Story Magazine

Second Quarter, 2007

Seminary Honors Leadership Circle of Congregations

by Laura Kaslow, Communication Specialist

Many congregations across the United States give generously to help Luther Seminary educate leaders for Christian communities. Over the past fiscal year, 17 congregations gave leadership gifts of $10,000 or more to Luther Seminary. They are being honored as charter members of the seminary's Leadership Circle of Congregations.

"The congregations of our church are, in the end, the ones who depend on Luther Seminary to do good work," said Kathy Hansen,Vice President of Seminary Relations. "They receive our graduates.We are honored when congregations also choose to invest in Luther Seminary's work at the Leadership Circle level.We are grateful to the Leadership Circle of Congregations. May their tribe increase!"

Some Leadership Circle congregations give to the Sustaining Fund, which supports the overall mission and program of the seminary.Others give to specific programs. Many give to provide scholarships to students, including men and women of their own congregations who are attending seminary. These congregations see that providing support to reduce student debt load is critical. Students are now entering seminary earlier in their lives and are ften still paying off debt from their undergraduate education. Students often face loans that are difficult to repay with first-call salaries. While new pastors may want to model tithing to their parishioners, they aren't able to do so while facing very significant loan payments.

"Congregational support is a blessing not only for the student but for the whole church," said Jenny Peterson, Special Gifts Consultant at Luther Seminary. "Gifts help us to provide an outstanding faculty and contextual educational program. Gifts also help us provide adequate scholarships for our students, which help these committed people answer God's call."

Members of the Leadership Circle of Congregations come from a wide range of settings. They are located along the Pacific Coast, in Texas and throughout the Midwest. They are rural, urban and suburban. They range from small congregations (400 to 500 members) to very large parishes (up to 10,000 members) and all sizes in between. While the demographics are varied, they all have one thing in common--a dedication to preparing future leaders for the church.

Zion Lutheran Church in Kent,Wash., Bethlehem Lutheran in Minneapolis and Sheridan Lutheran in Lincoln, Neb., are three members of the Leadership Circle of Congregations. All provide significant tuition support as a part of their giving.

Zion Lutheran provides tuition support by participating in Luther Seminary's Adopt a Seminarian program. Adopt a Seminarian donors provide full or half tuition for a student, and Luther Seminary matches them with the individual student who receives their generous scholarship. Heather Spears (M.Div. '07), a recipient of an Adopt a Seminarian gift from Zion Lutheran, noted that the prayers and support she received from the parishioners were of equal importance
to the financial support she received.

The Bethlehem Lutheran Church Foundation has also committed to providing tuition support to seminarians from their congregation. The congregation additionally supports their seminarians through regular conversations, prayers, and opportunities to use their gifts in teaching, liturgical leadership and occasionally, preaching. The Rev. Christopher Nelson, Bethlehem's Senior Pastor, said that supporting seminarians gives the congregation "a sense of being part of the wider church" and that they are "contributing to the future of the church."

Sheridan Lutheran has been richly blessed by many monetary gifts over the past few years. They are now sharing these blessings by offering a matching fund to support Nebraska students in their seminary education. Sheridan hopes to partner with other Nebraska congregations in order to help ease the financial burden of seminary education, as well as help others find the joy in lifting up future leaders in the church.