Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2006

Luther and PLTS “TEEM” Up to Provide Innovative Theological Education

by Andy Behrendt,Master of Divinity Student

Already serving as church leaders, Celeste Waymire and Helen King are nearing ordained ministry in the ELCA through the theological Education for Emerging Ministries, or TEEM, program. They're students of the same ELCA program, which since 1989 has educated leaders for congregations that have a hard time finding or sustaining pastoral staff. But their education has come through different seminaries.

"The TEEM program was really beneficial because nobody had to scramble to replace me here in the congregation, and that, to me, is a huge benefit," says Waymire, presently an associate in ministry who is taking TEEM courses through Luther Seminary while serving a rural church in Iowa.

"I think that what the TEEM program has done is brought out the best in me in terms of answering the call to full-time ministry," says King, a mission developer for an African-American and African church in urban Omaha, Neb., who is part of the TEEM program at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. "The more you learn about God, the more you have to offer to the world."

The TEEM program does not end in a degree--it ends in ordination.Candidates, who are directed to the program by their synods, are not required to hold a bachelor's degree to enter the program, but they must follow the same candidacy procedures as Master of Divinity students who plan on ordination. A theological review panel helps decide the number and nature of courses, the type of clinical pastoral education and length of internship required for the candidate to round out his or her skills.

"TEEM provides ministry to many communities that otherwise have
none," says Edmond Yee, PLTS professor of Asian studies and director of its TEEM program "It raises leadership in ethnic, urban/rural and deaf communities."

Whereas Luther includes TEEM students in existing courses for its degree programs, PLTS offers a track of 15 courses on the Bible, theology,history and pastoral theology, plus four workshops, in addition to internships and clinical pastoral education. While the program still lasts an average of three years with ongoing study, students only need to be on campus three times a year in October, February and June.

Combing the two programs will make Luther's TEEM program much more flexible and accessible, says Rod Maeker, Luther Seminary's director of cross-cultural education.

Another key change: the addition of mentors, who in the PLTS program work one-on-one with the TEEM students. "Every student will be assigned a mentor," Maeker says. "If you talk bout a three-legged stool of an internship supervisor, a mentor and a faculty who teaches a course, the mentor is the most important leg of that stool because they are the ones who work hopefully weekly with that student to do their studies."

TEEM is designed to benefit churches serving various ethnic-specific ministries. Funding of $100,000 from the ELCA will provide scholarships and program support for students who will serve Latino and Asian-American communities. Especially targeted within that funding are Hmong pastoral candidates, due to the ELCA's need of theologically prepared leaders for Hmong congregations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. The Twin Cities are home to the nation's largest urban Hmong population, estimated above 60,000. The Hmong people, many of whom assisted the United States in the Vietnam War,have immigrated to the United States since 1975, when communists took control of their home country of Laos.

The TEEM program is also planning how to better accommodate Spanish speaking students. Also aiding in the joint TEEM program's development is $381,600 from Lilly Endowment Inc., part of a larger $1 million grant awarded to the two seminaries.

Administration would likely be centered at PLTS, but both campuses--and potentially other contextual sites nationwide--would likely host courses. Meanwhile, Luther Seminary faculty is sure to become more involved. That would lend support to the smaller faculty at PLTS, says Richard Nysse, Luther Seminary professor of Old Testament, who has taught TEEM courses at PLTS since the program's inception in 1989.

As those at both seminaries agree, the merger is primarily for the benefit of students. Nysse says that while TEEM students at Luther are hardly aware of each other, the short but intense course meetings under the PLTS model create deep connections between the students. And those meetings don't detach the students from the congregations that have already greatly prepared them.

"You take the education to their ministry context rather than pulling students out and placing them in school," Nysse says. "They have very brief periods of detachment from their context, but it allows a deep intensity while gathered for class."

Nengyia Her (Luther Seminary)


Already serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul-area Hmong community in various roles, Nengyia Her will be serving the population through ordained ministry within a few years.

"I think we need more Hmong pastors in the ELCA," says Her, 49, a case manager and outreach specialist for Lutheran Social Service.

Her came to Minnesota from Thailand in 1986.Within a year, he became a Christian. He now serves as Hmong outreach director at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church in north Minneapolis.With Hmong families now making up about a third of the congregation, Her leads local outreach, works with worship and children's programming and once a month preaches in the Hmong language.

Her's pastor,Wayne Stumme, '92, encouraged him to consider the TEEM program. He started in the Luther Seminary program in 2005 under a plan to take a call at another church with a large Hmong population after he is ordained. A father of six, he is taking one course per semester and expects to be completed within two and a half years.

"When it started, it was very difficult for me, but now it's getting better as I get used to it," says Her, noting a mentor from his church has helped him revise his course projects. "That's very important and very helpful."

Helen King (PLTS)


Recruited by the ELCA to begin an African-American and African ministry in urban Omaha, Neb., Helen King started in 1999 with nothing more than an empty church. Fontenelle Community Church has taken steps forward with its programming and membership since then, and in November, King will step forward as its ELCA-ordained pastor.

Already ordained as a Pentecostal minister and experienced as the past operator of an evangelical nonprofit organization, King, now 53, started with the TEEM program at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in 2003. The program was crucial in allowing her to stay involved as Fontenelle's mission developer. "Because who would have been here? And they have tried to get people here," King says, noting the church's community is the highest-crime area in the state. "It's just a hard ministry, and so it hadn't been sustainable. So for this type of ministry, the TEEM program would really be the only program that would work."

King chose PLTS over other seminaries because of its more established TEEM program. Now PLTS's TEEM student body president, she has been flying to California for on-campus sessions three times a year. She notes that commuting instead to Luther Seminary under a merged program would be beneficial for other Nebraska-based TEEM students.

Celeste Waymire (Luther Seminary)


Faith Lutheran Church in Griswold, Iowa, has been counting on Celeste Waymire in the last two years as she has studied to become its ordained pastor.

"My church is walking this journey with me. They called me, and that was a leap of faith because I'm not a traditional, ordained minister. But yet they said, 'That's OK, come,'" Waymire, 53, says with a laugh.

Faith Lutheran is classified as a rural church, and because of its size--"230 people, two dogs and one cat"--has had difficulty finding and supporting an ordained pastor. Waymire, first a church organist and an associate in ministry since 1999, has been serving the church part time.

Waymire's bishop directed her to both Faith Lutheran and the TEEM program. A Luther Seminary TEEM student since 2004, she has taken mostly online courses but last semester studied on campus and racked up some big-time mileage while commuting to and from Iowa on weekends. She expects to be ordained in February.

"The TEEM program, or some other alternate route to ordination, probably was the only way I would seek ordination, because of my age and education,"Waymire says. "I think the information in the courses made a lot of sense because I immediately put it to daily ministry use."