Ian and Sarah Coen-Frei: Refectory proposal

Though they didn’t graduate together this year, Ian (2020, MDiv) and Sarah Coen-Frei (2018, MA) were first-year seminarians together. In May they celebrating Ian’s graduation from their home in St. Paul, Minn., where they began sheltering in place together in mid-March following the announcement that seminary classes were moved online for the remainder of the year.

They had been living separately this year, Sarah working at her Minnesota job as development coordinator at JustUS Health, and Ian finishing his final year at seminary. They were happy to be back in the same space, saying with convincing confidence that going from famine to feast—living in separate states to being together constantly—hasn’t had any ill effects.  

When they began seminary, they hung out with about eight other first-year students. They did a variety of things as a group, and before too long Ian asked who wanted to join him mornings in the Refectory to read and study scripture. Sarah said yes.

Their relationship was formed around that foundation of reading scripture together. They started dating in October of their first year, and she proposed one evening in March at that their usual Refectory table, along the window and near the dish room. She had embossed a Bible with Ian’s new married name, and inside wrote a quote from Martin Luther about marriage. An engagement ring was tied to the page divider. He said yes to her text asking him to meet her at their table, and yes to her proposal.

They married less than a year later in Grand forks, N.D. On Jan. 6, 2018, the high temperature was -21 degrees.

It hadn’t taken long that first year of seminary for Sarah to realize she might want to explore something more romantic with Ian.

“I asked him if he’d be interested in exploring that path,” she remembers.

“I said yeah, but let’s take small steps. Let’s take things slow. Well, you see how that worked out,” Ian joked.

Scripture, that circle of friends, and the entire LSTC community have supported them in their marriage.

It turns out seminary is a pretty good place to dive deep into relationships. Lots of talk about feelings on a deep level, they said. “It gave me an opportunity to see how Ian cared for friends and how he thought about things,” Sarah said.

“It gave me a chance to hear about Sarah’s passions, for what she cared about, especially in social work,” he added.

“There was a lot of crying in classrooms,” they remembered. And that wasn’t even in clinical pastoral education, which they also did together.

LSTC was a supportive backdrop to their engagement, wedding planning and wedding. When Ian said “yes,” they immediately told their seminary neighbors and went out to celebrate. Sarah remembers creating a fuss in Ray Pickett’s class the next day as news of the engagement spread. Their wedding shower was in the student lounge, attended by their professors. And even on that frigid January day, members of the community made the trek to North Dakota for the wedding. 

“LSTC did such a good job of celebrating with us and supporting us. Going into marriage is scary, but they knew us and wanted it to be a success,” Sarah said. “Adam and Elle Dowd had already been married several years and supported and affirmed our marriage as a thing that can work. We had this whole group of people to lean on. Maddie (Tallman) and Corey (Bergman) were ushers. So many people helped plan our wedding liturgy.

“At seminary you meet so many incredible people. You share a transformational experience and might share similar core beliefs and faith. So many meaningful, long-lasting, and valuable relationships are formed at seminary. For us, that’s been structured as a marriage. We are continuing to nurture the friendships, mentorships, and other relationships that have come from our seminary community. They bring us so much joy and enrich our lives.”

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