Only in the clergy do we hear about having a “calling.” College graduates take jobs here or there; they may choose graduate school or even the occasional “gap year.” For much of the population, a “calling” is a serious thing that seems pretty mysterious.
This month’s Servant Spotlight focuses on someone who has experienced that calling…and will soon be ordained as a minister who has his own congregation. This is special in itself…but when the person is someone who has grown up going to Trinity (and his mother happens to be on staff as well), the “AWW Factor” is even higher.
Matt Rossler, a 2015 MCHS graduate who is the son of Lou Ann and Cliff Rossler, will soon be an ordained Lutheran pastor. What is his background? How does he describe the call process? What are some of his most memorable moments in seminary and as an intern? He enlightened me about this mysterious process and threw in some humor as well.
Rossler’s main interests in high school revolved around music and academics. He played in band, jazz band and sang in the choir. He knew toward the end of his junior year that he was interested in pursuing his calling in ministry. It was toward the end of this year that he remembers most people taking a military aptitude test. “One of my best scores was truck driver. The second highest was chaplain. I may be good at driving, but I like to think my true calling was in serving God through ministry means,” Rossler said.
While he was in high school, he remembers picking his mom up on Fridays just before the church closed. He said, “I remember often going to pick her up, then having an impromptu conversation with Pastor Dan Gerrietts about God, theology, forgiveness, etc. I remember quite clearly one time he jokingly said that I should go to seminary and get all the answers. Turns out that stuck with me…and that was what inspired me to go!”
After high school, Rossler attended Luther College, continuing his interest in History and picking up a new interest in Religious Studies. Another person, Professor Edward Tebenhoff, became quite influential in his decision to go to seminary. “He encouraged me to go on to some finishing education, be it seminary or other graduate school. I realized that I was starting to be motivated to do more with my career, my time and my life than merely going to college. At first, I thought [this idea] was intimidating, but after more conversations with Prof. Tebenhoff and other professors at Luther College, I decided to at least try going to seminary,” he said. As with anything else, challenges faced him on his journey, but the favorite memories far surpass them. Rossler shared three instances of his favorite moments in seminary: making great friends, going on a seminary trip to Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, and working in his internship in Canby, Minnesota. Rossler shared, “To be honest, I had difficulty throughout much of my childhood and teenage years fitting in with others [and] finding a community that I felt comfortable in. At seminary, I began to trust my classmates and what started off as a collection of misfits from various walks of life became a community for me. Eventually, I [made] some really close friends, that even today I still consider some of my most treasured relationships.”
Rossler mentioned that he enjoyed the whole process of his internship, “getting to do what I had set out to do, finally after so many years of preparation and schooling. Learning how to preach, administering the sacraments, and even being able to find my own way in a new community…all were major milestones for me in my career and life.”
Before his trip to Palestine, Israel, and Jordan, Rossler hadn’t done much international travel, especially without his immediate family, “so going to some of the most holy places in the world (and some of the most mysterious) by myself was intimidating but also incredibly rewarding.” Ironically, one of his biggest joys was also tied to one of his biggest challenges. He explained: “It is no secret that there has been a war between Palestine and Israel for many years, and it has taken its toll on many innocent people. Witnessing that firsthand…the destruction that had been done to so many holy places such as Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth…as well as the state of refugee camps and hospitals…left me shaken.
I remember returning from that trip with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and a severe case of depression. At first, I tried to shrug it off, but over time I
realized it was starting to impact my life in ways I knew had been unhealthy. Overcoming that challenge, alongside so many others, has been of the biggest struggles for me.”
Two other challenges Rossler faced involved tough coursework in seminary and COVID-19. He explained, “Seminary work, while rewarding, can also be difficult. It is a lot of academic work to push through and to absorb, which can be overwhelming at times. There always seems to be that ‘one class’ that no matter what you do, you cannot seem to succeed. So…I struggled a lot with some classes.” COVID-19 became a major factor that made him move back to Mason City in his second year of seminary, isolating him from friends he had made there. “It was difficult to still be in community, as community for me had been broken up.”
What’s next for him? He shared: “Graduating and finishing my final year of seminary. Not terribly hard, but still a challenge. After that, finding a first call, moving, getting settled in, planning an ordination service. That is my plan as of now.”
And there’s that mysterious word that he is now using… CALL. In a nutshell, Rossler broke down the call process for the ELCA into three main sections: entrance, endorsement and approval. He said, “Each of these sections has to be done going through a committee from your home congregational synod, and it typically takes about four years to complete. To be entranced means that the committee recognizes that you, the candidate, have an interest and skill to be in called ministry in some form, and that there are specific areas of growth that need to be done before the next section. Endorsement is the second step, showing the progress that the candidate has made in their call…and that they have the necessary education and skills to be sent on internship. It is a fitness test in a mental, spiritual, physical, academic and emotional sense to see if one is qualified for ministry in a congregational setting. Endorsement is often the hardest section. Approval, the final section, is to reaffirm your call, showcase all the skills and learning you have picked up on internship, and to offer guidance on continuing education or areas in which one still needs to grow, through their ministry call.”
To others who may feel that “call” toward serving in this way, Rossler offers some great advice: “First, recognize that it is all a process, a journey. It took me a long time to discern that I was ready for ministry and seminary. I may have shown interest in it from an early age, but I also recognized that it is not a choice one should make lightly. It is just as much a lifestyle as it is a ‘job.’ It is a call in every sense of the word. Even today, as I am finishing up seminary, I am still discerning my call and what God is calling me to do. I do not believe that one ever ‘finishes’ their call, as often there are new avenues and adventures, that God may call you towards.”
He also stresses talking about it with others. “Discernment is not a journey one takes alone. Talk or pray with God about it, discuss it with mentors in your life, friends, and pastors. (If all three can be found in one person, all the better!) Also realize, that the call is there whenever, it has no expiration date. Whether you are receiving the call fresh out of high school, or in the middle of an established career, or even in retirement, you still have the choice to answer the call when you think it is the time to do so.”
Finally, Rossler advises: “Prepare yourself. As I said, this is a journey. It will take you down a lot of roads you may never have thought possible, both ones that are welcoming and wholesome, and ones that are intimidating and difficult. I often think back to the hymn, ‘Amazing Grace,’ about all of life’s dangers, toils, and snares…
Following the call has those moments. But God also fills our lives with those moments of ease, grace, peace, and joy. Ministry and the call process highlight these aspects in my opinion.” He added: “This has been one of the best decisions I ever made. I love this journey I am on, even if it may vex me at times. I have never felt more confident, self-assured, and committed than at any other time in my life.”
And one more piece of wisdom that illustrates his sense of lightheartedness… “Ask yourself, ‘Do I look good in black?’ If yes, buy black clergy shirts. If not, buy colored clergy shirts.”
To see Rossler doing what he loves the most, Trinity is lucky to have him preaching at services this July. “I’m super excited about it! I have a great love for Trinity and I cannot wait to preach there!” he exclaimed. “To all of my Trinity community, thank you for supporting me. You have all meant a lot to me and I thank you for all the help, prayers and support you have given me.”
To a person who has certainly found his calling, Trinity can be proud of Matt Rossler… PASTOR Matt Rossler. †