Watch Michael Chan, '09 and assistant professor of Old Testament, talk about donor impact.
Jessi LeClear Vachta, M.A. Senior
Jessi LeClear Vachta served as a girls’ education and empowerment volunteer in Burkina Faso from 2009-2011. Through her work, she observed how crucial education is and what changes when it can’t be taken for granted. LeClear Vachta recalls, “In most cases and as a general rule, when someone was given the opportunity to attend school and receive an education, they were very much aware of the privilege that was, took school very seriously and went about their schooling with admirable commitment.”
Barriers to education are often financial, yet LeClear Vachta noticed how often this wasn’t the primary issue. Simply being able to afford school didn’t ensure success. Those who were successful in pursuing education and securing employment often attributed their success to the moral and practical support of their families and communities. LeClear Vachta sees some of these same principals at work in her own education. “Shortly after my return to the States, I was blessed with the opportunity to pursue a theological education through the generosity of Luther Seminary donors.” LeClear Vachta knows that the support of donors does much more than make her education more affordable—it is a major reason why we have such a diverse community at Luther Seminary. “I am so grateful for donors’ willingness to make an investment in students with diverse gifts and callings. Not only do I, an ecumenical Master of Arts student committed to interfaith ministry and community development, have the chance to pursue God's calling for me, but also have the privilege of studying alongside an incredible community of peers who have also benefited from donor contributions.”
Peter Weston Miller, M.Div. Senior
Peter Weston Miller has always been highly invested in the church. As he sees it, the church has always been highly invested in him. Prior to attending Luther Seminary, at Augsburg College, he was a key leader in the Lutheran campus ministry which allowed opportunities to serve, preach, lead Bible Study, organize youth events and coach basketball in the Augsburg College Church Youth League. Weston Miller was also connected to a number of local ministries that sought to better serve our neighbors and address a wide range of social justice issues that are affecting the church. His growth in servant leadership has been an integral part of his faithful response for God’s mission in the world. These experiences and voices helped him take the next step to seminary and pursue a vocation in ordained ministry.
As a student at Luther Seminary, Weston Miller is receiving a vast set of theological skills and training that will allow him to better serve Christ’s church in the world. “I have benefited from the creative and challenging coursework, experiences in diverse church settings and fun, risk-taking colleagues who ask thoughtful questions.” As a scholarship recipient, Weston Miller recognizes how valuable this support has been in helping him engage more fully in his development as a Christian leader. "Scholarship support provides the resources I need to focus deeply and dwell in my education as a true servant leader. It has made it possible for me to devote many hours to study and proclaiming God’s story. Support also allows me the time to engage in community building and the global mission of the church."
Weston Miller spent the previous academic year in what he describes as “a fast and fruitful internship” serving Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on the east side of St. Paul. He is looking forward to the ELCA assignment process and finding out what exciting work and blessed community God has in store next for him, his family and the wider church.
Hannah Johnson, M.Div. '10
Hannah Johnson never imagined that her first call into ministry would include making “sheep’s wool” out of cotton candy to illustrate the Good Shepherd, or riding a donkey bike on Palm Sunday. But her enriching years at Luther Seminary gave her the opportunity to dream about the innovative ministry she would bring to the church. Now in her fourth year as a pastor at Christ the King in New Brighton, Minn., Hannah reflects, “Luther is a nurturing environment that helped me grow in my biblical knowledge, my passion for children, youth and family ministry, and in my understanding of what it means to be a Christian public leader in a changing world.”
Her passion has brought new ideas and innovations to the church while continuing to share the Good News. Hannah’s ministry at Christ the King has taken shape through initiatives such as intergenerational worship and service opportunities. “It’s challenging to preach effectively across generations, but it has changed the culture of our church,” says Hannah. “It allows the whole congregation to share biblical stories interactively in fun, engaging ways.”
Hannah recalls with gratitude the donor support which allowed her to dig deep into her studies with confidence during her time at Luther. “I entered my call at Christ the King knowing that because of donor support I was pursuing this vocation with less debt and its associated stress. I continue to hold seminary donors in my ‘prayers of thanksgiving’ as I remember my time at Luther and enjoy my first call at Christ the King.”
Noah Johnson, M.Div. ’08
If you arrive late to worship at Salem Lutheran Church in Mahtowa, Minn., you may find standing room only. This is testament to the creativity of Pastor Noah Johnson, who gives all visitors a willow walking stick … because sometimes we all need something to lean on.
Johnson completed his Master of Divinity degree at Luther Seminary in 2008. He recalls how essential it was to have financial support in completing his degree. “Without the support of donors, I simply wouldn’t have been able to attend Luther.” Moreover, receiving support from others contributed to Noah’s sense of community. “I felt that I wasn’t alone in answering God’s call in my life.”
Noah took his first call out of Luther Seminary to Salem Lutheran Church in Mahtowa, Minn., in 2008. He describes this unincorporated town in the middle of the woods as having only “two churches, a bar, a general store and a nine-hole golf course.” Then he quickly adds, “And a really great folk festival!” In fact, it was at the Mahtowa Folk Fest that Noah noticed how many members of his congregation were talented musicians. This realization prompted these musicians and Noah to work together, creating worship that combines country, gospel and folk music with a rich Lutheran theology. Five years later, things have really taken off in their worship. The music team, known as the Holy Hootenaners, plays old-time hymns with new energy and excitement. According to Noah, “Old and young are jazzed by it! I always say that I don’t lead Salem, the Holy Hootenaners do!” Noah firmly believes that it is the members of Salem that are leading the church forward.
While attendance is growing at Salem, the congregation knows that living out its call means more than having full pews on Sunday. Moving outside their walls and using their gifts for music, they recently held a country music fest that raised $5,000. These funds were combined with those from a recent property sale so the church could purchase an old school building. Renovations are already underway to turn it into a much needed recreational space for the community to gather. It is no surprise that the appreciation for Luther Seminary donors only multiplies as graduates like Noah live into their calls in community.
Carole, '08, and David Joyce
Carole and David Joyce have been blessed by many church leaders in their lives. “But pastors and lay professionals don’t grow on trees,” said the Joyces. “They need education and training to grow into their role. That’s why we support Luther Seminary.”
The Joyces experienced firsthand the impact a seminary education can have in forming a leader’s ministry and service. Carole has been following her call to ministry as a lay professional for 27 years, and in 2005 that call led her to Luther Seminary, where she received a Master of Arts in Children, Youth and Family ministry. She now serves at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Plainview, Minn.
“We have been blessed to have many great ministers and lay professionals in our lives who have taught us, supported us and comforted us through good and bad times,” said the Joyces, who have faithfully invested in Luther Seminary for nearly 20 years. “We want there to be more great ministers out in the world preaching and teaching, for our children and grandchildren and the whole community of faith.”
Dick and Barbara Peterson
Throughout their lives, one thing has been a constant guide for Dick and Barbara Peterson—the Church.
“The Lutheran church has been a part of my life from before I can remember,” says Dick. “The life of faith has been real to me and it’s been an important center of my life.”
Barbara still carries the lessons taught to her by her childhood pastor, and both Petersons can list by name the many spiritual leaders—including Luther Seminary faculty—who have influenced their lives. Now, they want to ensure that future generations continue to have strong church leadership.
“I don’t know of a place better at preparing young people than Luther Seminary,” says Dick. But these seminarians need financial support. “I assumed that the church at large educated our pastors, and it was startling to learn that no, indeed, that did not happen,” says Barbara.
To ensure the future of the church, the Petersons have included the seminary in their estate plans, and they give an annual gift to Luther. “It’s a matter of putting your money where your mouth is,” says Barbara. “If you believe that the church is important and the work of the pastors is important, you have to provide for them.”