When Lutheran pastors Hans and Marissa Becklin received their respective ministerial calls, they were told they would be placed in the same synod. But that could still equate to a long commute for at least one of them.
As it turned out, their first call is the shortest commute they have ever experienced.
“We are very pleased to have two congregations that are so close to each other,” said Marissa, who began March 3 at Faith United Lutheran Church, 357 Walnut St., Denver.
Added Hans, who began his pastorate five weeks earlier at Salem Lutheran Church of Kissel Hill, 26 Owl Hill Road, Lititz: “We live on the west side of Ephrata, which is just about exactly the midpoint between (Lititz) and Denver.”
Although the Becklins are from the Midwest — she is from Dubuque, Iowa, he hails from Madison, Wisconsin — they find the churches they are serving here are close to their roots.
Prior to receiving their calls, they spent a year pastoring at a church in Waukesha County, a large Milwaukee suburb.
Hans found that life there was very fast-paced. It was, he said, a matter of people asking “How can the church serve me?”
In Lancaster County, he finds people have a deeper understanding of the church as a place to come “where I can both give and receive and, most importantly, where I can be part of a community.
“I feel a smaller church really has the opportunity to bring about that Christian community.”
Discerning their call
The couple met while serving on church council at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. They were married in 2015 following their first year at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Although Marissa had long entertained thoughts of becoming a pastor, her initial goal was to become a doctor.
“I didn’t want to presume that I knew God’s intent for me,” she said. “And then I realized ‘This is what I feel called to do.’ ”
Her decision came as no surprise to her parents.
“Their reaction was ‘We’ve been waiting for this,’ ” she said.
Hans’ parents, however, were shocked by his decision to enter the ministry.
“I had thought a lot about either being a professor or a lawyer,” he said. “Those were both more understandable things to my parents. They were very surprised that I was going to be a pastor, but they came around. They sort of saw the crumbs on the path to where I ended up.”
After graduating from Luther College, they enrolled at the same seminary — but did so independently of each other.
“We didn’t talk about it until we had decided,” she said. “We sat down and found out we had been called to the same place.”
They were attracted to the school, in part, because it had a Ph.D. program. Marissa also wanted to experience doing God’s work in a more diverse urban setting.
Both garnered honors for their work at the seminary. Marissa won the Hein-Fry Book of Faith Challenge for her presentation “Give Unto the Lord: A Study About Food and Tithing in Deuteronomy 14.” The competition challenges seminarians to present new examples of faithful, innovative and effective ways of teaching and learning scripture.
“People go into seminary and learn all this interesting stuff about the Bible and about history, and they don’t share it because they don’t know how to translate it to lay people,” she said. “I wrote a lot of Bible studies that take some of that high-level language and translate it for the regular person.
“My dream is that we can crack open the Bible and let it speak new life to us.”
Hans was awarded the A.R. Wentz Prize in American Lutheran History from the Lutheran Historical Society of the Mid-Atlantic. The Wentz prize — named for a leading figure in 20th century Lutheranism who served as a professor of church history and later as president of Gettysburg Theological Seminary — is for the best historical paper on Lutheranism in North America.
As pastors, they share ideas on the lectionary and sermons over dinner.
“We’re a very liturgical church as Lutherans,” Hans said. “So, yes, every Sunday we preach on the same texts, we talk about it around the dinner table.”
They also proofread each other’s sermons, although, Marissa said, that comes long after the sermons are written.
“We do a text study together, write it and then talk about it later,” she said.
Added Hans: “That’s a joy to have somebody who understands it, who’s been trained, who can talk about ... some of the deeper meaning in the text, and then saying ‘what parts of this do you think are going to speak to people this Sunday?’ ”
The Becklins also wanted to work as head pastors of smaller churches where they can share the Gospel message in a more intensive way than a larger congregation that maybe has multiple pastors.
“So, here at Salem, I feel very blessed ... and we’re starting to discern how we can be more present and active in our communities.”