis pushed aside the sleeve of her floral blouse and revealed her right upper arm, tattooed with a large multi-colored, gnarled tree with deep, long roots. Scripted with “Rooted In God’s Love,” it was inked to celebrate the transition between her first pastoral call and the beginning of her current ministry. It symbolizes staying rooted in her faith, even in times of change, fear, or uncertainty.
But how did she conceal her multiple inkings and piercings during a job interview for the Capitol Drive Lutheran Church position? She didn’t. Her attitude about life choices is strictly up front and out front. She feels it’s important to be herself as a minister.
“I am lucky to have been called to a church here in Milwaukee that sincerely hopes to reach out to their neighbors and sound the love of Christ in whatever they do,” she says. “When I interviewed with them and learned that they had just joined Common Ground, and had over 15 people attend Unlearning Racism training in the previous years, and further, were partnering with other congregations in the area, I knew that they were building a healthy, loving Christian community committed to justice.”
Her advice to young people dealing with bad decisions is straightforward. Her life experiences have taught her that how you deal with bad choices is perhaps more important than the pressure of having to make exactly the right choice in the first place.
It was early afternoon when we finished the interview, but Pastor Twito still had a full day ahead: meetings, meetings and more meetings, and when she’s not hard a work, you might just catch her choosing to wrap up her day with book #5 in the Game of Thrones series. That, or watching her nephew’s Little League games.
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