In the spring of this year the Board of Directors authorized a “focused search” for a long-term response to the seminary’s need to have a leader for the contextual education component of our mission and vision. With 2+2 on the horizon, a revamped Leadership in Context discipline, as well as CPE and other contextual components, the time came for us to have the right person for the right time in this role. For three years, the good Dr. Hank Langknecht has ably served in an “acting director” role, knowing that there would come a time when we would need to have a full-time leader. The stakes are simply too high.

When Dr. Langknecht conducted his search last year for an assistant in contextual education, he did so with the idea that he just might be hiring his successor. Out of a number of fine candidates, Sister Becky Swanson, a rostered deaconess, was picked for the job. When authorized to do a focused search for the director’s position, we operated with no assumptions and yet landed on Sister Becky anyhow. Aside from the given that she has terrific administrative and organizational skills, there are three main reasons why she became the team’s person of choice: 1) She has made leadership coaching and leadership formation the focus of her life. 2) Her history of leadership coaching is not without church experience, but is mainly in the secular world of corporations and public non-profits. Not being an “insider,” she comes to Trinity with fresh eyes, ears, and perspectives. 3) Her passion for Trinity’s mission and vision runs deep, and she believes in Trinity’s capacity to form leaders who will change the world.

Instead of rambling on, I will let our new Assistant Professor and Director of Contextual Education introduce herself in her own words:


I am beyond delighted to be part of the team at Trinity. When I arrived last summer and began working with Dr. Langknecht, I realized I had answered a call to a place that was not only positioned to make a huge impact on the health and well-being of the ELCA, but was ready to do so. In fact, it had been doing so for some time.


The foundation of the contextual education experience that was established here by Al Sager and Jane Jenkins, and continued by Hank Langknecht, is one that is recognized as being one of the best of all theological contextual experiences you can find. That we have a vision for moving this already solid program to the next level makes my heart sing.


I am grateful to have colleagues who understand that this process cannot succeed with a siloed, “lone-ranger” approach. Over this summer, and with the input of pastors, coaches, students and leaders, we will finish defining the criteria we will use for selecting supervisors and sites for the +2 experience. Students and supervisors alike are excited and a little impatient to get going on matching the first +2 cohort.


I’m excited to partner with rostered leaders who are not only leading well in their contexts, but who are also called to the ministry of teaching and accompaniment. I often get calls asking whether we need sites. Last year, across the whole ELCA, we had more supervisors and sites than we had students to place. I think this is a good thing – but it is a big shift for supervisors. We need a wide variety of settings in which to send our students. We need more women supervisors-mentors. We are looking for sites that have active partnerships and ministries in their communities. But the bottom line is always going to be the supervisor-mentor. It is assumed that the supervisor exhibits the qualities of good leadership that we have identified: authentic servant leaders who are healthy, vibrant, maturing, transformative, resilient, and evangelical. However, there are additional questions beyond that: Is the supervisor a good mentor-coach? Does the supervisor engage in life-long learning around those skills (in addition to other life-long learning)? Details of those questions and how we are going to assess them is what we will focus on this summer. We will send the results of that work along with a “new and improved” site application and timeline to interested and potential supervisors in August. (If you’d like to be on that distribution list, please send your contact information to


Another noticeable shift that is happening is a shift away from paper. Going forward the bulk of our communication and record keeping will be in electronic form. This means adoption of some support tools that will give us the ability to collect needed information online rather than by mailing (and filing) sheets of paper. We have already begun migrating the internship and LIC manuals to the website, and this fall the public theology assignment that was called “Obserflections” will become a blog (look for an announcement and way to subscribe in August.)


All this is happening while we are accompanying the 2015-2016 cohort into their internship experience, preparing to welcome back to campus the 2014-2015 cohort, and getting ready to greet new students. It is an exciting time to be part of the Trinity team. I hope you will support us with your prayers and contributions of time, talent, and dollars. 


In the abiding hope of the empty tomb,

Rick Barger, ’89


Trinity Lutheran Seminary