Lyndsay Monsen’s decision to attend LSTC seems obvious: the seminary is an hour’s drive from her hometown of Highland Park, a northern suburb of Chicago.
However, the first-year LSTC student took the long route to seminary, doing her undergraduate studies in Boston, Mass., and Decorah, Iowa, serving in Palestine, returning to advocate for social justice in Washington, D.C., and eventually hiking the Appalachian Trail before her calling brought her home to Chicago.
Monsen, 25, said her circuitous journey began early, even if she didn’t realize it then. After her high school graduation in 2015, she studied journalism at Emerson College in Boston. During her ethics class, she realized she couldn’t become involved in the news stories she covered. “Maybe this is not the profession for me,” she said.
After two years at Emerson, she transferred to Luther College in Decorah. She became active in campus ministry and completed her bachelors degree in communications studies in 2019.
Monsen worked the summers of 2016-2019 at Lutherdale, a church camp in Elkhorn, Wis. She had various responsibilities; however, her favorite was worship coordinator her final summer. She began to imagine herself in a pastoral role, perhaps in outdoor ministry. “There is no way I experience God as much as I do [in the] outdoors,” she said. However, another part of her heart was restless. She also saw herself doing social justice work. “I have a lot of passions,” Monsen said.
So, after being accepted to the ELCA’s Young Adults in Global Mission program, she found herself in the Holy Land in 2019-20, working in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Midway through her year, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic, and she, along with her entire YAGM cohort worldwide, concluded their service year early. After a few months at home, she spent 2020-21 in Washington D.C. on a Sojourners Fellowship, living in intentional community and serving with the faith-based organization’s advocacy staff as a communications assistant.
Working alongside progressive faith leaders like Sojourners founder Jim Wallis and Adam Taylor, its current president, Monsen felt her stirrings toward ministry making more sense. Social justice advocacy and pastoral ministry are not irreconcilable. “You can be both,” she said. “You can be involved in both social justice leadership and have a pastoral calling.”
Monsen stayed over with Sojourners an additional six months, working remotely. She started her candidacy with the Metro Chicago Synod and decided on the MDiv program at LSTC. After traveling the world, she could have attended seminary anywhere, but decided the Public Church curriculum at LSTC matched her social justice passion. But before she settled into seminary housing, she planned one more trek. She left Sojourners in January 2022 and hiked the Appalachian Trail. Each day was a new adventure as she decided how many miles to cover and where to sleep.
“I finished the trail a totally different person than I was,” Monsen said.
At first, returning to Chicago from the trail was “a major culture shock”: noise, traffic and the lack of outdoor spaces were unsettling. Four classes, community activities and a job on the Marketing and Communications team meant she no longer could set her own pace for the day.
Monsen is embracing the tradeoffs. She joins colleagues on sunrise hikes to Promontory Point. She brings the unparalleled hospitality she enjoyed in the Holy Land to her apartment, inviting her classmates to connect over food and conversation. She is both building and becoming part of her new community. “It is surprising how fast it is happening,” she said.
Monsen is also grateful to have received the ELCA’s Fund for Leaders full-tuition scholarship, making it possible for her to attend LSTC completely debt-free.
She still doesn’t know how social justice advocacy, outdoor ministry and more traditional congregational leadership blend into her future calling. For the meantime, she is allowing that adventure to reveal itself a day at a time.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2022 Epistle magazine, written by Gail Kenny, a third year MDiv student and student worker for the Marketing and Communications team.View all stories