As Lutherans throughout the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, Seminary students are preparing to carry forth the Reformation’s Gospel message, each with their own hopes and dreams of preaching and teaching.
Here’s what four current students say about how they hope to touch lives and share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the years to come:
Transient past shapes church work future
By age 12, Adam Rodriguez had lived in half a dozen cities and knew how to “talk to new people and make new friends” easily. Now this once-transient kid looks forward to serving in pastoral ministry or perhaps even church planting.
“As I go forward, I hope I can teach and preach the message of the Reformation — Jesus — to people wherever they are, in the best way that they can understand,” said the second-year seminarian, who was born in Panama City, Fla., but lists a string of cities when asked where he’s from.
“People say, whoa, that must have been hard, but actually it gave me the experience and abilities I don’t think I’d otherwise have,” said Rodriguez, whose father’s vocation led to multiple family moves.
Despite his changing address, Rodriguez grew up with a solid faith foundation — Lutheran congregations. Now he wants to “meet people where they are and bring them the life-giving words of Jesus,” he said.
He appreciates the “simple message” of the Synod’s tagline for the Reformation anniversary celebration — It’s Still All About Jesus — and finds strength knowing that “so many people have gone before me doing what is not an impossible task. We’re all standing at the foot of the cross and carrying that same message.”
One such person is his father, Rev. Jimmy Rodriguez, associate pastor at Immanuel Lutheran in Seymour, Ind. The elder Rodriguez’s path toward pastoral ministry was the reason one city where Adam lived as a child was St. Louis, when his father was a Concordia Seminary student.
Today, Adam Rodriguez prays that he uses “the gifts and abilities God has given me to reach people, wherever He places me.”
From military service to serving ‘wherever God plants us’
Iraqi Christians inspired a “spiritual awakening” in Dawn Werner while she was stationed in Baghdad with the military — and the desire to strengthen her own theological foundation so she can help strengthen others.
“They were so joyous in their faith despite the uncertainty and violence in their lives,” Werner said of Iraqis she was privileged to fellowship with during her final deployment with the U.S. Air Force.
Now this retired lieutenant colonel is a second-year Seminary student, pursuing a Master in Spiritual Care as part of the Deaconess Studies program.
Luther worked to steer the church to God’s Word, and she’s working to grow in her understanding of that Gospel.
“I love to teach, and by having a stronger theological grounding, it will make a huge difference in how I can approach teaching,” Werner said. She is helping teach an adult Sunday school class at Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Collinsville, Ill., near Scott Air Force Base where her husband is stationed.
Noting that Bible studies and other classes she has taught over the years included many non-Lutherans, Werner appreciates how the Seminary is equipping her to “enter into intelligent and faithful conversations.”
“I want to be strong in my faith and not condemning,” she said. “I want to help people see the truth and help them grow in that truth.”
While her husband remains on active duty, Werner and her family likely will move again with the military. Even so, she looks forward to “blooming wherever God plants us.”
“There’s always a church looking for a Bible study leader, always the need for someone to visit shut-ins,” she said. “However I can contribute is what I want to do, helping to make sure faith is strengthened and the truth revealed.”
Using experiences to connect with the frustrated, alienated
Adam Woldt grew up in a variety of faith denominations. For years he considered “the organized church broken and not a system I wanted to be involved with,” he said.
Today as this fourth-year seminarian prepares for his first call in the spring, he looks forward to connecting with people who may be struggling with similar frustrations and disappointments.
“I definitely think that my experiences and perceptions can help me help people who see the church as broken or who have turned away from Christ,” Woldt said.
He notes that the need for the Gospel that helped fuel the Reformation remains strong.
“Five hundred years later, people who feel alienated and separated from the church still need to hear the promise of Christ,” he said. “Even when the organized church has problems, the Gospel is still about Christ and His love for us.”
Woldt knows the difference an encouraging congregation and pastors can make. He was in high school when he began attending King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha, Neb. As a college student, he joined the church staff.
“I didn’t grow up Lutheran, and I really appreciate these people who walked alongside me and encouraged me,” Woldt said of congregants and pastors who recognized “gifts for pastoral ministry in me” and pointed him toward the Seminary.
The support he received as a high school student has deepened his desire to connect with those who “don’t understand Lutheran theology and let them know that’s OK.”
“I want to help them understand and then keep walking with them in their journey,” said Woldt, whose own journey includes pursuing a Master of Divinity. “I want them to know that the church isn’t about pushing them away but pulling them back into a life worth living.”
Good works lead to good conversations
Martin Luther never shared popsicles and Gatorade with airmen, but Travis Ferguson might assume that the reformer would approve of such opportunities to “connect with people and start conversations that lead to deeper conversations.”
An Air Force reservist and member of the Air Force Chaplains Corps, Ferguson served on active duty last summer at five bases where he discovered a thirst for more than cold treats.
Serving in chaplaincy includes what he calls “awesome challenges.” Chaplains aren’t allowed to proselytize, he explained, but “faith can come up organically, through conversations.”
“Good works can lead to good conversations,” said Ferguson, who is in his
final year toward a Master of Divinity. “Good works is a huge part of chaplaincy, opening up so many conversations that otherwise wouldn’t happen.”
He reflects on Luther’s writings on vocation and how “all are called to show that love, whether a pastor or a plumber.”
“Martin Luther was looking for a savior, found Him and wanted to tell others,” he said. Sharing Christ doesn’t require “grandiose theological lectures,” but “loving our neighbors.”
Growing up “with a lot of trials and errors,” the Kansas City, Mo., native said “the one thing that kept me going was knowing that Jesus loves me, no matter what. I think that’s a message our reformed-yet-catholic theology teaches so well,” he said.
Today, Ferguson said he’s thankful for “some great pastors from home and great pastors here at the Seminary who have instilled that message in me.”
Although unsure where God will lead him this spring, he looks forward to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. And, perhaps, sharing more popsicles.