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Story Magazine

First Quarter 2008

Luther Seminary Students Called to Ministry and Military

by Andy Behrendt, M.Div. middler

"God was hitting me upside the head because I'm pretty dense, and I never successfully ducked them anyway," says Andersen, 42, "and I [realized] that I was called into the ministry."

But that was only part of the call--and he wasn't the only one who knew it.  "I talked to my wife when this came up and told her, 'You realize, of course, if I go into the ministry, I'm going into chaplaincy.' She said, 'I figured that out long before you bothered to figure it out.'"

Now a Master of Divinity intern, Andersen is one of six current Luther Seminary students for whom the call is not only to the ministry but also to the military. Each of these prospective chaplains, while going through the same four-year Master of Divinity program as other students pursuing ordained ministry, is also a member of the Reserve component of a military branch.

"The program is designed to give seminarians an opportunity to take a look at the chaplaincy and have some discernment opportunities as far as whether this is a vocation that they are being led into or not," says Darrell Morton, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop for Federal Chaplain Ministries, who was on campus recently to meet with students in the program. "It gives them an opportunity to see firsthand, up close and personal, what the nature of the chaplaincy actually is."

Called Through the Military For Master of Divinity middler Kristin Swenson, 24, the call to ordained ministry came through a more immediate calling to the Air Force, which has been part of her family throughout her life. Her father was in the Air Force for 21 years, and her older brother, who graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy two years ahead of her, is a C-130 pilot. She went to the academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo., with interests in the space program and a plan to study physics or aeronautics. But, she says, God had other plans.

The call to ministry--and specifically to chaplaincy--first came toward the end of Swenson's sophomore year at the Air Force Academy, with an important decision on whether to commit to service in the Air Force looming. Choosing to stay at the academy while changing her major to math, she had her call affirmed when the Air Force chief of chaplains and a group of active-duty female chaplains met with her and other interested cadets early in her junior year.

She graduated in 2005 and went into the analyst career field while expecting that, with service commitments, it would be several years before she would make it to seminary. But about a month after arriving at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., she learned that the Air Force was downsizing, which opened up the opportunity to enter the Air Force Reserve and start at Luther Seminary in fall 2006. She now anticipates a career as an active duty Air Force chaplain.

"The things that I love about chaplaincy are the religious pluralism--I really enjoy that--and working with different people and getting to be with the military culture, which really has felt like my home all my life," says Swenson, an Air Force second lieutenant who this summer attended her first round of chaplaincy training and later a short internship at Minot Air Force base in North Dakota. "The Air Force has just kind of been where I feel like I fit."

The road to ministry for Master of Divinity junior Dave Kottke began after he joined the Army ROTC while at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.

"If I didn't go to ROTC, I don't know what I would have done--probably not much with my life. I just wanted some direction," says Kottke, 23, of Mora, Minn. "It was through ROTC that God called me to the chaplaincy. I really felt that that's where my skills could best be utilized. I just felt that's really what I would be good at."

Kottke, an Army staff specialist, came to Luther Seminary on the advice of a Concordia campus pastor after completing a year in infantry, including infantry officer training at Fort Benning in Georgia. He plans a career as a chaplain with the Army National Guard.

Continuing a Tradition
Luther Seminary has a long history of preparing students for ministry in the military. Francis Jeffery had planned to be a pastor since his days as a confirmation student in the 1930s. After serving with the Army in World War II and being wounded near the French-German border in 1944, the Minneapolis native was finally able to afford seminary and came to Luther. At that time, the church paid students' tuition and the G.I. Bill took care of Jeffery's living expenses and books in his first year.

"I was led by the Holy Spirit to be a chaplain. This was where I fit," says Jeffery, who upon his ordination in 1952 transferred to the Air Force to fill a chaplain slot and entered active duty. Before retiring in 1975 at the grade of lieutenant colonel, he confirmed more than 600 adults and children--at least six of whom are now pastors--and performed more than 600 funerals for Air Force members and their dependents. "I have always held that it was a great honor and trust that I be permitted to serve my church as a chaplain," he says, while noting that such chaplains are still needed.

In partnership with Luther Seminary, Jeffery, 84, recently placed advertisements for second-career ministers in veterans newspapers serving California and his home area near Tacoma, Wash. "The intent was to reach out to those whom God was speaking to as he did to me years ago to become a chaplain. Plus he was speaking to those who were completing their service time and could now answer the call to be a pastor."

Committed to Chaplaincy
As Jeffery did, Kottke, Swenson and Andersen will each bring previous military experience into the chaplaincy. Whereas the current program generally offers a look at military chaplaincy without requiring a firm commitment to it, the three candidates have already made that decision and are receiving tuition assistance from the military. Once ordained, prospective military chaplains must serve at least three years in a parish before they are allowed to go on extended active duty. But they can join a Reserve unit in the vicinity of that parish and then become committed to
the unit if it is activated.

Andersen plans to graduate from Luther in 2009. Then, he says, "I'll go through the call process, figure out where I'm going to be called, figure out what Army bases are nearby and what Reserve requirements are. I'll enter the reserves, and we'll see-- [if we're still in Iraq]--if I get deployed or if I stay in a parish."

Despite his roughly 10 years with the Marines, Andersen is pursuing chaplaincy in the Army Reserve since the Navy handles chaplaincy for the Marines and couldn't promise him service with his familiar branch. The Army guaranteed that he could shepherd "ground-pounders" rather than serve shipboard.

Andersen completed his career with the Marines after being deployed to Somalia in 1993. He then earned his bachelor's degree and operated his own business, which eventually became less fun while his church involvements became more fun. After taking initial classes at Seattle University, he started at Luther in fall 2006.

He is now on a typical internship at a parish in Northwestern Wisconsin. His Clinical Pastoral Education unit-- at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma,Wash.--was more specialized toward military chaplaincy. Death notifications for soldiers who died of war wounds were part of the wide range of experiences. Another significant moment came early one Saturday when he performed an emergency baptism for a prematurely born baby with Lutheran parents--no other Lutheran chaplains were on the post.

Filling a Need
That's an example of a military-wide shortage of Lutheran chaplains, Morton says.

"We are terribly underrepresented," he says. "From liturgical traditions, sacramental traditions--there really is a strong need for chaplains of our ilk in order to provide for the pastoral needs of the people who are serving."

Andersen once preached at Washington's Fort Lewis, which had no Lutheran pastors or chaplains to preside at the Lutheran service that has taken place since the 1940s. Further, he notes, of the 127 students in his initial chaplain officer course in 2005, seven were Lutheran. Swenson added that three of 45 students in her Air Force chaplain candidate course last summer were Lutheran.

"The interesting thing about it is that our chaplains who meet standards to go on active duty tend to do quite well because of the strict educational and practical requirements that we have," says Morton, whose two sons attend Luther Seminary. "We have wonderful pastors, and I will say that our chaplains are some of the finest pastors that we have in our church. As I've gone around meeting them and had a chance to interact with them, whether they are on active duty or in the Reserve components, they bring great quality to the chaplaincies, and they also represent our church very, very well."

God Pause salutes chaplains

From March 24 through June 1, God Pause daily devotions will be authored by Luther Seminary graduates who have served or are serving as U.S. Military chaplains. Sign up to get daily God Pause devotions in your inbox at

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