A trio of area churches have welcomed a new family into their lives.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church near Okolona has called Rev. Matthew Carpenter, while two-point parish St. Mark Lutheran/Bethlehem Lutheran in rural Defiance/Ridgeville Corners has called Mandy Carpenter, Matthew’s wife, as a deacon.

The two met through mutual friends when Matthew traveled from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in Gettysburg, Pa., (where he was working on his master’s degree), to Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, (where Mandy was working on her undergraduate degree).

“A lot of my friends from college went on to seminary in Gettysburg, and they came back to Wartburg for homecoming my senior year,” said Mandy. “They had an extra spot in the car, they asked Matt to join them, and he said, ‘Sure.’

“We like to joke we met in a bar, but we were there for a meeting of the Wartburg College Philosophical Literary Society,” added Mandy. “After we met, he texted a mutual friend, ‘Is Mandy single?’ That’s when our whole group ended up playing matchmaker.”

Both Matthew and Mandy started their respective assignments on Sept. 1. Matthew, who grew up in Gilberstville, Pa., served as pastor at his first call at Grace Evangelical Church in East Tawas, Mich., from 2011-20, before accepting the call to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, located at 30997 Gerken Road.

Meanwhile, Mandy served as a nursing home chaplain at four nursing homes in Tawas City, Mich., from 2012-19, and served as a deacon for one year at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Au Gres, Mich., before accepting the call to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, located at 25950 Nagel Road in rural Defiance, and Bethlehem Lutheran Church, located at 02499 Adams Ridge Road, near Ridgeville Corners.

The couple has three children, Gabriel (6), Cecilia (4) and Michael (1).

“During my third year of seminary, I did a one-year immersive internship in Virginia where I served six churches,” began Matthew, a 2003 Boyertown Area High School graduate. “While I was there, I asked one of the gentlemen who had served an internship there what his first call was like and he said, ‘It’s like going from being the babysitter to being the parent. That helped prepare me from student life into a call.”

Matthew shared that both he and Mandy enjoyed their time in Michigan, but they were hoping to each find a call that would be better geographically to visit their families in Pennsylvania and Iowa. After searching for new calls, the opportunities for both of them in northwest Ohio “fell into place.”

“When we started searching calls this past winter, we were searching for something in-between our parents’ homes, or close to one of their homes,” said Matthew, who graduated from Gwynedd Mercy College (now University) in 2007 with a degree in history and secondary education, before earning a Master of Divinity in 2011 from Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. “We had a couple of interviews, but nothing was a fit for the both of us.

“We had been in contact with the synod rep (from the Northwest Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), and I asked him if there was anything for Mandy, and we were told there was something close to one of the churches where I was interviewing (Bethlehem Lutheran),” continued Matthew. “Mandy looked at the paperwork, everything fell into place really quickly. We had some interviews in July, and that’s how we got here.”

Although Matthew admits that he felt God was calling him to ministry while in high school (he went to school to become a history teacher before going to seminary), Mandy thought her call to ministry would lead to her teaching at the collegiate level. She didn’t see parish ministry in her future, until it happened.

“When I was 8, my dad (G. Kimwills) felt the call to ministry, so he went to seminary and his first call was to Pella, Iowa,” said Mandy, who graduated from Pella High School in 2005. “My path to ministry was a winding road, I was bound and determined all through college, and even in seminary, that I wasn’t going into parish ministry because that’s not where God was calling me. I really wanted to teach in a college.

“After Matt and I married and moved to Michigan, every time I tried to pursue that, doors were being slammed in my face,” added Mandy. “It wasn’t until 2015 that I really began to feel God was calling me into parish ministry. I always loved Bible study, so I ended up leading that, and in 2015 I had a light-bulb moment when I realized I could teach in a church setting, instead of a college setting.”

Mandy then followed a path in the ELCA to be consecrated as deacon. As a deacon, she will be working in parish ministry as well as teaching.

“I like to say that deacons stand in the door of the church and say to the people in the church, ‘Go out into the world and spread the light of Christ.’ At the same time, we stand in the door of the church and say to the people outside the church, ‘Come in, we want to love you and tell you about Jesus,’” said Mandy, who graduated from Wartburg in 2009 and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., in 2013. “That’s the difference I see between pastors and deacons.”

Meanwhile, Matthew has been busy calling the homebound and shut-ins, researching the history of the church, and making plans to meet as many of the members of the congregation as soon as possible. He knows it will be a process, but he’s excited to see what’s important to the people of the church.

“As I said to members of the call committee and the council president, ‘I view Bethlehem Lutheran as your church, I am still a guest, but at some point it will become our church,’” said Matthew. “I’m not here to upend everything, I have ideas of course, but it’s important for me to honor what’s been done here. It’s also important for me to see what involvement the congregation has in the community, see what the needs are, and see if we can meet any of those needs.”

Both Matthew and Mandy are looking forward to this new chapter in their lives, and learning as much about the people and their surroundings as possible.

“The people here have been extremely warm and welcoming, we’ve had some people prepare some meals for us, which has been great,” said Matthew. “It didn’t take us long to realize that people here are hard-working and very caring. It’s very encouraging to see how people care about each other.”

Said Mandy: “It’s important to get to know everyone as soon as possible, to be involved not only with our churches, but with other churches who are doing ministry out in the community. It’s a crazy time with the pandemic, but we look forward to putting down roots, and seeing how we can all grow together.”

For more information about Bethlehem Lutheran Church near Okolona, call 419-758-3321. For more information about St. Mark’s/Bethlehem Lutheran churches, call 419-758-3823.

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