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Dual Experience in Parish and Education a Plus for New LTSP Vice President

Call it a moment of career serendipity.

While The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) President David Lose was developing a plan with Dennis Trotter to serve as the seminary’s new Vice President for Advancement, Lose mentioned he was looking to fill a brand new position at the seminary by which Trotter’s spouse, Trina Johnsten, might be intrigued.

The new post — Vice President for Student Vocation and Formation — required the successful candidate to have a background in higher education service, plus experience as a parish pastor. An additional interview and explorations with Lose led to Johnsten joining her spouse as new vice presidents for LTSP.

Johnsten, a native of Great Falls, Montana, certainly had the dual experience. She grew up as a Missouri Synod Lutheran, found her way to undergraduate study at St. Olaf College, and after graduation worked at several schools, including her alma mater, in admissions and financial aid.

After meeting her husband, Johnsten decided to enter seminary, matriculating at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. Ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2003, Johnsten first served in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod as a parish pastor, then was called to congregations in the Midwest and Southern California.

“We had met President Lose seven or eight years ago at a continuing education event and spent a week with him and his family,” Johnsten recalled. “My husband actually taught his son how to fish while we were there. I followed his career closely after that, admiring what he put out as resources for preaching pastors.

“What interests me most is the chance to work with President Lose,” Johnsten said. “I think he has exciting new ideas for the direction of seminary education in our church and the broader church.

“I’ve also been someone who has made lists during my years of pastoral ministry — lists of things I wish I had been taught in seminary as I encountered challenges in parish ministry,” Johnsten noted. “One of my roles in this new position will be to talk to students and those alumni who have gone before to add ideas to my list of things not taught in the classroom that are necessary for students to know not only as they prepare for ministry of word and sacrament but any type of public ministry leadership position in the church or in social ministry organizations for example.”

She explained that she intends to spend the first six or eight months in her new post “immersing myself in this community, learning its history, listening to stories so I can build a better vision for my work. I want to learn all about what makes this place special.”

What does she most want people connected to the seminary to know? “I’ve lived on both coasts and in the middle of the country,” she said. “I’ve met clergy and other graduates from all eight Lutheran seminaries and other seminaries as well. I’m especially excited about the student body here. Dennis and I made it a point to sit in on (Professor) Jon Pahl’s class entitled ‘Introduction to Public Theology.’ The 50 or 60 members of the entering class have really impressed me. There is such a rich variety of students. It is the most diverse and exciting group of people I have been with lately.” She explained she both wept and laughed at various points during the class. “Dr. Pahl lets everyone in the group explore. That class has been exciting, an example of the kind of life-changing experience that is so necessary for the life of the church.”

What will it be like working closely in an administrative position with her spouse? “We have always been helpful to each other in our careers,” she said. In a teasing way she said Trotter has been “the greatest pastor’s ‘wife’ I could ever ask for as a partner in the parish. I expect more of the same. Dennis brings a lot of experience in higher education and student services that will be of great value to the seminary and to me.

“I will always be able to turn to him for advice,” she said. “Oh don’t put that in,” she said with a laugh.

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