Wisconsin native turned Chicago dweller ready for her future in ministry

Melissa Hrdlicka stands next to a sign at Ascension Lutheran Church reading 'Thou shalt not covid thy neighbor's life – wear thy mask'

Melissa Hrdlicka toured four seminaries/divinity schools before settling on LSTC, a school she didn’t visit until she arrived as a student four years ago.

“LSTC was the best choice for me,” she says confidently. It’s a wonderful place. The first time I was on campus was when I moved in.” She says she was swayed by what she saw on LSTC’s website—the public church curriculum and how the school “is engaged with what is happening in the world—not keeping to itself.”

Proving that a timely email response is no small thing, she also credits Matt James (then director of admissions), who quickly responded to all her questions.

Hrdlicka is currently finishing her fourth-year internship at Common Ground Recovery Community in Reading, Pa., a mission development start that began 11 years ago but is still considered young, she said. This spiritual community explores the “common ground” beneath the 12- step program and Christian faith. Its “very cool” worship includes 12-step readings, scripture, confession and forgiveness, and open sharing. “It’s a wonderful blend of both the 12-step and Christian communities,” she says.

Common Ground also includes a ministry with those experiencing housing and food insecurity—clothing, winter wear, toiletries and food.

Asked about her highs and lows at LSTC as she nears graduation, she says “the community” as a high without skipping a beat. She remembers the early years with fondness—especially the close proximity to others also living on campus: “I babysat for the Wickwares who lived above me, and loved walking down the street and seeing Dr. Wagner with her dog… I also have great memories of our flag football team and all the people who showed up for our games.”

The low is that half of her seminary years have been lived during the pandemic: “I missed seeing people, seeing them in the hallway and having [traditional hall] recess together, hanging out with people. We all struggled with technology and it was so hard to hold discussions in the Zoom room when you couldn’t see people’s body language.”

Her list of influential classes and professors is lengthy. So, in short: “Professors at LSTC are phenomenal.”

But she did highlight how Brooke Petersen’s pastoral care and mental illness class “is super helpful to the ministry I do now… How to accommodate in worship space, in pastoral care. I saved all my readings from that class.”

Also her preaching class with Kimberly Wagner. “Especially preaching in trauma. I took that class as the pandemic was starting, adding [pandemic] trauma into our learning and how it was impacting our lives.”

Marvin Wickware Jr.’s class on racial reconciliation is also helpful for her current ministry: “The community I live in now is deeply segregated. Half my time is spent in a wealthy, white suburb and the other half is in the poor [section of the] city that is very racially diverse, largely Hispanic and African-American. These communities are two miles apart and I’m right in the middle.”

She also appreciated Barbara Rossing’s classes, among others, adding, “I’m just a big nerd when it comes to the Bible classes.”

Hrdlicka said her internship lay committee told her she was “almost perfectly prepared” for her time there. “I fully agreed with them,” she said with her usual humor.

A Wisconsin native (and Packers fan), Melissa feels pulled back to the Midwest for her pastoral ministry ahead. “As I meet more and more clergy, I’m excited to be their colleague and work alongside them… I miss the snow and Great Lakes. I want to end up back there. I’ve learned a lot about mission development starts, and I’m not sure I’m there yet, but I think that’s the way the church is going and this [internship] has prepared me for the future.”


Original article published in the Winter/Spring 2022 Epistle Magazine; written by Julie Sevig

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