Incoming MDiv Student Hannah Peterson on Faith, Ministry, and Distance Learning

Hannah Peterson and her partner Savanna Sullivan with a Christmas light display in the background
Hannah Peterson and her partner Savanna Sullivan.

In fifth grade, Hannah Peterson told her teacher that she wanted to be a pastor when she grew up. Her teacher may not have found this surprising: both Peterson’s parents were ministers ordained in the ELCA tradition, and her grandmother was one of the first women to be ordained in the ELCA. For Peterson, though, what transpired over the following decades proved to be more of a winding road than a straight line to her calling.

During college, Peterson joined ROTC and was commissioned as an Army officer before being stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. Her experience in active duty confirmed two things: that God is always there, and that her fifth-grade self was right: a career in ministry, rather than the military, was for her. “I was in Korea for eight months,” she recalls in her characteristic honest and forthright spirit. “Being deployed was extremely isolating, and [due to] loneliness and the lack of spiritual support on base, I experienced a depressive episode,” she says. What could have been an exercise in futility and misery was changed by Peterson’s outlook. With the help of her community outside of the military and a few close friends on base, Peterson decided to start looking outside of herself, watching her peers, looking for God.

It proved to be a difficult journey, but there were rewarding moments. “It was something to encounter and look for God in those places, to look at how people support each other even when they don’t really have anything to support each other with,” she remembers. Sometimes the only good thing that happened was watching a beautiful sunset in mountains – hills which has been intentionally reforested after combat ended almost 70 years ago. “God was there in the birds flying over barbed wire fences and tangled vines,” Peterson says. “And God was there in the birds flying over the ruins of bomb shelters.” She saw a real need for the kind of support that would have meant a difference to those serving in that environment. And she felt the call that led her to LSTC.

After decommissioning from the Army, Peterson considered a lot of different options for seminary. However, with her partner in Chicago and LSTC promising to be a justice-oriented community grounded in the values of kindness and inclusion that Peterson shares, it seemed to be the right fit. After conversations with the LSTC admissions office, that choice seemed even more certain. Peterson was especially excited about the opportunity to engage as a distance learner while earning her MDiv at LSTC; distance learning meant that, though she will be relocating to Chicago, she will be able to travel with her partner, engage in communities of interest, and build community on campus when she can.

Of course, there were other considerations—cost being primary among those. From a friend who had worked with Peterson in the past, she heard about the ELCA Fund for Leaders full-tuition scholarship that supports students attending ELCA seminaries with the intent of becoming a rostered minister of either word and sacrament or word and service. Interested, Peterson followed the ELCA Young Adults Instagram account, learned more, and applied. She was awarded the scholarship, which she describes as “really freeing.” 

Today, Peterson looks forward to exploring Chicago, meeting new people, and working towards the MDiv that will allow her to take a more active role in the Church. “I am excited to find out more about my calling as I go through seminary and the call process,” Peterson says. “I do know my campus pastor helped me grow through an important time, and I’d love to be that for someone else in some capacity.”

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