Meet some LTSP Students

| Gail Hicks | Eric Johnson | Tim Ness | Skyle Rea |
| Karen Sease | Jonathan Steiner | Pr. Carl Adams |

Gail Hicks finds the Public Leadership curriculum at LTSP to be ‘a perfect fit’ for me

Gail Hicks

Gail Hicks, 58, of Philadelphia, says it is “never too late” to expand one’s educational horizons. A social work administrator for both older persons and challenged youthmost of her career, she sees her faith as a Lutheran to be a great motivator for working on important societal change.

Currently, she is a second-year scholar in the new Master of Arts in Public Leadership (MAPL) curriculum at LTSP. The program helps students deepen their understanding of theology while also teaching leadership skills in social service agency administration. 

“I’m not sure where this will lead,” Hicks says. “But the program is a perfect fit for me at this stage of my life.” She holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Journalism from Temple University. Her main avocational interest currently is focused on teaching a module to deal with the challenge of bullying, a concern that grabbed her attention after a teen member of Reformation Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, where she belongs, committed suicide. “Parents and community leaders need to understand that the practice of bullying today can be lethal,” she says.

“I used to think I wasn’t worthy of seminary study,” she says. “But I found out that the students are friendly and with interests similar to mine. Studying at the seminary feels like coming home to me now.” Her interest in seminary study was kindled by several years of study in programs, including on line classes, offered by the Faith and Life Institute for laity at LTSP.

Eric Johnson of Clinton, NJ, ‘trusting God’ for direction in life while studying at seminary

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson of Clinton, NJ, a first-year scholar at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), says before entering seminary this past Fall he alwaysattempted to lead his life with clear, self-imposed professional goals. “Now I take a different approach,” he says. “I’ve decided to trust God to take me where I need to go. I don’t have a clear path yet. But I believe that will come.” 

Johnson, now in his early fifties, explains that when he was a young child growing up in Lunenburg, MA, he dreamed of a military career, starting with attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

The dream came true with a bit of a hiccup. He was rejected the first time around but gained entrance a year later in 1977. A military career in multiple locations followed his 1981 graduation – Fort Benning, GA; Fort Richardson, Anchorage, AK, where he met and married his wife, Daniela; and Fort Ord in Monterey, CA. After seven years Johnson decided his life-long dream of the military was no longer for him. He left the military at age 30. 

He set new objectives for success, working as an operations manager for a waste management firm in several locations -- King of Prussia, PA; Los Angeles and New York City. The company merged with another firm, and he was out of a job. Then came positions with an ATM and bank vault services company in suburban Philadelphia. He decided that managing individuals in low paying, high risk armored vehicle jobs wasn’t for him. He worked with a high-end executive relocation company as vice president of national operations. Economic uncertainties shut the company down. An executive mentor persuaded him to spend a year straightening out a field operation problem in a waste management office in New York State. After that assignment ended, it was on to a position with a payroll company serving small business clients. After more than four years there came a layoff.

“I decided then it was time for some self-assessment,” he says. Johnson had been moving around so much that his wife, holder of a Master of Education in Reading, had found it difficult to land the best kind of position as a teacher. She had turned to work as a docent at an interactive museum and then to employment as an insurance examiner. The couple had been casual church-goers for many years, but in 1991 had settled on joining St. James Lutheran Church in Pottstown, PA, where Johnson was working at the time. After moving to New Jersey, friends suggested to the couple that they join Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Somerville. There, while reassessing his life, Johnson became actively involved in a variety of church activities, serving as a worship assistant, on the Congregation Council and as financial committee chair. He gave leadership to the Lutheran Men in Mission program at the church and was an Adult Forum presenter. He enjoyed it. A review of vocational testing taken in earlier life suggested career directions might include serving as a pastor, in academia or in the field of law. He began to speak with congregants, friends and pastors, including his pastor, the Rev. Jacques Denys about whether they thought he might make a good pastor.

“They kept telling me that I would be good at it, and they would ask me why I was the last person to recognize it,” he recalls. “I decided that I had been deliberately avoiding this direction in life because I didn’t know where seminary study would take me. I had always wanted to be on a clear path.” A telling moment came when Pastor Denys, now retired, came to Good Shepherd for a Christmas Eve service and Johnson ran into him. “He said to me, are you in seminary yet?” Johnson recalls. 

After thinking it through, he decided the time had come to trust God and forge ahead with seminary study. He was nervous about it. It had been 29 years since he had engaged in academic study. “I wasn’t sure I could manage reading and writing at a high academic level. Reading critically is not always a prominent aspect of the business world, but it turns out it wasn’t the obstacle I had thought it would be.” One of the hardest aspects of accomplishing his studies is the time-consuming and lengthy commute (62 miles) from Clinton to the LTSP campus in Northwest Philadelphia. “The commute takes three hours a day,” he says.

“I really enjoy being in seminary,” he says. “I like our classroom discussions and the feeling of openness to God. I am amazed at how wonderful my classmates are. The crop of new students I met in August jelled together quickly. I feel safe with this group, and it is hard to believe that just six months ago we were strangers. The students come from all sorts of backgrounds, and the staff and faculty are fantastic to me. The faculty members have a wide variety of teaching styles but do an incredible job of marrying the content to how we need to be exposed to it.”

His advice to anyone contemplating seminary study? “My advice would be that if God is telling you to do it, then do it. Don’t be afraid. If God wants you to take another avenue later on it will become apparent to you.”

Tim Ness: Raised by a ‘Lutheran village’

Tim Ness

Tim Ness, a second year seminarian at LTSP, had lots of encouragement to discern his call toward ordained ministry – his home congregation and pastor in Torrington,CT, Muhlenberg College, where he majored in Religious Studies and Psychology, graduating in 2009, Project Connect, and most recently The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.

Ness, 23, tells of growing up in Torrington as a member of one of the New England Synod’s largest congregations, St. Paul Lutheran Church. “We had a thriving youth group, volunteer work camps, a 30-hour famine program.” The idea of coming to seminary first surfaced in high school. “I was really involved in the church, reading lessons and serving as a youth leader,” he recalls. “Others around me began to tell me that I had gifts to serve as a pastor, and I was resistant.”

By word of mouth he heard of Muhlenberg College, a Lutheran school that intrigued him. He visited the school and liked it. Once he arrived at the campus as a student, he says he began to ask himself what he would major in. “I knew it wouldn’t be math or science or history, even though I like history. He settled on religious studies and psychology. During his college years a variety of experiences further led him toward the idea of parish ministry. Pastor Mike Millum of St. Paul was a true mentor. “He was never pushy, but he was assertive,” Ness recalls. “He told me he saw the qualities in me to serve the church as a pastor. Chaplain Peter Bredlau at Muhlenberg spoke with me as well. They told me of their experiences of discernment. Others in the congregation encouraged me too.” Another turning point was his immersion experience during college with Project Connect. Project Connect pulls together a variety of young people discerning the possibility of a call to serve God as a professional church leader.  The experience was at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Avon, CT, with the Rev. Geoff Sinibaldo as Tim’s supervisor.

He decided to visit LTSP and was profoundly impressed by the Revs. Louise Johnson and Matt O’Rear of the school’s admissions office. “I had the chance to engage with other people of faith considering seminary,” he says. And he liked Philadelphia and Mt.Airy. “I hopped the train and visited a church in the city, and I walked through the downtown.”

Now in his second year at LTSP Ness says he really enjoys being part of the seminary community. “The faculty here is brilliant,” he says. “They really help you engage church doctrine, the creeds, theology and the Bible and help you synthesize your beliefs.” Favorite classes so far have included the Lutheran Confessions, Pastoral Theology and Liturgy. “I’m actually auditing the Liturgy class a second time,” he says. “As someone who participated in leading worship at my home church, I find the class has really helped me think about the way we approach worship, thinking about the order of worship and how we communicate together through worship as a way of pointing toward the Gospel. 

Once he graduates and receives a parish call, Ness hopes to continue his education on a steady basis, perhaps studying for a Master of Sacred Theology. “I think a pastor has to continue with education in today’s culture. That’s so important.”

Seminary grad Skyle Rea sees today’s church as connecting people the way Muhlenberg did 

Skyle Rea

Stacey-Kyle “Skyle” Rea, a 2010 LTSP graduate now on internship in Moorestown, NJ, is a Muhlenberg College graduate (2001) who admires how hard LutheranPatriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg must have had to work to hold Lutheran congregations together in Eastern Pennsylvania.

“I’ve lived in Gilbertsville, Boyertown, Jeffersonville and now in Center City Philadelphia,” Rea explains. “My home congregation in Gilbertsville was a daughter congregation of a Muhlenberg church – New Hanover in Gilbertsville. Over the years I’ve personally driven over roads, probably many of the same roads, that Muhlenberg must have known in his colonial travels. Today you can traverse them in about 45 minutes or so. I can’t imagine how much longer it must have taken him. He worked so hard traveling back and forth to places like Trappe, where he lived, Boyertown and Philadelphia, where he struggled as a pastor to connect German immigrants of his day. As I drive I think about our church’s deep-rooted history of connecting people. And that is what pastors try to do today. They connect people of the church and churches to each other so that they can serve others.”

Rea says her call to become a pastor has been the result of a gradual journey that began at Muhlenberg College when she thought she might become a counselor or youth worker. “Muhlenberg College, through its community service outreach and teaching does a great job of bringing people together as Henry Muhlenberg did,” she says. “You can’t graduate from the school without learning a great understanding of what vocation means and the responsibility you have to connect to your community and its needs. It’s not just a focus on yourself, but an educational experience that lets you know there is a world out there that needs your help. How will you responsibly make use of what you learn?”

After college she first worked in the corporate world for QVC, a home shoppers television channel. Rea was at first an assistant buyer of children’s toys and then senior copywriter in the Internet department, writing and editing product descriptions. But her call to serve in the church kept nagging at her. “I was using my vacation and spare time to take mission trips, or do youth work,” she says. “Others, including family and friends, would help me discern my gifts and help me take a look at myself and consider whether my spare time vocation with the church might make sense as a full-time career.” Her husband, John, artistic director for the MacGuffin Theatre & Film Co. in Philadelphia, “was my greatest inspiration. He told me if I wanted to go to seminary that he would support me.” It didn’t hurt that the many pastors she came across in the region Muhlenberg once knew “all seemed to be LTSP graduates.”

As someone drawn to the life challenges she has seen in urban Philadelphia, Rea easily became attracted to the urban/metropolitan concentration offered at LTSP and says the focus helped her take a closer look at urban challenges and what the church might do to help.

“I think for the working poor it is very easy for them to grow up in poverty without anyone noticing,” Rea says. She recalls an episode a couple of years ago when she got off a train in downtown Philadelphia, and while passing by a restaurant she happened to observe two very young children standing near a dumpster. “At first it looked like no one was attending to them,” she says. “But then I discovered that their mother was inside the dumpster scouring for scraps of food.” Rea said she helped the mother to climb out of the dumpster, told her about a food pantry nearby and “gave her the money that I had with me.” The incident has had a lasting impact on her.

Rea believes the church serves as “Jesus in the world today. I think most people want to help the hungry. They just need to be connected to agencies and a variety of organizations that both need help and are in a position to help so many. Hunger is a problem in so many places, from cities to small towns. Food pantries do not have enough food to meet the need in today’s struggling economy.

“I’m really optimistic about today’s church and its future,” Rea continues. “The church connects so many people to real need. It is the best hope to help others. The church may not go on the way it always has, but it will continue to exist despite tough times and make a difference.”

She credits the seminary with strong teaching during her studies. “I had extraordinary friendships here, an amazing diversity of students and perspectives on faith. I learned so much to expand upon the faith I knew when I was growing up. The faculty and staff were so caring and helped me to discern my future a great deal.” She adds that her field work assignment at St. John Lutheran Church in Phoenixville, PA, expanded her horizons greatly. “People there taught me to understand my gifts and helped greatly with my perspective,” she says.

After concluding her current internship at Trinity Episcopal Church in Moorestown, NJ, she hopes to be approved for a call process by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, entering service as a parish pastor in the Philadelphia area. 

Seminarian Karen Sease: In tough times for the church,  the challenge is still to serve others in need in the name of Christ

Columbia, SC, native says it is important to see the poor, homeless and the hungry as ‘real people, not a problem to be fixed.’

Karen Sease

Karen Sease, 23, a first-year seminarian at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, knows that now is a challenging time to be the church. “Many Christiansand churches are having a tough time financially,” says Sease, a resident of Columbia, SC, who belongs to Ebenezer Lutheran Church there. “Congregational membership is declining in many places. We can get caught up in disagreements, such as over sexual orientation issues.”

“But I think it is really a great time to be the church,” Sease says. “We just need to be open to hearing what is central, and that is the need to serve others and make Christ known to our neighbors. As Christians we have so much in common, and we need to remember that in the midst of our disagreements.

“I think our purpose as Christians is to walk beside one another, be in relation to each other as we serve the poor, the needy, the homeless, the hungry, those in prison, knowing that those we seek to serve are real people and not simply a problem to be fixed,” Sease says.

Even though Sease for many years was involved in Ebenezer’s church life as a cantor, lector, communion assistant, worship assisting minister and youth group president, she did not see professional church leadership as a role for her for a long time. “A seminary intern at the church once told me I had real gifts for ministry,” she recalls. “I just laughed at the idea. But then several others in the congregation said the same thing.” She attended a regional Bishop’s School with other talented youth leaders, “and when that was over I thought I had done my theological education thing and was ready to move on.”

During her college years at Furman University in Greenville, SC, Sease majored in psychology. And she continued to enjoy faith related activities. She offered leadership in the University Chapel. She volunteered for a Lutheran hospice program, singing songs with older persons and hearing their stories. She grew in her faith by serving on the staff of Lutheridge Camp with 100 other young adults. She met dozens of other young people through participation in Project Connect, an initiative connecting others like herself considering the possibility of a call to ordained ministry. “I attended retreats all along the east coast,” she says. “I really got a chance to see how the church works on so many levels.” And she formed strong bonds with many she met.

After graduating from Furman in 2008, she spent a year working with Volunteers in Service to America(VISTA)/Americorps in Virginia, trying to build interest and relationships for Habitat for Humanity with congregations prior to settling on a seminary education.

Sease explains that it was not any activity that sold her on attending seminary. “It really was a gradual process, but when I first saw the LTSP campus and began meeting people I felt really alive. I find the worship life inspiring. LTSP is such a welcoming place. I’ve formed so many friendships that are close and supportive.” Classes in Bible, Liturgy and the Lutheran Confessions “have been really formational. Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike in classes and discussion groups offer a variety of perspectives. And in conversations like those you become able to articulate your own position better. LTSP is a really rich, varied and diverse place.”

After her first year as a scholar, Sease says she is not completely sure where her current educational path will lead. “I’m open to a call the church will have to offer,” she says. “We’ll just see where things go.”

Once he wanted to be an Air Force pilot, now seminarian Jonathan Steiner has a new ‘flight plan’

Jonathan Steiner of Greenbelt, MD, a first-year seminarian at The Lutheran Theological Seminary atPhiladelphia, thought he wanted to be an Air Force pilot.

Jonathan Steiner

For a while he matriculated at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, but during a spring break decided that wasn’t for him. He ended up studying at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) working toward a degree in sociology and philosophy. “I kept thinking about my family history – an uncle and grandfather had been pastors and my father, currently working as an engineer for NASA, tells me he wants to become a pastor once he retires.” 

Jonathan had always enjoyed volunteering, especially in the youth program, at his home church, Good Samaritan Lutheran Church in Lanham, MD, where LTSP alum, the Rev. Tom O’Brien, has been pastor for about four years. “We always played soccer after church with youth from preschool ages through high school,” he recalls. He also helped his Mom out with a daycare program she ran at home.  While in college, he served on the staff at Camp Lutherlyn in the Pittsburgh area. He was part of a staff of 60 working with campers from 2nd grade through high school.

“I guess I began to think about ordination seriously when I was at Embry-Riddle,” he says. He recalls that as he studied philosophy and held conversations with other students, he would be thinking about his faith and why he believes in God. “Then at camp I just loved talking about my faith,” he says. “Camp Lutherlyn is an intentional Christian community where you have the freedom to talk about your beliefs.” While at UMBC he hooked up with Project Connect, an initiative for youth discerning about possible professional church leadership. Project Connect stages retreats and other events to get young adults together to learn more about the church and meet others like themselves. “The program helped me process whether ordained ministry is right for me,” he says. He credits Lutherlyn Camp Director Randy Gullickson, and Associate Director Deb Roberts with helping in his discernment process. 

Once he decided on seminary Jonathan began to check out East Coast seminaries. He and his wife, Laura, whom he met at Lutherlyn, both liked the idea of being connected to a city. In Philadelphia, Laura has been able to undertake studies in occupational therapy at the nearby University of the Sciences.

Among his early seminary highlights? “I enjoy the freedom to talk about my faith in seminary classes, figure out where I am going, how I may use my training to help people. I’m developing a vocabulary for my faith with my classmates, who’ve been good and friendly in their support of me. Like Lutherlyn, the LTSP community has been another intentional environment for forming my faith understanding.” Especially enjoyable, he says, have been studies in the area of the History of Christianity. “It’s been fascinating to learn about what has taken place in the development of our faith over the past 2,000 years,” Steiner says. “We’ve been able to look at the key decisions made by the early church, and what various councils thought about the meaning of their faith in Jesus.” We’ve also looked at the global church and the nature of religion in other places.” He thinks dialogue and finding a way to get along is crucial to faith and interfaith understanding.

Steiner has advice for anyone contemplating a church leadership career. “Think about it and pray, then go with what feels right,” he says. “What looks like a roadmap to you might not always be the way down the road.” He said working with young people and through outdoor ministry experiencing God’s creation helped to guide him.

He’s not sure what will happen after his graduation in about three years. Becoming an Air Force chaplain is a possibility, he says. “When it comes down to it I chose this path because I see it as a way to help people,” he says. “The social ministry programs, initiatives for youth and young adults and global ministry programs are all areas of the church that excite me.”

He does not get overly discouraged that many congregations today, including his own, have fewer people involved now than once was the case. “The church is always changing,” he says. “If the current model isn’t working, then the church will find another.” 

Pastor Carl Adams – a ‘three-generation’ seminarian  who appreciates Henry Melchior Muhlenberg’s legacy

Pastor Carl R. Adams of Wernersville, PA, is a three-generation seminarian. A 1958 graduate of Muhlenberg College, he earned his B.D. degree from LTSP in 1961,becoming a parish pastor in Moorestown, PA. In the 1970s he earned his Master of Sacred Theology degree from the seminary. Now he’s close to completing his DMin. Advanced Level Degree from the school, including managing the challenge of online study. (He also holds a Master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling from Moravian Seminary.)

Pr. Carl Adams

Adams says he felt certain he would become a pastor even in his early years. “I felt my life was really laid out for me. I never really had any doubt about what I would do,” he says.  He grew up in Moselem Springs in Berks County, just outside of Kutztown. He was active at Zion Lutheran Church, Moselem Springs, and in the youth program at St. Paul Lutheran Church in nearby Fleetwood.

Adams has spent some time reflecting on the 300th anniversary of the North America ministry of Lutheran Patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. “What strikes me about Muhlenberg’s ministry is that he was charged with planting the church in a new land. And those were the same instructions I received when I was first ordained – plant and grow the church where you serve. That is what I always tried to do.” Adams notes that through the grace of God he was able to serve as charged, holding pastorates with congregations in Moorestown, Northampton County, and Mohnton, Berks County, during a 40-year career. “Muhlenberg served the young church during times of great turmoil, and that was the case for me too as the nation was dealing with the challenges of Vietnam, racial turmoil and great change in the 1960s,” he recalls.

One of Adams’s accomplishments, with team work from the synod and other local pastors, was guiding two Lutheran churches, one in Moorestown and one in Seemsville, each a part of a different union church setting, into existence as separate Lutheran congregations. The churches today are known as Good Shepherd, Kreidersville, and Holy Cross, Moorestown (Nazareth), a two-church merger. Later, at Robeson Church in Mohnton, the mother of renowned author John Updike was a parishioner, and Adams recalls meeting Updike a number of times when the writer came to church there. Adams says his congregations enjoyed the blessing of steady growth in those days. And he credits others for joining him in the kind of lay leadership that made growth possible.

“When I was first a student I learned from faculty members considered to be giants – Ted Tappert, Martin Heinecken, John Reumann, William Lazareth, Robert Bornemann. It was a great time for me to learn and grow. And I’m still blessed to be learning today from fine faculty members at this school – Timothy Wengert, Wilda Gafney, Erik Heen and David Grafton.” He credits the newer faculty for helping him with perspective about the challenges impacting the modern church, thus enabling him to fine-tune his approach to preaching. 

At the age of 74, even though he retired from full time ministry in 2001, he says he still has a passion for church service and preaching and teaching, taking on assignments in recent years as a part-time interim pastor for congregations facing transition in Schuylkill County. He still enjoys visiting parishioners in their homes, a practice he says church members appreciate just as much today as in the earliest decades of his pastoral service. “I’ve been blessed with good genes and good health,” he says. “And I feel I am still being called to serve today in a way I really enjoy.” When he finds time to relax, he and his wife, Johanna, enjoy their 47-acre farm, where Johanna prepares more than 1,000 containers of preserves – favorites being chow chow, pickled beets and jellies and jams -- each year. The couple has five adult children.

Through all the changes he has known as a pastor he finds it is still critical in this day to be “faithful to our Lutheran identity, defending, protecting and proclaiming the Gospel and our Confessions. Our hope comes from trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work even in challenging times.” He says he is encouraged by emerging church leaders he has met at LTSP during his most recent study tour, and adds that he thinks what the seminary is doing to develop strong leaders is a hopeful sign for the church’s future.