Story Magazine

Third Quarter, 2007

One Degree, Many Students

Maryanne Kehlenbach Shares Her Knowledge

After 23 years in banking, Maryanne Kehlenbach answered God's call to full-time youth ministry. She already had volunteer experience in her parish, St. Mark Lutheran Church in Dunedin, Fla. But she wanted more formal education in the theology of youth ministry.

"I knew that Luther Seminary would help me become better equipped to faithfully answer the call," says Kehlenbach, who is earning a Master of Arts degree with a concentration in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry through the distributed learning program.

Through the distributed learning program, Maryanne takes online classes and comes to campus several times a year for intensive courses. She applies her new knowledge every day in her work with youth and adult volunteers on her ministry team.

After studying Professor Roland Martinson's research on exemplary youth ministry, Maryanne took his findings back to the congregation.

"We assessed St. Mark against the criteria," she says. "As a result, we're now rewriting our vision statement for this year."

Maryanne credits a course on the theology of the cross with changing the way she relates to youth.

"It was a freeing experience. I realized that it's OK not to have all the answers for the kids. We know Christ's presence through struggles and asking questions together. It is a privilege to be used by God in this way."

Christine Barberis, 15, has seen a definite difference in the church's youth ministry since Maryanne started working on her master's degree. "Maryanne is more able to bring the youth together," Christine says.

The high school students recently led congregational worship. The teens planned the service, baked the communion bread, did the readings and preached. The result, says Christine, was "beautiful and very moving."

Maryanne is also encouraging the high school students to become involved with the younger children. During a Wednesday night session, the older kids helped the younger students make prayer books, establishing new faith-based relationships.

Christine says that such activities have helped her "become more involved in church and learning about God."

Pastor Alan Wolkenhauer ('86) has seen growth in Maryanne since she began her studies.

"Maryanne has always been extremely gifted for ministry," he says. "But now she's more confident and grounded in Lutheran theology. And she's more able to focus her ministry in ways that help the whole congregation grow in faith."

Pastor Wolkenhauer has also benefited from Maryanne's studies at Luther.

"I enjoy mentoring Maryanne, and our discussions of her coursework are a form of continuing education for me. I'm learning from what she's learning," he says.