Ellie: ‘I found my people in this program’

Sam Pfab and Ellie Nabholz meet in Cardinal Commons. Ellie is a student in the Wartburg Accelerated Ministry Program.
Sam Pfab and Ellie Nabholz meet in Cardinal Commons. Ellie is a student in the Wartburg Accelerated Ministry Program.

By Stephanie Robbins Boeding ’99

After her second year at a Lutheran summer camp, the spark was lit for Ellie Nabholz of Brandon. “I told my pastor at home that I wanted to go into ministry, and so he had me start helping with services,” she said. With the Rev. Mike Ashman’s guidance, Nabholz became more active in her home congregation, Zion Lutheran Jubilee in rural La Porte City, by giving a message, helping with communion and doing the readings.

After Ashman connected her to the Northeast Iowa Synod Office, Nabholz learned about Wartburg’s Accelerated Ministry Program (AMP), which piqued her interest in ordained ministry. She was invited, along with two other high school students considering the program, to participate in a discernment retreat at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque with college and seminary students. Spending the weekend with others already in the accelerated program cemented Nabholz’s desire to go to Wartburg College for AMP. “It was the people that drew me in,” she said. “I found my people in this program.”

Nabholz’s parents and pastor were surprised when she told them she wanted to be part of the accelerated ministry program. “I’m more shy and not much of a public speaker. I was kind of the one to start looking into this,” she said. “After I was helping at church, people told me, ‘You’re good at public speaking’ and ‘This is a good path for you.’”

That affirmation of her ministry gifts through her congregation has been important to Nabholz in recognizing her calling. “I never thought of leading worship,” she said. “It was my pastor who helped push me into that role of helping lead worship and helping with Confirmation and Sunday School.”

Midweek Chapel service
Midweek Chapel service

Even though the pandemic was ongoing during her first year at Wartburg College, Nabholz still experienced the camaraderie, mentoring and preparation that marks the first year of the program. “I like the close-knittedness that we have in the program, and not just among the first-year students. They’re very friendly and welcoming,” she said of the other students and the faculty.

Students in AMP have opportunities to assist with worship at Wartburg College in their first year. At a campus service in November 2020 marking the 50-year anniversary of ordaining women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), Nabholz assisted as a Scripture reader. “That was the first time speaking in front of people since the COVID quarantine began,” she said. “It was refreshing to speak about women in ministry, a sense of joy and fulfillment in doing that.”

As a woman herself drawn to ordained ministry, the cost and time associated with earning two degrees almost kept her from following that path. “My parents were supportive, but were concerned about the cost of coming to a four-year college like Wartburg. I was also considering a community college. But they told me to go for it at Wartburg,” she said.Strong scholarship support from generous donors also is making her career path a reality. “The scholarship support has been very helpful,” said Nabholz. “Without the scholarships, I wouldn’t be able to be here at Wartburg. And with the six years instead of eight, I wouldn’t be able to do it without the help.”

Though Nabholz will serve with a congregation as part of the accelerated program, camping ministry has a special place in her heart, and she hopes to be involved with it in some way as part of her calling. In fact, she worked this past summer as a camp counselor at Camp Ewalu, the same place that sparked her interest in ordained ministry. “Camp had this atmosphere of being so welcoming and friendly… you can be your complete self at camp,” she said. “I want that to happen for other kids.”

Pastors, youth leaders, and lay people in the church can support God’s calling by affirming the talents for ministry in young people and by referring them to the Wartburg program at www.wartburg.edu/ministry.