Sunday Sermon – February 18, 2018

Mark 1:9-15

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 


Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our creator who provides us strength amid temptation, and hope amid chaos. Amen. 

John the Baptist had taught hundreds if not thousands of people.

He had brought them to the wilderness at the banks of the Jordan river. He had invited their repentance, heard their confession, and baptized them into new life.

But he knew the day that he baptized Jesus would be different. He knew Jesus was the one that he had spent his whole life preparing for, the one he had spent his whole ministry telling others about. He had prepared the way of the Lord.

And so it was probably no surprise that when he baptized Jesus, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice coming from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

But it might have been a bit more surprising to see what happened next.

To see that same Spirit which descended on Jesus like a dove, suddenly drive him out into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan for forty days amid the wild beasts and angels.

Maybe Jesus knew this would happen, but I have to believe that John was not expecting that.

But then again, I think that we rarely ever expect it when evil shows its head in our world.

On Wednesday afternoon, when I was trying to keep myself organized in between the two Ash Wednesday services, when I was trying to take a few minutes of rest, I didn’t expect to turn on my television and see news of yet another school shooting in Florida.

I didn’t expect to see mothers, standing behind police tape, crying, marked with the same ashen crosses I had put on members of our own two congregations.

I can still remember the day I came home at the end of the school day in third grade, April 20th, 1999. My grandma was sitting in our living room, watching CNN as she typically did every afternoon. Only, it was not regular news, but aerial images of groups of students being ushered out of a school by SWAT teams.

Columbine. One of the first really well-known school shootings.

I didn’t expect to see the way that evil reared its ugly head that day.

And I certainly didn’t expect to see the ways in which it has continued to do so almost nineteen years later.

It can be incredibly tempting to ask an age-old question.

“Where is God in all this?”

When Jesus is tempted by Satan… When people bring guns to school… When we’re feeling alone and scared in the wilderness of our lives…

Where is God in all this?

As I was preparing my sermon this week, and asking this question, I began to feel like I had almost backed myself into a corner. How could I bring up such a question, how could I answer such a question?

And isn’t that just the very heart of temptation?

Don’t you think that’s the question that Jesus himself was led to ask by Satan in the wilderness? Where is God? Where is his power? Why can’t he do something?

But through it all, Jesus kept the faith. In the midst of enormous temptation that no man on earth has ever faced, Jesus kept the faith.

And maybe that’s just the inspiration we need when the forces of evil and chaos show themselves in the world. Jesus looked evil in the eye for forty days straight.

And then he turned around and started trying to make the world better one step at a time. One heart at a time.

And that is what we are called to do as people of faith. To be God’s hands in the midst of evil. In the midst of chaos. To love our neighbors; even the seemingly unlovable ones. To do everything we can to laugh in the face of evil. To make the world a better place even when forces beyond our control are trying to make it a worse one.

And the good news is that through it all, Christ is with us. Christ gives us hope that even death has no power over us. Christ gives us strength that we can resist even the strongest temptation of the devil.

We may be down, but we’re not out. Because God is with us every step of the way.

So, where is God in all this?

God is with us. God is with all those who mourn today and in the days to come. God is with all those who pray for peace. God is with all those who find concrete practical ways to put an end to evil.

Though the tempter’s power is strong. God’s power is stronger. And we can show the world just how powerful it is. Amen.


Loving Thy Neighbor When Disaster Strikes

Throughout the weekend, I’ve been watching news reports of the unprecedented and catastrophic flooding being caused in Southeastern Texas by Hurricane Harvey and the literal feet of rain that it is dumping in the area. I’ve seen the social media posts of folks unable to get through the 911 system asking for help. I’ve watched updates about Urban Search and Rescue teams from around the country being mobilized to go down and begin the search for survivors and those less fortunate, and heard of the various disaster organizations that are ramping up to aid in what will unfortunately be a long and intense recovery process.

And honestly, it’s a bit overwhelming.

Houston Flooding

For most of my life, I’ve had a sense that God is calling me to help people. I did all sorts of volunteer work in my church and community growing up, and I can remember as early as middle school the desire to want to have a steady volunteer gig. My senior year of high school, I drove 45 minutes one way several times a month to be part of a volunteer search and rescue team. The evening after my first day of college classes, I walked a mile and a half to attend a meeting to join a different local search and rescue team. I carried on that tradition of volunteering in emergency services with a volunteer fire department during seminary, and another fire department now that I’ve started my first call as a pastor.

I share all of this because when I see disaster and destruction in the world, that desire to help starts churning in my heart. I get restless and want to be able to contribute. My wife can tell you just how squirmy and high-strung I can get when I don’t have an outlet to help.

And so when I see what’s going on in Texas, even though it’s a somewhat distant land which I’ve travelled to only once in my life, I want to find some way to help. And I know I’m not alone in that, I’ve already seen various friends and acquaintances trying to pull together various collections for our neighbors in the South.

And that’s what I wanted to spend a few minutes talking about today…

But first, let’s read a hopefully familiar piece of scripture:

Jesus said, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” -Luke 10:30-37

Most folks are familiar with the story of the “Good Samaritan.” It informs our Christian ethic of helping our neighbors, AND it’s not uncommon to hear reference to “Good Samaritans” outside of religious life as well.

But what made the Samaritan so helpful? What is it about the Samaritan’s behavior that Jesus encourages us to emulate it?

The Samaritan doesn’t try to coordinate help from afar, but rather gets right down in the ditch with the injured man. He can see exactly what he needs, and he does what he can. And once he’s done as much as he can in the field, he takes him to town, sets him up in a hotel and tells the innkeeper to take care of whatever he needs. Even though the Samaritan can only stay and help for a short while, he makes sure that the long-term needs of the man beset by robbers are taken care of.

good samaritan

So what does all of this mean?

In the days and weeks ahead, you’re probably going to have a burning desire to find a way to help the folks most affected by Hurricane Harvey. And you’re probably going to see various appeals asking for donations of all sorts to help the victims. And even if the urge to help becomes so great that you can’t sit still, I’d like you to think of the Good Samaritan.

The Good Samaritan got right into the thick of things in the ditch to help the man in need. Now some of you, through various organizations, may have the opportunity to go down to Houston and Southeastern Texas to help directly, which is highly commendable, but hardly an option for everyone.

AND SO, the important bit is that if you want to help, keep the organizations that ARE in the thick of things in mind… Those who are “in the ditch” have the best idea of what’s needed most. Don’t just start collecting clothes or bottled water assuming that some way or another you will get it to people who need it. There are very specific logistical concerns and supply chains involved in getting supplies to disaster victims. A truckload of clothes might help someone, but not if it makes it more difficult for a truckload of food to be delivered. Pick an organization you trust, and find out what is most helpful for them.

And don’t be offended if the answer is cash. Many of these organizations have huge supply networks already in place, and the same $5 you’d spend on a case of bottled water could possibly be used to buy a whole pallet of water from a bulk supplier. AND, the other cool and important thing is that a lot of major disaster organizations talk to one another; they ensure that all of the bases are being covered, so that they’re not all duplicating one service while leaving folks desperately in need for another.  Let the folks who are closest to those in need dictate what is collected. That’s important point number one that we can pull out of the Good Samaritan story for today.

Important point number two comes in the second piece of the story, the part where the  Samaritan takes the man to town, gets him checked into an inn, and asks the innkeeper to keep a tally of any costs for him to pay back later. He doesn’t just take care of the immediate needs, but goes the extra mile to make sure that the injured man is taken care of and on the road to recovery. Believe me when I tell you that recovering from historic flooding like this is not something that can be accomplished in days. It will take months, and honestly years for some of these folks to feel like they’re back on their feet again.

Unfortunately, some of the best known disaster response agencies tend to be focused on more immediate needs. They’ll help folks with food, water, and shelter in the coming weeks, but they’re just not equipped to help people resettle or rebuild in the long term. Their mission is noble, but can only go so far. Meanwhile, if we truly want to be like the Good Samaritan, we need to think about the big picture, and think about what these folks need not just now and next week, but also next month and next year. And so, important point number two? Keep an eye on the big picture and support folks who have a plan for long-term aid.


I know folks are itching to help. Believe me, I am too. But if we follow the model of the Good Samaritan, and support the folks who are doing the work on the ground, it will be better for all of us.

I’m biased, but I think a lot of the church-based organizations really embody both of the points I tried to make above. Folks like Lutheran Disaster Response, Catholic Charities, Mennonite Disaster Service, and the United Methodist Committee on Relief; they have folks on the ground who are partnering with local agencies and working to identify what needs aren’t being met. AND they’re in it for the long-haul. One of my favorite examples comes from some severe flooding last summer in a county to the south of me. Catholic Charities arranged to get water heaters at cost from an appliance company. Hundreds of people had flooded basements, they had lost major appliances like clothes washers and dryers, but especially their WATER HEATERS. People had plenty of clothes and bottled water and bleach and everything you could possibly think of, but they didn’t have water heaters, so they couldn’t shower, or wash up, and a water heater is a huge expense to have to cover out of pocket, but it goes a long way in helping to make a home habitable again. They had worked with folks on the ground to identify a need that wasn’t being met, and used their (considerable) resources to fill that gap.

That’s the kind of stuff that people who do this for a living are capable of. But they need our help.

So, when you’re watching the news tonight and you’re feeling that itch to help, think about the Good Samaritan, and consider how you can use your resources to do the most good for our neighbors in Texas. Give cash to organizations like the American Red Cross who are on the ground sheltering and feeding people as we speak, but also look into other organizations that will be helping folks to rebuild long into the future and throw some support their way too.

Personally, I’ll be putting my support behind Lutheran Disaster Response through my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And because mission support from Lutheran congregations cover their administrative overhead costs, 100% of donations designated for helping hurricane victims will go to that cause. Check it out here: ELCA – Hurricane Harvey Response.

And if you’re still really intent on donating clothes or water or bleach, etc. Please take a moment to read this wonderful NPR article from a few years ago. I guarantee it will give you a new perspective on how disaster relief works, and will hopefully persuade you to find an organization you trust to support financially. Check it out here: Thanks, But No Thanks: When Post-Disaster Donations Overwhelm

Can you find five dollars?

Do you have $5?

It’s not that much money. The average person can probably find it laying around the house in spare change or loose bills, even if you’re not much of a cash person.

Or, in the next 7 days, I’d bet many of you will make at least one less than necessary trip to Sheetz, Starbucks, WaWa, or McDonald’s. If you can use some self-control and eliminate one of those trips, $5 is not hard to come by.

About nine months ago, after increasing mobility issues, and having spent months being bounced around a variety of doctors, my dad was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, sometimes more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

It’s been a wild ride over this last stretch of months, but a really hopeful and inspiring moment came in September, when, out of the blue, a friend from the church I grew up in messaged me on Facebook. He was running the 2016 Pittsburgh Half-Marathon as part of a team fundraising for the ALS Association, and he wanted to run specifically in honor of my dad. I was moved to tears.

When Jon and I first talked, his goal was $500. He has since surpassed that with over $550 in donations received and a new goal of $800. This is part of the Western PA Chapter of the ALS Association’s goal of raising $20,000 through the Pittsburgh Marathon, (which they’re over halfway toward reaching). The ALS Association will use that money to fund research into the disease which terrifying little is known about, even 77 years after the diagnosis of the man for whom it is colloquially named. They’ll use it to provide resources to the doctors and facilities who are treating ALS patients. They’ll use it to provide tangible support to ALS patients, and their caregivers and families. I cannot say enough about the virtues of the ALS Association and their mission.

$5 is not that much money. But every little bit helps. If each of my 857 Facebook friends could find it in their hearts and their pockets to give $5, we would raise over $4,000. To help Jon reach his goal, it would take only fifty, just over 5% of my social media connections.

It was during my internship that I met the first person I had ever known with ALS, a  woman who sadly passed away just a month and a half before my dad’s own diagnosis. In the past 9 months, I’ve heard from all sorts of friends whose lives have been affected by ALS, and have lost friends and loved ones from the disease. And whether or not you have a personal connection to someone with ALS, I hope that hearing pieces of our stories, and hearing about the ways that the ALS Association is so helpful, might move you to do what you need to do to find that $5.

Donate to Jon’s Pittsburgh Half-Marathon fundraiser, here:


More info about how to #ChallengeALS

Approval? Was ist das?

“By the grace of God, I have been approved for ordination by the bi-synodical candidacy committee of the Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia-Western Maryland Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”

…Words that sound impressive, but possibly leave you quoting Martin Luther’s small catechism and saying “Was ist das?” or “What does this mean?”

As candidates for ordained ministry in the ELCA, we are in part accountable to the candidacy committee of our home synod (synod being the the geographic governing body similar to a Catholic diocese.) Candidacy committees are made up of clergy and lay members and are tasked with the development and to a certain extent assessment of church leaders going through the process toward becoming a part of one of the ELCA’s rosters.

Candidates have three major meetings and decision points with their candidacy committees. Entrance typically occurs before a student begins seminary studies and is for the most part an assessment of readiness for theological study. Endorsement typically happens after the student’s first year, the intent of endorsement is to affirm the student’s gifts and further discern things that might be growth areas, you need to be positively endorsed before going on internship.  And then, finally Approval takes place as a student is completing their seminary studies and internship; taking into account academic reports, internship evaluations, and the student’s own reflection, approval is the crucial decision point where the candidacy committee is approving the student for ordination (or consecration into one of the lay rosters).

And so, being in my senior year of seminary and rapidly approaching graduation, I met with the candidacy committee for about an hour long interview which resulted in them announcing their decision to approve me for ordination.

Which again leads you to ask, Was ist das? What does this mean? And more importantly, where do things go from here?

Well, I still have to finish this semester, and the spring semester too, after which I’ll graduate with a Master of Divinity degree from Gettysburg Seminary.

In February, my name will go into the ELCA Churchwide Assignment (which somewhat resembles a sports draft) where the bishops of the ELCA will work together to ensure all of the graduating seniors from all of the seminaries are assigned a region and synod.  Once I’m assigned a synod, I’ll begin conversations with that specific synod’s bishop to figure out which congregation within the synod they serve might be a good fit for me and then I’ll go through a “call process” with an individual congregation, which then hopefully ends in them extending a call to me and then me being able to schedule my ordination. This is obviously an over-simplified explanation, but that is in part because I hope to give a better explanation as I move through each step of the process in the months to come.

The ELCA’s ecclesiology is very specific that an individual is not ordained until they have received and accepted a call from a congregation or other ministry. This is actually an important theological distinction because we see our sense of call as something that is private and public, from God and from the church. A congregation extending a call is seen as the ultimate recognition of God’s call to an individual through the church.

All that said, thank you to my family, friends, and church members who have been supportive through this process. I look forward to sharing more with you as things continue to move forward!

Social Media for Social Ministry

Late last week, I got the opportunity to demonstrate to my supervising Pastor some of the work that I’ve done to establish Christ Lutheran’s social media presence.

When I started my internship, I inherited a Facebook page that had been started by one of the previous interns.  In the past nine months, I’ve been intentional about posting things several times a week, sometimes utilizing a posting schedule to coordinate posting things every day or even several times a day.  While it’s still all in my head, I’ve developed a sort of social media strategy for our congregation in the mountains of Western Maryland.  I’ve brought the page from about 80 likes to over 130.  Our post reach ranges anywhere from 30 to 3000, with our engagement rate averaging around 8% of the post-reach.  Not bad from the limited research I’ve been able to do into understanding the metrics of marketing.

One of the things I specifically highlighted as I was showing my work was how I had paid to boost posts about our monthly free community meals, and how that had resulted in higher than usual engagement from people all throughout the community with no direct connection to our congregation.  A question of audience was brought up: “How many people who might need a free meal are actually on Facebook?”

I countered that he would probably be surprised how many of even our poorest brothers and sisters find time and opportunity to surf the web.

Now here’s the thing, gang, some of you will probably suggest I’m naive, but I’d also like to suggest that maybe I’m not.  I know that there are certainly hundreds of millions of people who have never even touched a device that would allow them to access the internet.  But at the same time, I am always amazed by the people I meet living in various stages and kinds of poverty who DO have access to the internet, even if it’s just an old iPod connected to free wifi at a public place.

And so, I’m inclined to believe that social media CAN be effective as part of an outreach strategy for those living in poverty.

Let’s think about the accessibility of some of the other most common methods of advertising.  The only television advertising most churches can afford is cable access, which requires your audience to have cable TV, a definite luxury.  Churches might be able to afford a decent amount of radio advertising, but, a radio advertising salesperson will tell you the two biggest times people listen to a radio is in the car or at work, times that may not be options for those living in poverty.  Financially, printed newspaper advertising might be the most accessible, but one has to consider that it unfortunately is a dying medium, and more and more people are seeing it as a luxury that isn’t worth even the $.50 or so it costs to buy a paper.

Meanwhile, an internet capable tablet costs $40-$50 at Walmart and wifi is free at millions of businesses and public places all across the country.  And honestly, for those living in situational poverty due to some sort of financial loss, are likely to hold onto something like a smartphone, a laptop, an iPod or something, because they see the internet as a lifeline.  And ignoring all of that, nearly every public library now has computers and internet access, with hardly a cost other than maybe a few bucks to get your library card.

Internet might be seen as a luxury by those who didn’t grow up with it, but more and more people see it as a necessity.  And to assume that those living in poverty are doing without it could be a major act of naïveté.

As I shared my ideas with friend and social media guru, Julie Stecker, Director of Communications for the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the ELCA, she saw a lot of truth in what I was thinking about.

She went even further saying that those who live in poverty RELY on social networking to find food, jobs, and housing.  “Before facebook, their networks relied on being in person, but social media means their networks can be way more widespread and easier to get in touch with.”

We’ve seen this in play when we advertise our food basket giveaways during Christmas and Easter; 25-35 baskets of food are usually all spoken for in less than a day as people quickly share the information with friends, neighbors, and others in need.  More and more, that sort of communication is taking place via Facebook or other forms of social media.

If the church can establish itself as a “native” of the social media landscape, that means something like a simple post about a monthly free community meal can take flight far beyond anything we might have been able to share on our own without facebook.  I think a portion of our “audience,” of our mission field IS on the internet and facebook, and if we’re finding ways to help feed folks who might otherwise not have had a good meal that day, it sounds like we’re on the right track.

…Just some food for thought for those considering internet and social media as a tool for their ministry.

Wearing the Collar

To be completely honest, outside of worship, pastoral calls, and some meetings and other church responsibilities, I rarely wear my clergy collar.  While I wear a clergy shirt most days, the little white piece of plastic that inserts into the collar to provide that distinctive white square at the neck often resides in one of my pockets, or a cup holder in my Jeep.

Even on days that I’ve been wearing my clergy shirt with the white plastic tab-collar inserted, I often fall into the temptation of pulling it out as soon as I’m in the privacy of my office or Jeep.

That being said, wearing it in public is part of being a witness of the faith and the church as I go about my daily life.  And now that I’ve finally found a couple clergy shirts that fit REALLY well, I’m more inclined to stay “in uniform” as I go about non-ministry related errands.

Such was the case when I took my dog Tebow to the vet yesterday to get his annual vaccines.

After visiting with and administering the shots for Tebow, the veterinarian and I talked a little bit about what it means to have a “rough day” as a vet.  He told me that vets really have to wear a lot of hats.  They are a doctor to the animal, and in many cases a friend to the owner; but at the end of life, they quickly change from doctor to executioner (his words, not mine), and undertaker.

Furthermore,  he reminded me that when people lose a (human) family member, they are often surrounded by a support network of friends and extended family, but that when families lose their pets, it is most often only the immediate family there, or even just a single person.  Without a support network in place, veterinarians might also wear the hat of grief counselor.

I had never quite thought of a veterinarian’s job in that way.

He told me of a day years ago, when late in an afternoon, he had to euthanize three dogs in a row.  His final patient of the day after that was the dog of a (now retired) Lutheran Pastor in the area.  He told me how he had had a similar conversation with that Pastor, that the Pastor had offered to be a resource to him or any families who were really having a rough go of losing their pet, and that he had in fact sent 2-3 families grieving the loss of their pets to that Pastor over the years.

Unfortunately, since my time here in LaVale will be coming to an end in August, I’m not able to be a resource to replace his friend the Pastor whom he had referred families to, but I think he appreciated being able to talk about how stressful his job can often be, and I certainly appreciated hearing his perspective on something I’d never given much thought to.  And the conversation happened because I made the conscious decision not to rip off my clergy collar as soon as I was “done” for the day…

On Forgiveness in the Midst of Darkness

My internship congregation, Christ Lutheran Church in LaVale, MD has three worship services each week, two on Sunday morning, and a much more laid-back and low-key service on Wednesday evenings.  Last night, I preached, choosing to reflect on the Gospel for this upcoming Sunday, Matthew 18:21-35.  I was really thankful for the way that it came together; one of the first commentaries I read triggered me to remember the quote I include toward the end of the sermon and the emotion evoked by it kept me going the whole way through.  We are not always so blessed to have sermons come together like this, but when we are, it is a wonderful thing.

The sermon, in its entirety, is below the break…


Read the rest of this entry

Fading Tail lights…

Up from the amphitheater, campers and their counselors wander back towards their cabins after closing worship. Parents, trying to keep up, find themselves stuck behind the tide of children and young adults. Eventually, everyone: campers, counselors, and parents, make their way back to cabins. Contact information is exchanged, goodbyes are shared, cars are loaded. One by one, headlights and tail lights disappear down the dark driveway, making the journey back into the real world, returning campers to their lives outside of camp. The flow of cars leaving slows to a trickle, until one last car disappearing down the hill indicates that all are gone…

This summer, I was given the opportunity to return to the place that has made such an impact in my faith life as well as my discernment. Lutherlyn, a Lutheran church camp north of Butler, PA is a place that I, and many other young adults, consider to be a second home. Starting in 2006, I have worked 7 of the last 9 summers on staff at camp, serving in a variety of different roles. When I found myself needing something to do this summer, waiting for my internship to start in August, it was a joy and reassuring comfort to hit “submit” on an online application, even moreso to hear the words of Deb, the associate director telling me, “we’d love to have you back, we can definitely find a place for you.”

One week of pre-summer preparations with the summer’s leadership team, two weeks of training with the entire staff, and seven weeks of life-changing adventures in faith for campers of all ages brings us almost, but not quite, to the end of the summer. Next week, as we prepare to wind down and put camp into “off-season” mode, we welcome one last group of campers: a half-week of “family camp” for our rostered leaders in the NWPA and SWPA synods of the ELCA.

Just two weeks from today, I will move onto the next chapter of my life, putting my dog in the backseat of my Jeep, and most of my belongings in the back of a Uhaul, I will depart for Cumberland, Maryland, where I will begin my year-long internship as Vicar of Christ Lutheran Church in LaVale, MD.

As I pack that truck, the one thing I won’t have to pack are the lessons learned at camp, and the lessons I’m learning because of camp. That second part is important because some of the things that camp teaches you aren’t discrete, one-time lessons. For the more than two-thirds of my life during which I’ve been a camper and staff member, camp has taught me many things, but the verb teaching is not powerful enough in the past-tense.

Camp has continuously, and will continue to teach me things for the rest of my life. In less than a week, my own tail lights will join the procession out of camp, and in two weeks, that same Jeep will head over the mountains to Maryland, but even still, camp will be a part of me, will be teaching me, and hopefully, before too long, those tail lights disappearing down the driveway, will be headlights coming up, leading me back to this place that means so much to me.

Finding a Place for Me – Internship Matching

Spring is an exciting time for middler (2nd year) ELCA seminarians, this is because for those on the traditional 4 year M.Div. track, it is spring of your middler year that you begin to find out where you will be spending your third year on internship.

I’m blessed to be part of the combined LTSG/LTSP internship matching process, which is unique in the level of participation that both interns and supervisors get to have in the decision-making process.  I’ve tried to lay it out as concisely as possible as a way of sharing with others what is happening and will be happening over the coming days.  I’m even using bullet points to try and keep myself even more concise:

  • Early last Fall, all the middlers from LTSG and LTSP planning to participate in the internship matching process filled out a standardized application.  This application is mostly biographical in nature but also has some logistical information as well (ie. do you have a reliable car, do you have geographical preferences and restrictions, what is your family situation, do you have pets? etc.).
  • Beginning in December and continuing up until just a few days ago churches that were interested in working with an intern filled out their own application that is in many ways parallel to the student’s application.  It’s important to note that except in very rare cases, churches need to be able to fully fund their internship: this means providing housing, a monthly stipend, health care, and paying for all of the academic fees.  This can cost as much as $30,000.
  • As internship sites send in their applications, they are forwarded to us as students to review.  Likewise, the sites receive a disk with the student applications for all of the prospective interns.  This way, both interns and supervisors can start to get an idea of who might be a good match.
  • Finally… Sort of… INTERNSHIP MATCHING WORKSHOP!  Later this week (Thursday and Friday) all of the supervisors and all of the prospective students come to the LTSG campus for interviews.  Over the course of a day and a half, you interview with at least 7-8 (and often quite a few more) supervisors.  The facilitators really try to de-emphasize any sense of competition, reminding students and supervisors that the goal is to find the best match, not necessarily their favorite.
  • At the end of the workshop, students and supervisors make lists of everyone they interviewed with.  Interns separate their list into three tiers, the first being those that they’d be interested in working with; the second being sites/supervisors that they’d be willing to go to, but otherwise have some sort of hesitation about; and finally those that they would not be willing to go to.  Likewise, the supervisors also generate a three-tiered list.  Both sets of lists are submitted to the LTSG field ed folks for review.
  • From there it becomes a big logic puzzle for the folks in the field education office, matching up the tiers of the different lists and trying to find a match for everyone; the emphasis here is very utilitarian, finding the most good matches for the most people.  Fortunately, they won’t send you to a place you said no to, and they won’t send you to a place you listed having hesitations about without talking to you first.
  • Once it’s all sorted out, the placements are announced.  Chances are, this will happen in the early part of March.  Moving forward, some internships could start as early as May or as late as September, it all depends on the site and the student.


Personally, I’ve got a list of about 10 sites picked out that I’d like to interview with.  They represent a pretty decent variety of geographical locations and ministry contexts.  At this point, it’s basically a matter of trusting in the Holy Spirit to send me to wherever I need to be.

On Dogs and Death…

As I write this, a very special and somewhat unique funeral service is taking place in the City of Pittsburgh.

On January 28, K-9 Rocco was stabbed in the course of pursuing a fugitive while in service as a police dog with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.  On the evening of January 30, after two days of impassioned pleas for blood donors and attempted emergency surgeries, Rocco succumbed to his injuries.

Pittsburgh is a passionate city.  A city that rallies around its sports teams, its local culture, and most importantly around its neighbors during times of crisis and need.  And so it did not surprise me in the least that Pittsburghers both near and far would be so moved by the sacrifice of a dog whose death may have helped save his human partner’s life.  In the words of Mayor Bill Peduto, “Pittsburgh showed its soul that night, a soul that shines with compassion and recognizes the good not only in every human, but in every being.”

This morning, Rocco is receiving a full police honors in a line of duty funeral.  Dozens of police K-9’s and their handlers have descended on Pittsburgh to pay their respects, and many more police officers and community members are participating as well.

As someone who has a special fondness and respect for members of the emergency services, as well as for dogs, I’m left trying to sort out how I feel about this.  For many people, myself included, our pets are considered a part of the family; the bond between a police officer and his or her working dog is even stronger.  By no means am I saying that I think having a funeral for an animal is inappropriate, but I’m curious how others feel about this particular incident and the loss of pets in general.

If you’re willing to, please share some of your thoughts in the comments area below.  I’m interested to hear how my friends and colleagues  feel.



If you feel like you’d like to read up on the incident a bit more, here’s one of the many articles available from nearly every Pittsburgh media source: