A Year of Firsts
By: Allison Bengfort
At this point three years ago, I was a stranger to St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square. I was about to begin my year as a Ministry in Context student, and I remember explaining to my friends that I would be interning at “the hip Lutheran church in Chicago.” I knew that St. Luke’s was a place where progressive ideas were welcome, and where young adults like me could thrive.
Looking back on my year at St. Luke’s, I now realize how crucial this community was in my development as a pastoral leader. Three years ago, I was in the thick of the discernment process, and it was a bumpy ride. I had gone back and forth many times on following my call to ministry. I had decided to serve as a Ministry in Context student, hoping it would give me the insight and experience I needed to move forward on my journey.
My year at St. Luke’s was a year of firsts. Though I had grown up in the Lutheran church, there were many things I had never done. It was the first time I served as an assisting minister. It was the first time I attended council meetings. It was the first time I led an adult forum, taught Sunday school, led a children’s sermon, or planned a full worship service. It was the first time I had ever been in a leadership position at a church.
One of the most memorable firsts that year was my first sermon. It was the second Sunday of Advent, the text was about John the Baptist, and I had no idea how to go about writing a sermon. My first preaching class was not going to start until February, so this sermon was my initial, untrained attempt. I was very nervous about preaching, not because I was uncomfortable with public speaking, but because I was scared I would have nothing to say. I started working on my sermon weeks in advance, and sure enough, I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall trying to come up with something to say. I will be honest; there was a moment when I thought I couldn’t do it. A moment when I thought this might be the end of my journey toward becoming a pastor. That was a turning point for me. I pulled myself together, the determination my parents had cultivated within me came to my rescue, and I wrote a sermon. I shared my manuscript with Pastor Erik, who gave wonderfully helpful feedback and affirmed that indeed, I had written a sermon! After making edits, I preached to the people of St. Luke’s, who warmly welcomed my words and affirmed my potential.
With my first sermon under my belt, I approached another first on my path to becoming a pastor. This time, however, it was something I had not foreseen. On Palm Sunday, I participated for the first time in a public action against injustice alongside the community of St. Luke’s. After the joint service with the Logan Square Ecumenical Alliance, the gathered assembly marched to a nearby McDonald’s, where we proclaimed our support for a $15 minimum wage. We filled the restaurant, sang songs and shouted chants, and presented the manager with a written statement. I did not know at the time that this public action would be the first of many for me, but the spark that caught fire inside me that day is not easily blown out. It is fitting that my first protest was through church, given that faith has always been my motivation for working for social change. With this experience as a gateway, I became more involved in faith-based community organizing and developed my pastoral identity as a change agent in the community.
Now, more than two years later, I am approaching my final Sunday as the Pastoral Intern at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle, WA. I hope you will hold me in prayer on August 20th, when years of discernment and preparation will come to a close. I am so thankful to you, the people of St. Luke’s, for the role that you have played in that discernment and preparation. You were there for me as I grew, both as a person and as a pastoral leader. You encouraged and supported me, and most importantly, you helped me see how I could authentically live out my call to be a pastor. I will be forever grateful.
I realize now that I am on the brink of another year of firsts. No more seminary; no more internships. Instead, it will be assignment, ordination, and first call. It’s a very exciting time for me, and I know that it is also a time of transition for St. Luke’s as you say goodbye to Pastor Erik. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide all of us as we step forward into the future in faith. May God bless you!