Staff & Leadership

WCC Staff

  • Peter Hawkinson

    Senior Pastor

    Peter is a lifelong Covenant member with a passion for helping people of all faith backgrounds and walks of life forge a closer relationship with God. He grew up on Chicago’s North Side, attending North Park Covenant church. His dad was a pastor and editor of The Covenant Companion. After earning degrees from Covenant Bible College, the University of North Dakota and North Park Theological Seminary, Peter joined Winnetka Covenant in 1989 as youth pastor, and went on to pastor Covenant churches in Seattle and Minneapolis. Peter rejoined Winnetka Covenant as associate pastor in 2001, and has served as lead pastor since 2005. An avid reader (especially historical fiction), Peter likes music, sports and coffee. He and his wife Bonnie—new empty-nesters—have three daughters who, he says, “fill our lives with laughter.”


    What you wish people driving or biking by our church—who don’t worship anywhere—knew.

    "That, despite what the church has often witnessed to, God is profoundly FOR you, full of love. That God’s people deeply care and want to support and share your journey. And that our Wednesday night dinners are the best deal on the North Shore!"


    Read our full interview with Peter.


       Email Peter

  • Jen Christianson

    Associate Pastor

    Jen_Christianson.pdfJen loves to connect with and nurture people in their walk with God, bringing her vibrant faith and intellectual curiosity to each encounter. She grew up in Attleboro, Mass., attending the local Covenant church. She earned her B.A. degree in history from Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., and her Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. Prior to coming to Winnetka Covenant in 2018, Jen was a three-year Pastoral Resident at Covenant Presbyterian Church In Charlotte, North Carolina. In her new post, she is focusing on pastoral care, adult Sunday school, Wednesday night group discussions and older adults at Covenant Village. “I fell in love with Winnetka Covenant,” Jen says. “You have a deep heart for the gospel, and a deep love for each other.”


    You just joined us at Winnetka Covenant. Why our church?

    "I get to do all the things here that I love! I’m passionate about education and bringing people together to explore and learn. I also have this heart for pastoral care and our senior members. And I get to preach. It felt like a gift from God to have a call that offered all these things. I’m also impressed with Winnetka Covenant’s heart. You don’t shy away from tough conversations—but I see such grace and compassion framing the way you speak to each other. That’s something I want to be part of."


    Read our full interview with Jen.


    Email Jen


  • Joel Brand

    Youth Pastor

    Joel lights up a room with his enthusiasm and sense of fun that’s grounded by his deep love for God and the journey they’ve been on together since his teens. He grew up in Minnesota, the fifth generation of his family to attend First Covenant Church in St. Paul. Joel gave his life to Christ at age 16, and earned his youth ministry degree at North Park in 2013. In 2017, he earned his Master of Divinity degree at North Park, where he also served as chaplain of the men’s basketball team. Joel came to Winnetka Covenant as youth pastor in 2017, and in his spare time, “I love sports, especially basketball—I could debate NBA stats all day.”


    What have WCC kids taught you?

    "How to love well! These kids love each other, and me and our world so much—and that makes my life more full and fruitful. They’ve also taught me that love covers a multitude of shortcomings—and I have them! When you have a real relationship with people and care about them, love washes over your mistakes. That’s something our world needs to see more of."


    Read our full interview with Joel.


      Email Joel

  • Art Nelson

    Pastor Emeritus

    Art’s Covenant ministry spans more than 50 years. He grew up in the greater Chicago area, attending North Park Academy, University and Seminary. He was WCC’s senior pastor from 1967 to 1986, overseeing the fundraising and construction of our current facility and sanctuary. Prior to joining WCC, Art held pastorates in Chicago; Long Island, New York; Waltham, Mass.; and Seattle, Wash. He also served as acting president and dean of North Park Seminary, and taught pastoral studies there. Twice he served as chair of North Park University’s board of trustees, and was also interim president from 1979-80. Currently, he is a board member of Ministry Mentors, which he also chaired, coaching ministers around the country. Art has been married to his wife Laurel for more than 60 years. They have three children and eight grandchildren. Art is the author of Prayers: Public and Personal, which guides pastors as they minister in special situations ranging from pain and grief to celebration.


    You’ve helped lead our church for more than 50 years. A highlight memory?

    "It was Mother’s Day, 1973—the first time our members gathered to worship in our current sanctuary. After years of prayerful, spirit-charged anticipation, I can remember kneeling on the steps below the communion table and cross, tears in my eyes. I was so filled with amazement and gratitude to God. We were transforming our place of witness in the community. That moment was—and remains today—a holy time in my life, matched rarely before or since as pastor."


      Email Art


  • Judi Geake

    Spiritual Direction and Small Group Ministries

    Judi is well-known for her success planning programs that address the special needs of women. She spent 20 years as executive director of the Women’s Exchange, a Winnetka nonprofit organization serving women across the North Shore, retiring in 2011. Judi was born in Canada and grew up Lutheran. Her family moved to Chicago in 1962. She married Howard in 1968, and they have three sons and eight grandchildren. Her family joined Winnetka Covenant in 1983. Judi earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Valparaiso University; got her master’s in counseling from National Louis University; and in 2014, received her Certificate in Spiritual Direction from North Park University. “Maintaining and deepening our relationship with God can be daunting during the best of times,” Judi says. “But making God a priority in our stress-ridden, time-challenged world can sometimes feel impossible. I want to create opportunities for people to deepen their spiritual growth through small groups and discussion. Spirit-filled people can’t help but spill out that fullness to their families, their work places, their communities and, most important, their church.”


    Any new ministries you’re thinking about where you see a real area of need?

    "I’ve been asked to launch a group for women who are living as singles for the first time. I’m also starting a group called 'Come Play With Me,' for women who just want to have fun in the company of other women. I also want to launch a monthly discussion group that delves into short articles or book chapters by people of faith who inspire us to ask questions and explore. I’m busy growing these ideas!"


      Email Judi

  • Melissa Nelson

    Children's Ministry Associate

    Melissa has devoted her life to teaching kids, serving for 30 years with the Wilmette school district, where she primarily taught kindergarten. She grew up in Northern Colorado, attending a Presbyterian Church, and came to Chicago to study at North Park University, majoring in education. She married Pete Nelson in 1984, and they have three kids. Her family joined Winnetka Covenant in 1999 because of its wide-ranging offerings for children. In 2016, after retiring, Melissa was named WCC’s children’s ministry associate. In addition to planning Wednesday night kid’s activities, along with intergenerational programs, she plans Sunday morning worship programs for kids who take part in the first half of worship, then leave before the sermon. “On Wednesday nights, I want people from different generations to truly get to know each other,” she said. “On Sundays, I want our kids to feel loved and safe and nurtured, learning how God can truly be a part of their lives.”


    Your best moment on Sunday mornings with the kids?

    "Listening to them pray. I have this “prayer pail,” and kids can pull out topics to help them get started. Getting to hear them pray is the high point of my day."


    Email Melissa

  • Linnea Johnson

    Christian Formation Director

    Linnea is a seasoned children’s educator who grew up attending Winnetka Covenant as a 5th-generation member of the church. The daughter of John and Joan Wallgren, she went to North Park University and majored in education. After college, she worked as an elementary and preschool teacher, and also directed WCC’s former preschool. Linnea married Cam Johnson in 2003, and they have three daughters. Currently, she oversees all 9:30 a.m. Sunday school programs for newborns thru 5th grade. She also works with fellow staff members and volunteers to coordinate WCC’s Wednesday night suppers, helping Melissa Nelson plan special kids’ activities. In addition, she has a passion for young families, organizing special events and get-togethers. “I want to create a space where kids and families can feel like they’re really together in life--enjoying time with each other and God,” she said. “For me, this church has been the one place I could always count on. I want our kids and families to feel that same way--like this is their second home.”


    You’re the mom of three young girls. What’s your best tip for getting everyone out the door on Sunday mornings?

    "I have to leave early for church to get everything ready for Sunday school. My tip is to not be home. Then Dad has to do it!"


      Email Linnea

  • Dimitri German

    Director of Music

    Dimitri is a nationally-recognized vocalist and musician who has performed at the Lincoln Center in New York, and regularly sings with ensembles such as the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the Grant Park Festival Chorus, and the Chicago Bach Project. He’s also a member of the Grammy Award-winning ensemble, the Crossing, which specializes in performing and recording new choral works. Dimitri grew up in North Carolina and Peoria, Ill., where his dad was a Presbyterian church music director and pastor. His whole family performed, played music and sang. Dimitri earned a five-year bachelor’s degree of music at Moody Bible Institute, and then earned his master’s degree in voice and opera from Northwestern University. He currently teaches voice, piano, guitar, drums and bass. Dimitri came to Winnetka Covenant in 2012 as a choir intern, and in June 2017 was named music director. In addition to directing our choir, he leads a Wednesday night praise band, and has launched a new children’s choir. “I want our music to enhance the solid theology we hear from the pulpit,” Dimitri says. “We also have such a diversity of musical tastes in our church--I want to explore both traditional and modern songs. And I encourage people to share their musical talent. It’s fun to showcase what people can do!”


    Your favorite hymn?

    "It’s “Evantide,” a well-known British hymn from the 1800’s. You’ll find it in our Covenant hymnal (#757) under the title “Abide With Me.” It’s based on Luke 24:29. My top pick."


    Email Dimitri

  • Joshua Smith

    Organist

    Joshua is an accomplished organist who has served our congregation for more than 15 years. He grew up in a musical family and began studying piano at age five. Joshua discovered the organ after visiting a friend who plays professionally in the Washington D.C. area. He quickly launched a search to find a competent instructor, and found Devon Hollingsworth, a world-class organist with Christ Church of Oakbrook. Joshua studied with him for two years, and then played professionally for several churches before coming to Winnetka Covenant in 2003 as a substitute organist. That same year, Joshua stepped into his fulltime role, helping lead our congregation in worship from the organ bench.


    How many songs or hymns do you play in an average service?

    "Anywhere from 9 to 15. That always surprises people!"


    Email Joshua

  • Judy Isaacson

    Administrative Assistant

    Judy has spent almost four decades providing administrative support to the Covenant church, both locally and nationally. Her deep experience and knowledge helps our church office run smoothly. Judy grew up in Michigan attending a Catholic church, and she became a member of Winnetka Covenant in 1982. She spent 17 years working for the Covenant church’s denominational offices, and joined our church office staff in 1999. Judy has two grown daughters. In her spare time, she likes to garden. “This church attracts such a mix of people from all backgrounds and walks of life,” Judy says. “That’s why I love it here—I love the people.”


    You perform hundreds of different tasks to keep our church running smoothly. Your favorite?

    "Each year right before Easter I get to drive our church van to the florist to pick up the flowers for our big service. Oh, the colors and smells of those hydrangeas, begonias and lilies! We’ve just made it through winter, and I’m a gardener. It’s always a highlight."


      Email Judy

  • Joan Wallgren

    Office Secretary

    Joan is a lifelong member of the Covenant church who brings her expertise and background to the church office. She grew up in Rockford, Ill., a fourth-generation Covenanter. She met her husband, John, also a fourth-generation Covenanter, at North Park University. They joined WCC in 1979, and have been singing together in the choir ever since. Joan joined WCC’s office staff in 2000. The mother of four grown children, and grandmother of seven girls and a boy, she also likes needlework and gardening. “Back in the 1880’s, my husband’s great-grandfather gave the keynote address for the first organizational meeting of the Covenant,” Joan says. “For me, the history and legacy of our family’s involvement here means so much.”


    What’s it like having your eight grandkids grow up as sixth-generation Covenanters?

    "I’m so touched when we sing the old Swedish hymns. My grandkids are learning the same music sung in church by their great-great-great grandparents! There’s also this: our family members going back to the early days of the church worshipped and worked with the composers who wrote those hymns. They probably knew them quite well!"


      Email Joan

Leadership

Our talented members are also very active volunteers who help lead our church with a wide array of ministries. They include:


2018 Officers

Chairperson: John Wallgren

Vice-Chairperson: Mollie Sudhoff

Secretary: Nadia Jimenez

Treasurer: Tom Sharp

Financial Secretary: Reed Brunzell


2018 Boards and Committees


Board of Trustees: Oversees the organizational governance of our church. Trustees ensure we operate ethically, show fiscal responsibility, and remain true to our mission and values. Also oversee the church pledges, tithes and offerings, and maintain Winnetka Covenant’s property and facilities.

Julie Bromley, chair

Bob Braun, Reed Brunzell, Cal Isaacson, Denise Johnson, John Messina, Bill Milbratz, Peter C. Nelson, Tom Rivi, Tom Sharp


Board of Deacons: Helps the pastoral staff with the spiritual nurture and care of our members. This includes serving communion; interviewing, recommending and welcoming new members; making sure members are informed about major church events; hosting and providing refreshments for special services like funerals and memorials; visiting shut-ins; and organizing card, flower and church greeter ministries.

Jan Annes, co-chair

Steve Sudhoff, co-chair

Carolyn Carlson, Marjorie Eckhardt, Joan Johnson, Norm Johnson, Phil Kazanjian, Kurt Kovacic, Dick Larsen, JoAnn Larson, Robin Magnusson, Maria Moreno, Thom Morris, Deb O’Donovan, Dwight Samuelson, Steve Rhodes, Jim Ryan, Roger Vanoer, Rebecca Young


Board of Christian Formation: Supports the pastoral staff in planning adult and children’s Sunday school, as well as other educational opportunities that encourage Christian growth.

Jan Braun, chair

Karen Bowen, Eric Fogel, Jon Heintzelman, Jr., Dave Johnson, Sue Kelly, Donna Kuhel, Kari Lindahl, Mike Magnusson, Rachel Rescorl, Laura Werling, Jennifer Zitzner


Missions Committee: Allocates financial support to a dozen local, national and international missions, and also supports 19 missionaries who serve on five continents.

Cindy Buettgen, chair

Jennifer Brunzell, Julie Hextel-Ryan, Cam Johnson, Tom Johnson, Mary Beth Kovacic, Dave Moreno, Rick Schultz, Pauline Wang


Outreach Committee: Creates opportunities to connect Winnetka Covenant with our local community. Encourages members to invite and welcome newcomers, and find ways to share our faith with our surrounding neighbors.

Mary Beth Molenaar, co-chair

Rene Nelson, co-chair

Patsy Carlson, Aaron Kaat, Barbara Kazanjian, Linda Kusel, Mary Rhodes, Jane Rivi, Joshua Smith


Worship Resource Committee: Supports the pastors in keeping Winnetka Covenant’s worship experience fresh and meaningful, drawing on creative outlets like music, art and writing to help connect our hearts with God.

Gary Isaacson, chair

Barbara Balsam, Jae Jang, Anna Lund, Thomas Martin, Marilynn Nelson, Kim Steiner, Kitti Steiner, Melanie Tornquist


Nominating Committee: Prepares a slate of candidates each year who will serve in areas of their giftedness and interests to help lead and support our church boards and committees.

Jed Bassett, chair

Bonnie Hawkinson, Judy Isaacson, Karen Isaacson, Kat Knotts, Meg Madvig, Peter A. Nelson, Colette Quackenbush