Editor’s note: John Grinvalds had no part in the reporting, writing or editing of this story.
The Lutheran Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a place where students can explore vocations, and Adam White has seen its effects in his eight years as campus pastor with 15 students attending seminary or divinity school.
White said the Lutheran Center, as well as the majority of campus ministries, help students find meaningful work in their post-college life. He sees the center assist students by supporting their discernment and providing opportunities for them to gain experience, like the sermons students deliver at the center’s Wednesday night services.
Students can also take online courses with seminarians and test the waters of theological higher education. The Lutheran Center’s seminarian interns also help students learn about life in seminary.
Bridget Jones, a pastor in Superior, Wisconsin, who graduated from UNL in 2013 with a degree in actuarial science, said after interning in actuarial science before her senior year, she realized she wanted to apply for ministry.
She said she would have been lost in her career if not for the Lutheran Center leaders and their conversations about ministry. Jones said she and White discussed applying her gifts to ministry and he invited her to give sermons at the Lutheran Center, which helped her discover an interest in ministry.
White said the Lutheran Center’s leaders look for ministerial strengths in students then have conversations with them to see if ministry could be a genuine calling.
Dylan Spilinek, a junior theater design and technical production major, came to UNL from a small town in Nebraska where he said he didn’t grow up spiritually. He said his life changed after his roommate introduced him to the Lutheran Center. He said he’s grown spiritually and wants to help others in their journey.
Spilinek said stepping up and guiding others toward a loving God after growing up in a struggling church is what attracted him to ministry.
He said the Lutheran Center has helped him by providing opportunities to minister and serve.
White has also played a part in Spilinek’s spiritual growth. He said White encouraged him to attend a Lutheran Student Movement U.S.A. conference and offered to support him both logistically and financially.
Speaking at his grandfather’s funeral also helped Spilinek realize his calling. He said that despite it being a difficult experience, it felt natural.
White said students considering seminary shouldn’t worry about their major as some seminaries, including the church associated with the Lutheran Center’s denomination the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, prefer well-rounded students regardless of major.
He compared being a pastor to being the chief executive officer of a non-profit, where there are many different aspects, from managing church finances to informal counseling and being a theologian. White said any major can tie into the role of clerical work. For example, a pastor who studied mechanical engineering can apply the systematic and rational thinking of that major to theology.
Jones said her background in actuarial science means she’s not afraid to look at budgets while serving as a pastor or manage church finances.
Not all churches can support full-time pastors, and having students with a non-religious background they can work on alongside their ministry can help them pursue their mission, she said.
Spilinek said he wants to combine his interests in theater and ministry, although he is still figuring out what that will look like.
He said there are many types of ministries out there for people to combine their interests and their calling together, like outdoor ministries or uniting people through meals.
“Discernment, vocation, ministry — they’re all umbrella terms. There’s so many things you can do within that,” Spilinek said.
He said he would rather be someone who welcomes and helps others than become a big name on Broadway.
“I have this love and passion for theater that I’m gaining all these skills in undergrad,” he said. “How do I apply that ministry work outside of [UNL]?”