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I have been an ordained Lutheran pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod since 1987. I have also served as a fire chaplain since 2003. In the church-at-large I serve my district as a District Secretary and was previously a Circuit Visitor from 2006-2018 (equivalent to a rural dean). Each summer I teach an online course in homiletics for Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Decade in Review




Decades, like years, are arbitrary markers of time.  That said, they do offer opportunities to look back and review from whence we came, and possibly reflect on lessons learned.  2010 will remain for me, personally, a more decisive marker than 2020 may possibly be.  It became a turning point in my ministry and my life.  In the decade prior I dealt with on again, off again, conflict at my church, especially with just a few. I had also been under the cloud of a lawsuit since the spring of 2008. By 2010 the stress had reached what began to feel like a breaking point. In 2010 those opposing my ministry left the church and by the end of fall my lawsuit was settled.  I also applied and was accepted at Nashotah House Theological Seminary and began my first classes that summer.  It had been 23 years since my graduation from the seminary in Ft. Wayne and I was ready to begin a new chapter.  My hope was to possibly teach at a collegiate or post-graduate level and I realized that my M.Div was not enough to necessarily gain entry into the world of academia.  That said, given that I was closing in on my 50th birthday by year's end, I realized that age-wise I was past the point of being competitive in that arena.  Nevertheless, I invested myself in the course work (which I thoroughly enjoyed) and although that phase was finished by the end of 2011, it would take another 5 years to finish the thesis.  Readers of this blog will remember my chronicles of that experience.  Two proposals, significant changes in staff at the seminary, and the long, hard road of writing what became a 124 page tome, which was a milestone for me.  In May of 2016 I graduated with my family present, something my own three children witnessed for the first time (I graduated from the seminary a year before my eldest child was born). I now have an earned Master of Sacred Theology degree (STM) and the credentials to advance further in teaching.

In the year to come I would find an opportunity to put this education to use when the academic dean at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne offered me the chance to teach homiletics as an adjunct professor for the SMP (Specific Ministry Program).  I designed the entire 10 week course and have taught it now for three summers.  I also was offered a chance to teach for Concordia University - St. Paul as an online contracted faculty.  My first course will be yet this month.  My goal for the coming decade (where I will hopefully retire from full-time parish ministry) is to increase my opportunities to teach.  While I have been tempted from time to time to go back to school one more time to complete a doctorate, I believe that this temptation may be finally laid to rest.  Given my age and the cost involved along with the nearness of a possibly retirement, going back to school seems impractical.  At this stage of my life it will not offer much in terms of additional work outside of the parish.  Most new tenure-track hires understandably come from the younger ranks.

In this past decade I also experienced a major change in my involvement with the North Wisconsin District of the LCMS.  Having served as a circuit counselor/visitor since 2006 I was ready for a change but often wondered if I could actually be elected beyond my current position.  Over the years I have been nominated to a number of positions including president, vice president and district secretary, yet always fell short of a winning vote.  In the summer of 2018 I was surprised when I won the election for district secretary, ending a 12 year term as circuit counselor/visitor.  In the last year or so I have experienced a whole new area of work in the district serving on the board of directors and as a member of the presidium.  I look forward to continuing this work as we start a new decade, leaving it to the will of God as to what the future of that work will be past 2021.

While this decade has seen significant changes in each area of my professional activities mentioned so far (parish, district, academic), it makes sense that the final area, my chaplaincy work with emergency services, would also experience a development.  In the last few years local law enforcement wished to start a chaplaincy program, for which I applied.  While I was not selected in the end to fill that position, they did recommend to the chief at the Antigo Fire Department that they should consult with me about starting a program there given my experience. I did consult with the chief and ended up being chosen as one of the first two chaplains for the city’s department. This is a new program, so the coming years will demonstrate how it will evolve.  I am hopeful that it will be a positive addition to their department.  As for Town of Antigo Vol. Fire Department, I mark my 17th anniversary this month, having attended my first meeting in January of 2003.  Over the years I have taken training in a number of areas, including emergency vehicle training, and continued to serve in the dual position as chaplain and firefighter.  With a change in the position of chief in the last couple of years I find myself more and more in an advisory role to our officers, as well as a resource to the regular firefighters for emotional support and religious help.  The position is now well established and valued and I feel fulfilled to have had a role in this as I am the first the department every had.  I pray that the foundation I laid will benefit those who may come after me.

On a family front we also had developments in the last decade. My eldest daughter graduated from college and then received her master’s degree.  She is now in the dissertation phase and will hopefully complete her Ph.D in this coming year.  My youngest graduated from high school and entered the deaconess program at Concordia University – Chicago.  She is my only child to go into church work. My middle child became engaged and plans to be married this coming year, so by year’s end my two eldest will be married.  Our family continues to develop and expand.  Encouraging and exciting times.

As I look to the decade to come, I realize that when I write the summary for that one, I will have already retired from active parish ministry.  I turn 65 at the end of 2025 and will be eligible for Social Security and Medicare at that time.  It seems likely that I will still be at my present church 6 years from now, but we can never predict the future. I would surely be open to another call outside of parish ministry.  We’ll see.   


Monday, December 23, 2019

Titles in Teaching

For the last three summers I have taught an online course for a seminary as an "adjunct professor."  This winter I will have the honor of teaching again, but this time as an adjunct for a university.  They call their adjuncts "contracted faculty" (as opposed to tenured faculty).  When I teach in the summer I identify myself by my ecclesiastical title "Pastor," in part, because I am teaching pastors-to-be, and partly because I have a hard time thinking of myself as a professor in the full sense of that word.  This winter, however, since I am teaching university students online I am unsure of what to be called.

One site says that adjuncts may use the title "professor" as a courtesy, but properly speaking they are not actually part of the faculty.  Since I do not have an earned doctorate I obviously cannot use that title.  Calling myself "Pastor," while accurate, may not be quite what I need at the university level since I am not operating in that vocation.  Calling me "Rev. Engebretson" also feels awkward, since that title is not normally one of address, but a label, or sorts, for correspondence, etc.

Doing a general search of this question online, however, has not offered much help.  Interestingly, adjunct instructors make up a sizeable portion of teachers on the college and university level.  It feels, for me, a bit like my position as a volunteer firefighter.  I am not full-time, yet I have trained to be a firefighter, so I use this title, which to the average onlooker makes me equal with the career path responder.  I'm not sure what they think of that, but I suspect in some quarters, there is a bit of tension there. 

On the web page for Concordia University-Portand they write that "adjunct professors are defined as professors who are not on the tenure track." Nevertheless, some still say that adjuncts, if they lack of a doctorate, should be addressed by a title such as "Mr." or "Mrs."  Once again, I'm back at "Rev.," although such a title does not function the same way as "Mr." does, so perhaps I'd be better to go back to where I started: "Pastor."

There is a tendency, I have read, for some students to address their adjuncts by first names.  That, I am not comfortable with.  Not that I'm hung up on titles.  I simply believe that students should recognize the instructor by their position.  They are not friends or acquaintances.  It's a student-teacher relationship. A title is needed.

Well, I'm not sure I'm any closer to an answer on this one. I think the issue is a bit ambiguous, and since undergraduates will hardly understand the intricacies of what I have just written, I may just settle for professor.  But just with the students. I would not dare to refer to myself beyond that sphere.  Beyond that I am in my other vocations: chaplain, pastor, or secretary (as in district secretary -which is another discussion for another time....)


Monday, November 4, 2019

Using Hisortical Novels to Teach History

A few years ago I returned to reading fiction on a regular basis.  Since my interest is history I chose historical novels and jumped back in with Con Iggulden's book War of the Roses: Stormbird.  I found the book for a mere dollar at a local store and took it to the deer stand.  I was hooked!  So I checked out the the remaining books in the series and enjoyed every one of them.  What a great way to learn history, I thought, as I kept referring to other sources to fill in my gaps of knowledge.  After Iggulden I turned to Ken Follet's book The Pillar of the Earth, which I had found at a Good Will store and worked my way through that series as well with World Without End and Column of Fire, which took me on a tour de force from 1123 to 1606. I especially like medieval history so this was a real treat.  Follet is an engaging novelist so it was not at all hard to work my way through his tomes (which often reach 900 to 1000 pages each!).

I switched to a somewhat earlier period with Follet's stand alone work A Place Called Freedom, which is dated from the later 1700s.  Then recently, desperate for another novel set in the Middle Ages I found yet one more book for dollar called John the Pupil by David Flusfeder, a different kind of approach where the book is structured like a travelogue by a young apprentice working his way through England and Europe to deliver the Opus Majus of Roger Bacon to Pope Clement IV in 1267.


One more book came to my attention a year or more ago that deserves some mention.  Entitled The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century, this fascinating book by Ian Mortimer approaches medieval England through social history by describing the times and places as they would be experienced if you were traveling through them in the 1300s.  If you like medieval history and England, this is a must.  I am still working my way through it.

All told I began to realize that these are the books we should use to teach history.  Many of us remember the drudgery of wading through endless lists of kings and dates, memorizing facts disconnected with anything meaningful to us. So we begrudgingly worked our way through the compulsory courses and left history in the waste bin of our memories. Yet history can come alive and be useful.  The problem is the way it is taught.  Other than being a parish pastor I am also an online instructor for a seminary.  I will hopefully be teaching online at the university where I graduated 30+ years ago.  However, my specialty in teaching is theology.  I work with history, but not as a separate discipline.  Instead I look at it from an interdisciplinary perspective.  That said, I would love to teach history as a stand alone subject, and if I did I would employ books such as I outlined here.  I want students to go back to the Middle Ages and feel the grit, hear the noise of the market place, experience the chaos of battle, endure the cold unheated castles, and know as well the deep spirituality that informed the way they saw their world.  Students need to live 'in' this world, not just look at it from the outside.

One caveat: Some of the novels listed above would not be entirely appropriate for ages below college due to, as we say, their "mature content."  Yet I'm sure there are good novels of this time period that would be appropriate for them. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Ethnicity Estimate Updated

I was just notified that my "Ethnicity Estimate" from Ancestry.com was updated.  Turns out the numbers are fairly similar to the last estimate.  90% of my DNA apparently remains connected to the British Isles or the western side of Europe where there is already a genetic connection.  I was pleasantly surprised to see my "Irish and Scottish" estimate increased from 15% to 25%.  That's a part of my heritage in which I have particular interest.  The 6% associated with Norway and Iceland is intriguing (not to mention Sweden!).  My adopted father had Norwegian heritage and I always joked that I had a Norwegian name (Engebretson) without any Norwegian blood.  Now I have to take all that back!  I am still a bit perplexed by the small amount associated with "Germanic Europe," especially when my maternal great-grandmother apparently had a German name (Rupp).  I'll have to watch and see who ends up being added to my DNA 'relatives.'