Needing respite from Seattle’s daily grind, Christoph Schmidt embarked on a journey to Holden Village in 2005. The retreat center in the Cascade Mountains offered him the chance to recharge and refocus during the winter months. There he met Taryn Montgomery, who was serving in Holden’s kitchen as a seasonal volunteer.
When the couple’s paths first crossed that winter, little did they know that their meeting would catapult them on a journey toward seminary, marriage and ministry.
Embracing the call to seminary
Having both grown up in the Lutheran church, Montgomery’s and Schmidt’s calls to ministry began at early ages.
Schmidt, a pastor’s kid, attended a Lutheran high school in Fargo, N.D., and subsequently ventured to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where he studied music education. Montgomery, an Illinois native, said she first heard the call while attending summer camp in Wisconsin when an ELCA pastor told her she had the “essential gifts” for ordained ministry. Years later she studied theology at Texas Lutheran University, Seguin.
Attending seminary after graduating from college might have been a natural next step for both, but they ended up pursuing other opportunities instead. For Schmidt, an eight-year stint in Washington involving a long-term volunteer position at Holden and a leadership position with Lutheran Youth of North Seattle solidified his call. For Montgomery, volunteer work with Lutheran Volunteer Corps and with ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission in Kenya eventually led her to seminary.
“During those two years, I felt my call was affirmed by my relationship with Christ and those around me — seminary was where God was leading me,” she said.
The power of support
Montgomery began her first year at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in 2007, when Schmidt was starting his second year. Shortly after, their acquaintance turned into a much deeper connection — they were married in 2008.
Both were recipients of full-tuition scholarships through the ELCA Fund for Leaders, an endowment started in 2000 to provide financial assistance to outstanding leaders. In its first year, it funded eight seminarians. This academic year, 235 seminarians will receive more than $1.6 million to pursue service as pastors and rostered lay leaders in the ELCA.
“This initiative has illustrated a true commitment to supporting the future leaders of this church,” said Rachel Wind, director for the Fund for Leaders. “Our long-term goal is to support each and every qualified candidate for rostered leadership.”
Schmidt, who was in the midst of several medical treatments when he received the scholarship, said he was deeply grateful for the financial support. “My medical debt was through the roof,” he said. “I can’t imagine how we would have paid for seminary on top of it.”
Knowing the support of the whole church was behind them was inspiring, Schmidt said. “These [donors] are passionate Lutherans investing in something they believe in. This is God’s work, and they want to be a part of it,” he said.
During their studies, the couple met some of the donors. One such donor is Chicagoan Kent Dauten, who established a fund to honor his late father, Paul M. Dauten Jr. “My wife Liz and I could think of no better way to honor [my father’s] memory than to create these scholarships in his name and try to help new ministers manage the cost of attending seminary,” he said.
While at seminary, Montgomery and Schmidt gained insight into ordained ministry through academic courses and internship opportunities that took them overseas to Slovakia. Montgomery served her internship year at an international congregation while Schmidt taught religion at a Slovak high school.
“We experienced firsthand what an international congregation is like,” Montgomery said. “It was great to see how the church — and how God — was at work in the Slovak culture.”
Montgomery and Schmidt currently reside in Minot, N.D., where she is a pastor of Bread of Life Lutheran Church and he serves Lutheran Campus Ministry at Minot State University. After four years in the area, the two said they have developed a strong sense of purpose.
“The congregation has a heart for outreach in their DNA,” Montgomery said. “I feel called to help the church imagine what God is doing in our midst — both in the congregation and the community.”
Like his wife, Schmidt also feels called to help his students understand their individual and communal identities. “My vocation is to help students recognize their God-given gifts and talents — within their communities, relationships, work and careers,” he said.
As a family of three, Montgomery and Schmidt said they are deeply grateful for the paths that led them to each other, to seminary and to ordained ministry. And with a baby on the way, the couple is eager to continue nurturing the church to meet tomorrow’s needs.