A journey of sustainability and vocation
by Kelly O'Hara Dyer
Dane Breslin '22 M.Div.
For 27-year-old Dane Breslin ’22 M.Div., receiving the Jubilee Scholarship from Luther Seminary was a timely stroke of God-given fortune, allowing him to pursue his Master of Divinity degree at the seminary beginning this fall. The scholarship, designed to help incoming students avoid crippling student loan debt, provides a full-tuition scholarship to all incoming Master of Divinity and Master of Arts students at Luther Seminary.
And for Breslin, that funding was critical.
After completing his first year of theological training at Iliff School of Theology, Breslin was dismayed this past spring to learn that his and others’ scholarship funding would not be renewed. That left him in a difficult position. He and his wife, Kirsten, live in rural Vermont, where she is working on a residency in pediatric medicine and he recently completed his clinical pastoral education training as a hospital chaplain.
Breslin says the debt that the couple incurred for Kirsten’s medical school made it impossible for them to take on additional loans to support his theological study. Without the financial support of the Jubilee Scholarship, his dream of becoming a pastor would have been sidelined.
Although Breslin was eager to begin his studies at Luther Seminary this fall, his spiritual path has been far from straightforward. His journey began with his childhood experiences in the Roman Catholic Church.
“I was always really fascinated by priests and very drawn to church in general,” Breslin says. “However, I knew that I wanted to be married and have kids. I liked what priests were doing—walking with people, blessing them, naming these really dynamic parts of their lives—but I also thought, ‘This doesn’t make sense for me.’ At that time, I didn’t even know what a pastor was and had never been to a Protestant church.”
After being active in youth ministry throughout high school, Breslin attended Gonzaga University, a Jesuit institution in Spokane, Washington. While there, he met his wife and earned a degree in environmental studies and public relations.
It was also at Gonzaga that his theological outlook expanded.
“In college I encountered the Jesuits,” Breslin says. “I remember being charged by one of the priests to find God in all things and that kind of opened my world. I’m deeply passionate about food systems and farming and sustainability. I took a lot of environmental ethics courses and an Old Testament and Eco-Justice course that blew my mind. That’s what got me into the environmental/ sustainability realm—the Old Testament.”
During college, Breslin spent a year as a Jesuit volunteer in Hillsboro, Oregon, doing stream restoration with youth. It was interesting work, he says, but it also raised a significant amount of spiritual conflict. He had difficulty reconciling what he was learning through his work and studies with the theological traditions of his upbringing that seemed disconnected from the real world.
He decided to take a “church sabbatical” to give himself time to process his experiences and reflect on his faith. Little did he know that his time away from church would eventually lead him to a call to full-time ministry.
Hearing the call
One evening during his break from church services, Breslin wandered into Calvary Lutheran Church down the street from his home.
“It was an ELCA church, and they were having an Agape supper,” Breslin says, recalling a communal meal modeled after time Jesus shared with his disciples. “I had never experienced anything like that, with people talking about their spirituality so openly.” It was another turning point for Breslin—a moment that expanded his theological and spiritual horizons. He went to the suppers every Wednesday for the rest of Lent, although he says he didn’t go back to “church-church” for another year or two.
After his college graduation, Breslin took on a number of jobs. He spent time in Zambia serving as a cook for a group of 25 college students studying biology, and he worked as a stonemason. He also continued his ecological studies and became a certified permaculture designer, which prompted him to found a small education farm to teach sustainability principles.
Unfortunately, the venture was a financial disappointment.
“I started my farm, which failed,” Breslin says. But along the way, he connected with Nativity Lutheran Church, which runs a permaculture food forest ministry just down the street from his in-laws in Bend, Oregon. It was this connection that led him to discern a call to ordained ministry.
“I was unemployed and wondering what to do next,” he says, reflecting on a time when he took a walk with Nativity Lutheran’s pastor, Chris Kramer, to discuss Breslin’s future. Kramer told him, “I think you should consider working with us.”
Breslin took a position as the co-director of the Bend Youth Collective, a progressive, ecumenical youth ministry focused on “belonging in community, becoming more whole, and participating in the peacemaking way of Jesus.” The collective is sponsored and supported by four different denominations and churches, including Nativity Lutheran.
During that work, Breslin says the church community and leaders “kind of lifted me and said, ‘We think you should be a leader in the ecumenical church and go to seminary.’”
Ultimately, it’s fitting that a person whose story has been so wrapped up in environmental sustainability found his way to Luther Seminary through the Jubilee Scholarship. The scholarship, of course, is all about financial sustainability and takes its name from the biblical practice of economic justice through the restoration of land.
“Once I found out Iliff wasn’t going to renew my funds, I reached out to [Kramer] and said, ‘What do I do now?’” Breslin recalls. “[Kramer] said, ‘Apply to Luther Seminary! You’re going to love it, and this Jubilee award is perfect timing for you.’”
After a long and winding path of exploration, study, and service, Breslin feels hopeful about his vocation. “I now plan on being a Lutheran pastor, God willing,” he says. “There’s something really beautiful about being able to mark people’s lives, to name their essential worth and goodness and dignity, and to back that up with a 2,000-year-old tradition.”