Stanton Trotter took his trumpet and joined the Army, sure the enlisted man's life was for him. He's still in the Army, but now as a chaplain.
Kyle Becchetti became a lawyer. Was it out of a sense of calling? "Probably not," she says. "My father was an attorney, and it was something I was good at." Now, for the second time in her life, she is planning a complete career change -- not out of any dislike for what she does, but because of a sense that it is time to do something else.
Steve Koenig knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. He wanted to teach. Now he helps farmers with the business end of their operations as founder of a company with the motto, "to enable people to better themselves." When asked, though, what his vocation is, he replies simply, "to teach."
All three have a sense of vocation, although their degree of comfort with the term "calling" varies. All three have been touched by contact with seminaries -- two as trustees, one as a student. All have ridden the turns in their professional lives with grace.
Steve Koenig actually started out teaching high school students. "That was our understanding in that time and place of what it meant to be a teacher," he says.
It was the 1960s in Postville, Iowa. He was raised on a farm 15 minutes or so out of town. Nevertheless, his family attended worship at the 7:45 a.m. service at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. They chose the first service because Koenig's father was convinced that later ones were for "city people who can't get up early."
A year of teaching high schoolers was all it took to convince him that his future lay elsewhere. He worked first at the local grain silo. Then, when he heard about someone elsewhere making a career of teaching farmers about marketing, futures, and planning, he realized that he was already doing some of that, so he started his own company.
Progressive Marketing Strategies has a strong educational component. For example, Koenig issues a weekly report online and on the radio to interpret international farming news for the local audience.
A lifelong Lutheran, Koenig was on the national council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America from 1995 until 2001. About the time he cycled off, he was appointed by his synod to the board of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. "I must have fit a demographic," he says -- ELCA seminary boards have a complicated quota system. But this was not his first contact with Wartburg. "It wasn't the seminary my home congregation oriented toward," he acknowledges, but perhaps because of the school's rural emphasis or its smaller size, he'd been making annual contributions for some time.
His board service has given him time to talk to people in many congregations, and he does not hesitate to promote church vocations. "You hold back some of your best livestock to improve your herd," he tells rural congregations. "You've got to help some young people decide to serve the church."
Koenig is never far from a teaching moment.
|While in seminary, U.S. Army Chaplain Stanton Trotter (above) did not know that he would be using his training in clinical pastoral education to minister to soldiers wounded in battle in Afghanistan and Iraq. (COURTESY STANTON TROTTER)
See more photos of Chaplain Stanton Trotter and read his autobiographical essay about how seminary education prepared him for Afghanistan and Iraq here.
Stanton Trotter knew exactly what he was doing at Claremont School of Theology in California. "I was there to get an M.Div. and learn all that I could to prepare me to be an Army chaplain." It was not what he'd had in mind when he had enlisted in the Army a decade earlier. Then he had been content to play trumpet in the military band. But after a very particular experience of call to chaplaincy, he needed to do some rethinking. He left active duty, joined the Army Reserve, finished college, and headed to seminary. Why Claremont? It was on the approved list, it was convenient, and it was a Methodist school -- Trotter had a good experience at a Methodist college, even though his denominational affiliation is Pentecostal Holiness.
Determination did not preclude a certain perplexity, however, at what he was being asked to learn. "I remember wrestling with my Old Testament professor and asking why it was so important to know about the three Isaiahs. He told me that one day I would have a parishioner -- a soldier in my case -- come to me and ask a question about the Bible, and I would be thankful to have this knowledge. He was correct.
"My professor also told me I needed to take several units of clinical pastoral education at a hospital. During my time with hurting and dying patients, I had no idea that I would be repeating very similar scenes on the battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Life outside the classroom also presented challenges. "I come from a tradition that sometimes seems to demonize certain sins, like homosexuality, and here I was learning to live and pray with my gay brothers. And some students were not especially happy with the idea of the military, so there was that to wrestle with, too."
Since graduating from Claremont, Trotter has spent three tours of duty on the battlefield: weeks after September 11, 2001, he was with infantry soldiers in Afghanistan. Days before the Iraq war started in March 2003, he was in Kuwait, and during the next year, his unit fought its way into Baghdad. Last year he was with a support unit in northern Iraq. He is grateful for his seminary training, and when a soldier tells him, "Chaplain, you the man," he recalls his seminary professors and thinks the same of them.
Kyle Becchetti is not thrilled about the language of a specific calling. "I believe my calling is to love God and love others in whatever circumstances I find myself. I'm blessed by my vocation, but I could be blessed doing a lot of things," she says. "Besides, sometimes when people talk about call, it means they've made up their minds and now they're asking God to bless it."
Not that she thinks she makes her decisions alone: "Is God a part of the process? Absolutely. Did I have other choices? Sure. Would they have been good ones? Probably."
| Kyle Becchetti, chair of the board of North Park University, sees her calling as loving God and loving others in whatever circumstances she finds herself. Here she makes an introduction at a North Park "celebration of women" luncheon. (Courtesy Kyle Becchetti)
Becchetti did not come from a particularly churchy background. "I became a Christian at age 8, and I remember hiking off to a nearby Baptist church once in a while." She found and fell in love with the Evangelical Covenant Church while at law school, and has developed ties to various expressions of the denomination. She has been on the board of North Park University for nine years and has spent time on its seminary committee. Now she chairs the board. "The school is trying to be deliberately Christian, multicultural, and urban," she says.
That last point is important for her.
When she and her husband were planning marriage, they began to talk about shared ministry as something they wanted to do. A year after their wedding, they each told their employers that they would be good employees until they left, but that they were looking for something different. They finally cast their lot with the Center for Student Mission, a group that provides short-term ministry experience for young people in cities throughout North America. "The church wasn't taking the city as seriously back then as it is now," says Becchetti.
And now, they're leaping into the void again. "We fired ourselves!" she announces happily. And while things are "definitely not clear yet," there are a number of interesting possibilities opening before them. "Stuff is not a big part of who we are," she says, which makes for a wider range of choices. And their other baggage is light, too. "Whatever choice you make, there is loss." So, remembering that the process worked once, and trusting that it will work again, they are open to whatever their next place will be.
Are you where you expected to be? Is your school? And where is the hand of God in all of this? It isn't a question that can be answered alone. But there are models to support you along your way.