The Congregational UCC at Decorah announces Rev. Laura Arnold is its new pastor.

She takes the place held by interim pastor Rev. Marlea Gilbert after Rev. Matt Perkins moved to Oklahoma in the fall of 2011. Rev. Arnold began her ministry in Decorah Jan. 1, after moving here in December from Atlanta, Ga. with her partner, Karen Esterl.

Rev. Arnold is originally from Central Illinois where she pursued her undergraduate studies at Illinois Wesleyan University with a major in religion and a minor in philosophy. She received her Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2010 and was ordained at the Kirkwood UCC at Atlanta in November 2012.

Following seminary, Laura did an internship and two residencies over a three year period as a chaplain in two Atlanta area trauma centers and a cardiac specialty hospital. While her work there was full of learning and transformative experiences, she learned that her heart and passion remained in local church ministry. She became active in the ministry of the UCC Southeast Conference, where she served as the associate minister for theological education.

During seminary, Rev. Arnold found the UCC to be a united and uniting body of autonomous congregations.

Rev. Arnold said she has found Decorah to be exceptionally welcoming and is excited to be a part of the congregation that is rooted in progressive theology, dedicated to social justice work and committed to being a community of faith that welcomes all people.

She looks forward to being both a part of life of the congregation and the wider community. She has become a regular fixture at Java John's Mondays from 9-11 and Thursdays from 7-8:30. She invites any and all to join her there for coffee and conversation.

Pastor Laura's spouse, Karen Esterl, is originally from South Carolina and moved to Atlanta, Ga. after receiving her Master of Theological Studies with a focus in world religions from Harvard Divinity School in New England. She is an IT professional for Emory University and retains that position via telecommuting from their home in Decorah.

"The Search and Call Committee finds that Pastor Laura brings many gifts to the church," said Patrick Smith, committee chair. "She is wise and energetic, a strong preacher and a creative worship leader. She possesses a compassionate spirit and a keen sense of humor."