Saturday, Sept 15th we had a great joy of ordaining the Rev. Leslie Dunlap to serve the people of Grace Lutheran, Abilene. Leslie’s journey is emblematic of the emphasis we are placing in NT-NL on developing and raising up our own leaders. This is particularly important for communities that are in emerging ministry areas (ethnic specific, communities in poverty, language other than English) but it is also important in our more geographically isolated or unique contexts. To respond to this need the ELCA has the Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) program. This program recognizes that traditional seminary education, including the expectations of academic degrees, may not fit particular candidates or contexts. This was the fourth ordination of a non-traditional seminary candidate for NT-NL in 2018. The Rev. Dr. Christopher Richmann (St. John, Coryell City), the Rev. Don Strickland (Grace, Fort Worth), and the Rev. Miles Holder (New Hope, Keller) have all been ordained in the last few months to serve congregations in these unique situations.
This is the case for Leslie and Grace, Abilene. After a career in the Air Force Leslie was a member of Trinity, Miles (she originally was a member of St. Johns, Winters, TX but when they left the ELCA she transferred her membership to Trinity). This change to Trintiy was a work of the Holy Spirit as there she was raised up for ministry by the Rev. Diane Eggemeyer and became more involved in the life and leadership of the congregation. Sensing a deeper call to ministry and seeing a need in Abilene (the congregation had been without a pastor for several years) she was installed to serve as a Synodically Authorized Worship Leader (SAWL) in the winter of 2016. During this time she also was studying and taking courses at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (PLTS) working towards her TEEM program qualifications.
Serving at Grace she was mentored and supervised in her ministry growth by a number of pastors including the Rev. Kendra Mohn (Trinity, Fort Worth) who helped her through her seminary classwork. This level of support is vital, particularly for our non-traditional candidates as well as those working in congregations as they are studying. In many ways TEEM candidates are thrown in the “deep end of the pool” and expected to learn to swim quickly. But again, they don’t do it alone, they are mentored, coached, and supported along the way.
It was so exciting to see the Conference Out West (COW) gathering along with members of Leslie’s TEEM cohort including the recently ordained the Rev. Miles Holder (New Hope, Keller) and the Rev. Mark Hadley (Shepherd of Life, Arlington). The support these candidates show for one another demonstrates the vitality of this model of theological education in a particular place. It was a great joy to be with the people of Grace, Abilene. I look forward to seeing how the spirit continues to move in this community, challenging and encouraging them forward in faith to be a witness to the inclusive and hope filled good news of Jesus Christ. Given freely to us who are joined to his death and resurrection in the free gift of baptism.