Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2003

Congregations step up to help couple attend seminary

by Nathan Loer, master of divinity student

When Mike Hanson felt the call to Luther Seminary, he wasn't exactly sure how his home congregation, Messiah Lutheran Church in Hoffman, Minn., would respond.

"I knew that they would be supportive of my decision and call, but I didn't really know if they would provide a lot of financial support," says Mike.

Mike underestimated them.

The 500+ members of Messiah jumped at the chance to support their seminarian. Mike wrote the congregation a letter saying that he was going to seminary to become a pastor, and within a few months, a deeply lay-led movement had gathered enough pledges to make a financial commitment of $10,000 each year.

Mike has just finished his first year of study, and Messiah's support actually exceeded that commitment by a few hundred dollars.

Messiah's generosity has been a blessing to Mike and spouse Martha, both second-year master of divinity students, and the congregation. "It has, of course, been good for us to be connected with Mike and the seminary," Pastor Stephen Olson said. "And it has impacted giving here as well. Messiah's giving outside the congregation has more than doubled, and giving within the congregation has gone up, too. As far as all the benefits we'll receive, they remain to be seen. You never know how we'll grow from this."

The 800+ members of Martha's home congregation, Faith Lutheran Church in Morris, Minn., have been supportive as well. Faith has had several seminarians and the Women of Faith have always supported them with an annual scholarship. In addition, her picture hangs in the Narthex near a collection plate where people can place gifts of support. Martha also receives the loose offering on the first Sunday of every month, and several fundraisers are planned for the coming year. "It really adds up," says Martha. "They have supported me tremendously in their own way."

The gratitude both Mike and Martha feel toward their home congregations is evident, as are the strong connections they have with the people of those congregations. Both get somewhat tongue-tied when asked about it. But their thankfulness still manages to come shining through. "It means so much to us to know that there are so many people thinking about us, praying for us and supporting us Congregations help financially," says Mike. "I can't wait for them all to be there for our ordinations."

The financial gifts from their home congregations have allowed Mike and Martha to focus more on their studies and their marriage and less on hectic work schedules and mounting debt. It has also helped the Hansons think about their own giving. "It has definitely made us think more about
our own stewardship and what a gift it can be, not only for others but for us as well," says Martha.

The generosity of Messiah and Faith Lutheran Churches is more than just a gift to the Hansons, however. It is a gift for the whole church. "Without that support, it would definitely limit our ability to serve in rural ministry," says Mike.

Mike and Martha are just two of many seminarians who benefit from the generosity of congregations and individuals of the broader church. Of Luther Seminary's total budget, 45 percent comes from the gifts of individuals and congregations. But even with that support, seminarians need an additional $10,000-$20,000 each year for tuition and living expenses. Consequently 60 percent of graduates leave seminary with an average debt of $34,000. Debt like that limits the type of calls a graduate can accept.

But for the Hansons, the support from their congregations means that they will be exceedingly mobile when they graduate, able to serve congregations much like their home congregations for years to come -- all because two congregations in rural Minnesota answered the call to be
generous supporters of the Hansons and, in turn, the whole church.