by Shelley Cunningham
When Paul Harrington, '71, took a call to newly started mission congregation Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in 1980, he didn't set the goal that the church would support one new seminarian each year. But he could have. In the last quarter century, the Apple Valley, Minn., congregation has supported almost 25 students as they answered the call to ministry. What's their secret? Intentionality and leadership, he says.
They're direct about talking to young people about full-time ministry. The congregation regularly brings kids to Previews (an annual, high-energy event that introduces high school students to seminary life) and they make it a priority to keep in touch with students away at college. And long before they reach that point, he says, 'We ask each kid in our confirmation program point blank, 'Have you thought about full-time vocational ministry?' It's all about planting seeds."
He also gives the staff he works with much of the credit: "We have fun and work well together, and make sure the congregation sees that. We hope we model ministry in a way that looks attractive--so they see not only the important work for the congregations that are being served, but also the personal fulfillment that comes from walking with people throughout their lives."
It also helps that the congregation puts its money where its mouth is: Largely under Harrington's urging, the council has made a strong financial commitment to their seminary students: at least $2,000 per year of study.With 11 current seminarians (including seven at Luther Seminary), that's a sizeable obligation. Still, Harrington says, it's an invaluable investment.
"I follow the adage that if you want a strong army, you'd better have a strong West Point--if we want a strong church, we need a strong seminary. And it's up to the churches to make sure the students who go there are able to afford to enter the ministry," Harrington said. "Leadership is key in the parish. We want to support those who are interested in leading the church in this new century."
Supporting Luther Seminary students is but one part of SOTV's generous benevolence giving. Last year, the church gave more than $300,000 to 29 different charitable organizations, including Luther Seminary. "It's something we feel strongly about," Harrington said. "Whether that's more of a benefit to the seminary, or the seminary's more of a benefit to us, I don't know. But we are happy to be making such important commitments."
Four of the seven current Luther students with SOTV connections: MDiv student Jason Okrzynski, MSM student Mark Ertl and MDiv students Becca Groves and Peter Harrits. Not pictured: Dan Bradberg, Amy Orstad and Christopher Smith.
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