Jan 18, 2024 Print This Article

Generously Seeing, Sending and Supporting Servants

Ruth and Dr. Dan Mattson photo
Ruth and Dr. Dan Mattson. Photo: Tyler Simmons

The year was 1968 and Dan Mattson was fresh out of Concordia Seminary. He was ready for his first pastoral call to St. Thomas Lutheran Church in Freedom Township, Ann Arbor, Mich. He and his wife, Ruth, were excited to serve God’s people. His new rural congregation of 120 was equally excited, especially the young people of the church.

“On the day that I was installed, the high schoolers of the congregation wanted to do something special for us so they had us over at the home of one of our members on Pleasant Lake,” Mattson recalled.

The day seemed perfect. The Mattsons chatted with a dozen or so high school-age kids and some of their parents. A congregation member said a prayer and everyone gathered for a typical Midwestern picnic, complete with hot dogs, hamburgers, potato chips and soft drinks.

But suddenly, a young man, a recent confirmand, leaped from the dock into the lake, which was about 10 feet deep. He did not know how to swim.

Mattson and several others ran to help. Without hesitation, they jumped into the lake. Under the water, he could see a blurry image of the motionless young man. The young man’s older brother saw him too, and grabbed him and heaved him onto the dock. They stretched the young man out and performed resuscitation. Miraculously, the young man began to breathe again and was even sitting up when the ambulance arrived. The new pastor’s first youth meeting ended with a ride in an ambulance to the hospital in Ann Arbor. “He’s alive! Thank God!” Mattson remembers thinking.

To say the least, Mattson’s first day as a pastor was quite memorable. In the ensuing years as he led St. Thomas as pastor, he continued his education, earning a Master of Arts in 1970 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1983 from the University of Michigan. In 1974 God led the family into missionary work. For 17 years, Mattson prepared local men for ministry in Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa.

In 1992, while he was serving in the administration of LCMS World Mission, St. Thomas Lutheran Church invited Mattson back to preach at its 150th anniversary celebration. After the celebration, a quiet young man with a shy smile introduced his wife, his young children and himself. He was the young man who almost drowned during Mattson’s first day as a pastor. Together, the two men talked about their present blessings and how God saves His people, despite their mistakes, and gives them eternal life.

Fast forward to 2011, after his retirement from LCMS World Mission, Mattson joined the staff at Concordia Seminary, where he became the interim library director, a position he held for 16 months. He then transitioned to a new role: academic assistant in the Ministerial Formation department. In this position, he supports the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology (EIIT) Program, a distance education certificate program that prepares men who want to serve as pastors and women who want to serve as deaconesses in immigrant and ethnic minority communities in the United States. He sees the program as key to spreading the Gospel as the country becomes more diverse. “If we’re interested in really bearing witness to the world, let’s think about how we can do this in new and better ways,” he said. “Through our service to immigrants, we learn about what works and what doesn’t work, and what we can and cannot do.”

Not only does Mattson give of his time serving on the staff at the Seminary, but he and his wife support the Seminary’s mission with multiple financial gifts in support of general operations and certain programs each year. Being on campus and worshiping at a local church in the city gives the Mattsons the privilege and unique opportunity to see specific blessings and guidance of the Holy Spirit that have come from having a generous heart.

“In our congregation, all of our pastors have come from Concordia Seminary, and they are the first in line to acknowledge the formative influence that the Seminary has had on their ability to work with people of the congregation,” Mattson said. “The work of the Seminary is essential and must be done well. Ruth and I are glad to make our small contribution to getting this work done.”

Mattson recently celebrated his 12th anniversary at the Seminary and 55 years of ministry service. He appreciates the opportunity to serve with his time, talents and treasure. He knows God is faithful and continues to bless the investment of those who financially support the Seminary. “Our challenge is to recognize the saving work that God is already doing. Ruth and I are asking ourselves, ‘What can we do to further what He’s already begun?’”

Christie Hampton is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.