Elizabeth Hammond and Randall Strossen

Committed to new ways of 'being church together'
by Jo Ann Dollard

When you hear the story of their lifelong partnership, you quickly conclude that Elizabeth Hammond and Randall Strossen share something special. And you notice that their extraordinary life and accomplishments are matched by their humility and the seriousness with which they live out their faith.

Elizabeth grew up Presbyterian in Sacramento, Calif. (“A fifth-generation Californian!” she exclaimed.) The couple first met in 1981 at Bank of America where Randall (a social-research psychologist) was a marketing vice president. At the time, he was handling the advertising research on the rollout of Versateller ATMs — the first generation of automatic teller machines. Randall, who grew up Lutheran in Minnesota, interviewed and hired Elizabeth to work in market analysis. They fell in love and in 1983 were married.

Going back to his teenage years, Randall loved Olympic-style weightlifting. For 12 years, he wrote a sports psychology column he called IronMind for a major weightlifting magazine. Following his passion, in 1992, Randall started a company in Grass Valley, Calif., called IronMind Enterprises, which offers specialized strength-training equipment and accessories and the foremost line of grip-strength equipment in the world. If that weren’t enough, for the last 24 years, Randall has published the  quarterly strength journal MILO: Strength and is also a photojournalist who covers top strength competitions around the world.

Elizabeth explained that Randall is the president and “creative brains/product developer” of Ironmind, while she serves as its vice president/chief administrative officer. She explained, “We’re a good team because he’s very creative and ‘big picture’ and I’m very ‘nuts and bolts.’”

“When Randall started IronMind, we moved to the Sierra Nevada foothills, to Nevada City, a more rural area where we could raise our wonderful son (now 30) and build our business, while still having access to Sacramento and San Francisco,” Elizabeth recalled.

Today, the couple live in Grass Valley where they attend Peace Lutheran Church, the congregation where their son was baptized nearly three decades ago. “Peace is our church family,” Elizabeth said.

Randall, who’s served on Peace’s congregation council in the past, is also a founding member of the Mission Endowment Fund. Elizabeth, a current member of the council — for the second time — is also spearheading a movement there called VIA Christ to renew Peace’s commitment to mission and outreach and to focus on leveraging what the congregation has to offer to the community, including its music program. Concerned about Peace’s declining membership, she said, “I believe that going to church and being part of a faith community is a good thing and want to share this with others.”

In 2015, the couple was invited to worship at Middle Circle in San Francisco, an innovative new ministry of the ELCA that seeks to provide spiritual care and accompaniment for people who are not involved with traditional congregations. Middle Circle, so named because it is the place between the “inner circle” of family and friends of similar backgrounds and the “outer circle” of more distant acquaintances, seeks to develop a meaningful, welcoming community, or “middle circle,” where people of different backgrounds come together around common values, service opportunities, deep conversations, compassionate relationships and social activities.

Anders Peterson, Middle Circle founder and chaplain, explained, “Our church is called to care for all people, including those that are questioning and discerning how Christianity, faith and spirituality are interwoven into life.” He added, “[Middle Circle] is our faithful response to following Jesus in loving one another in the way that Jesus loved those in his community.”

Shortly after visiting Middle Circle, Randall and Elizabeth made a financial commitment to Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. “We asked that part of those funds be sent to Middle Circle [through ELCA New Congregations],” Elizabeth said, explaining, “My concerns are about the future of the church and its decline in importance and centrality in the lives of people today. I am a firm supporter of mission efforts and new ways of ‘being church together.’”

With all they’ve seen and done in their lives, Elizabeth said the beliefs and values that she and Randall share have taught them about “the importance of endurance and sticking with things, through smooth and rough patches.” She continued, “We are able, through the grace of God, to encourage each other and lift each other up when one of us is flagging. I think this is all about faith — when you are growing a business, which is similar to raising a child, large doses of faith, on a daily basis, work wonders. Bottom line, that’s really everything.”

Living from their faith and doing church differently is what Elizabeth and Randall are all about.

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