The Accelerated Ministry Program (AMP), a partnership between the Lutheran-affiliated college and seminary, streamlines the preparation for pastoral ministry for first-career ministerial students. It is funded by a nearly $500,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation and more than $500,000 in scholarship gifts to date, including $375,000 from the Tomsons and more than $125,000 from other alumni and friends who have responded to the Tomson’s challenge. AMP includes three years of undergraduate education at Wartburg College. Students spend the final three years serving in a congregation while completing their master’s studies through Wartburg Seminary. Students can choose among a variety of undergraduate majors in addition to religion and can become a Lutheran minister in six years instead of eight.
“There is an ever present need for new pastors to fill the vacancies in our Lutheran parishes created by normal retirement of clergy,” said O. Jay and Pat Tomson. “As the number of individuals graduating from our affiliated seminaries has continued downward there has become an obvious need to reverse this trend. Tuition and living costs associated with seven to eight years of formal education are expenses that are very onerous for candidates for a Master of Divinity degree and most often require assuming a significant amount of related debt. It is very difficult to repay given the limited income that is earned by newly ordained pastors, even over an extended period of time. At Wartburg College, pre-seminary students have the opportunity to enter the seminary with no debt or as little debt as possible. Further, the seminary program also has resources to assist students who, upon completing their master’s program, can enter into ministry unencumbered by the level of debt normally associated with eight years of higher education.”
Since the program was initiated in 2018, the Tomsons have made lead challenge gifts each year. This challenge grant is available to students who plan to enroll in the Accelerated Ministry Program at Wartburg College in 2021. Students who receive this scholarship also will receive a scholarship from the Kern Foundation, along with other financial aid from the college with the goal of minimizing debt throughout the entire program.
“The Accelerated Ministry Program walks with young servant-leaders through intentional discernment, spiritual growth and leadership opportunities,” said Kristin Wendland, assistant professor of religion and academic adviser of AMP. “Students who are already discerning a call to rostered ministry value these offerings along with the excellent academic programs for which both schools are known. Students also appreciate that their final three years are embedded in a ministry context, giving them the opportunity to integrate their academic work with intentional ministry experience throughout their seminary program.”
The program includes one-on-one mentoring, diverse experiential learning opportunities, a well-rounded curriculum and overall discernment support. Fifteen students are currently enrolled, including three juniors who will soon transition to their seminary courses and serving a congregation.
“I came to Wartburg because of the Accelerated Ministry Program,” said Kellie Escovy, a junior from Katy, Texas. “After I graduated from high school, I knew that my finances wouldn’t allow me to go straight to a four-year university, so I spent my first year working and taking community college classes. I felt called to some kind of ministry, but I didn’t think ordained ministry would be possible for me because I couldn’t afford eight years of school to get there. I ended up pursuing AMP because, not only does it streamline education and cut off two years of tuition costs, it has a three-year paid internship built in and provides amazing financial aid while I pursue my B.A.”
Escovy is excited to begin work in a church community next year.
“While I’ve been at Wartburg College, one of our biggest goals has been to build intentional community with one another,” said Escovy. “As I move into my internship, not only will I be bringing over some theological education from my religion classes, I will also be able to continue the practice of building Christian community. I also feel very well-equipped to transition into seminary life and classes.”
Samantha Pfab, a 2020 Wartburg College graduate, recently joined the college’s AMP team as program associate to mentor prospective and current students who are discerning their call to ministry.
“There are many unique opportunities for each student throughout the entirety of their time in the program,” said Pfab. “We help students navigate where they feel called and how they see themselves functioning as a leader in the church. Generous gifts from donors make the program possible; it is thanks to them that we are able to cultivate leaders of the church in this way.”
“This is a win-win program that hopefully will encourage more and more students to give serious consideration to enter the ministry,” said the Tomsons. “While this is still in its infancy the program is growing, shows real promise, and hopefully will become the program of choice for educating and training our future pastors. It is rewarding to witness the leadership of the presidents of our two institutions working together.”
Gifts in support of AMP scholarships can be directed to the Wartburg College Development Office via phone at 866-219-9155 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Details of the program are available at www.wartburg.edu/ministry.