DL Dispatch - December 2010


The student-mentor pastor relationship: Maryann Kehlenbach and Phyllis Wolkenhauer

Maryann Kehlenbach, DL student:

What are the challenges of the DL program?
Since the DL model is different from the residential model, there is a learning curve for candidates, candidacy committees and synods. This challenge allows for dynamic conversations in imagining new learning opportunities in teaching congregations and internship congregations. Through these challenges we can see the Holy Spirit at work through the calling, gathering, enlightening and sending of God's people into the world.

Do you feel that DL students miss out on community? As a DL student, where do you find community?
The DL community is multifaceted in that we physically come together at Luther Seminary twice a year, engage each other in online studies, form online community groups and engage in online chat rooms. Our time together at Luther Seminary allows us to develop deep bonds and ties. The online connectedness allows those who tend to be more introverted to enjoy community in a forum that may be more comfortable.

How have you been shaped by teaching congregations?
My mentor pastor is very affirming and, through our discussions, has helped me shape my pastoral identity. My teaching congregation has allowed me to walk with them in a completely safe environment. This is a congregation that embodies God's love through hospitality, compassion, encouragement, constructive feedback and openness to change.

What do you find most compelling about the DL program?
Many of us who would not have been able to physically move and attend seminary now have a way to answer God's call. My teaching congregation is always excited when I am either at Luther Seminary or taking my online classes. I am always sharing what I am learning and I love to engage the members of the congregation in deeper conversations.

Would you recommend this program to other students?
Absolutely. The DL model opens the door for God's call to ministry to be answered by many gifted persons unable to enroll as residential seminary students. I also believe this program is the model for appropriate lifelong learning. Once I graduate, I will look for additional educational opportunities that will allow me to continue in my growth as a called and ordained minister of the ELCA.

Phyllis Wolkenhauer, mentor pastor:

Based on your seminary experience, what do you think is gained by the DL format?
Surprisingly, I feel the sense of community is strong in the DL program. I expected that the opposite would be true as the students are not often physically together. But they are online together much more frequently than I was with my colleagues in seminary. Everyone gets to know everyone fairly intimately. Prayer concerns are shared as well as other personal thoughts, because they feel safe with one another.

What do you see as the advantages of the DL program?
I see the effect it has on the teaching congregation. It allows members to see what is involved in seminary education and how much growth happens in a seminarian. It can encourage others to recognize their gifts for ministry, whether they grow in their involvement in the ministry of the congregation or discover the desire to seek ordination.

How has Maryanne become involved in the life of the congregation?
Maryanne works with all ages, teaching elementary, middle and high school youth. One of her most rewarding experiences was a mystery mission trip she planned and implemented for the high school youth. The youth experienced concrete ways that God is active in the world by participating in clean-up projects, making sandwiches for the homeless and working with a clothing store that helps the homeless.

One of the goals of teaching congregations is to help form the student pastor's identity and imagination. How do you see this happening?
When I think about Maryanne's pastoral identity, I think of her new clergy blouse. When she first put it on, it shocked her. Now she wears the collar without being conscious of it. It is now part of who she is as a servant and child of God. It feels much more natural and doesn't define her as better than others. In fact, she finds that the collar is welcoming for some who find comfort in that pastoral symbol.

How has this experience influenced you and your work?
Working with Maryanne is renewing my confidence in my sense of call and my ministerial abilities. She encourages me, and I am doing more and more pastoral ministry in our congregation.