Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2008

Fellowship Recipients Experience Culture, Growth

by Laura Kaslow, Communication Specialist

The Ostlie-Olson family poses for a portrait in Tanzania. They are, from

left, Kathryn, Sigurd, Marc and Dane.

This year of study is given each year in the form of a Graduate Preaching Fellowship from the Church of the Pioneers Foundation in Menlo Park, Calif. Luther Seminary is one of a select few seminaries that receive the fellowship.

The 2007 Graduate Preaching Fellowship marked the 10th consecutive year of such gifts to Luther Seminary students. A student from Luther is chosen each year based upon recommendation from the academic community. Marc Ostlie-Olson, the 2007 recipient, has taken his family of four to Tanzania and will later travel to Israel. Ostlie-Olson is focusing his studies on practical theology, specifically how ministries--both lay and ordained-- engage the unique challenges and opportunities of their place in the world.

The journey has brought the Ostlie-Olson family an array of gifts, along with many surprises. After five years of seminary and internship, where Marc had to dedicate much of his time to studying and putting groceries on the table, this fellowship has given the family the opportunity to spend a great deal of time together.

"My sons are 11 and 8. It's a wonderful time to get to know them so deeply again," he says.

Beyond this, as a preacher "time away from one's home culture allows for critical perspective of [the Bible]," Ostlie-Olson says.

"Any time a preacher gets the opportunity to enter a new culture and pay attention, all sorts of lights go on and insights appear. Christians in  Tanzania experience the Bible in a different way than their brothers and sisters in the U.S. Because of my experiences here, I will never read the Psalms in quite the same way again," he says.

If the Ostlie-Olson family leaves the experience with only one key takeaway, it would be gratitude.

"God opens doors and windows, sends people opportunities we haven't even thought to pray for," Ostlie-Olson says.

"This is a journey and adventure we would not have been able to undertake [without this fellowship]. This experience has also been perfectly timed. I get to remain a student and continue to process my seminary education, but be self-directed. I'm reading a number of books and authors that were mentioned in my classes but never assigned. I get to anticipate entering into parish ministry and pay special attention to the way regular working preachers and pastors do their work in their cultures. This is an amazing gift."

This generous gift was started anonymously by a member of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and his wife. The couple wanted to improve the quality of preaching and felt that the church needed pastors who were able to "encourage congregations to serious consideration of attaching Christian  values and belief to everyday life," according to Senior Principal John Jenks, who manages the foundation.

Jenks explains that prior to establishing this gift, the couple spoke with their pastor about giving opportunities to help new pastors improve their preaching. Their pastor expressed a belief that "being exposed to different world cultures would [help new pastors] develop a broader perspective, which would contribute to more effective preaching."

The couple, recognizing that the church is global and believing that it is important to have a global perspective in order to improve the overall quality of preaching, followed their pastor's guidance. Based on this, the couple established the Graduate Preaching Fellowship, which was established as an endowment fund and is now offered to five different seminaries, including Luther. While originally administered by Menlo Park Presbyterian, it is now managed by the Church of the Pioneers Foundation.

"This fellowship is so great because some of our brightest and best M.Div. students apply for this fellowship. The global context puts our students in  a context in which they are unfamiliar. They are there to listen, learn and respond to the culture in which they are living. The cultural experience broadens and shapes our graduates.

It invites them into dynamic conversations, requires them to adapt and appreciate the environment in which they are learning and living. It informs them in their preparation to proclaim the Gospel message wherever they serve in their ministry," says Louise Evenson, the philanthropic adviser at Luther Seminary who works with the Church of the Pioneers Foundation.

Having a chance to live overseas had always been a dream for Megan Torgerson,'07, the 2006 recipient of the Graduate Preaching Fellowship. With the encouragement of a professor, Torgerson applied for the Fellowship, which led her to a year of study divided between Rome and London. Torgerson notes that it was exciting to see the ecumenical nature in both cities and to see people spreading the gospel in diverse areas in diverse ways. While in London, Torgerson was given the opportunity to preach a few sermons at the small Lutheran church in the heart of the city. She was also able to preach by reaching out to the immigrant community.

One lesson she learned in seminary was given context during her fellowship: "The preached word is not just behind the pulpit," she says. "We can hear the preached word through serving our neighbors.We just hear it in a different context."

"God is God no matter where you go," says Torgerson. "The matter of faith is truly universal." However, "who you are and where you are is vitally important. Even though the Word is universal, the context never is. God's Word comes to special places in special ways."

Megan Torgerson, '07, with her husband, Chris Vitko, at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.