I’ll just go ahead and say it: “I love the Church of the Lutheran Brethren!” As a young child, it was Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church of Succasunna, New Jersey that welcomed our family into the church. It was there that I first heard the gospel. In my teen years, I began working at Tuscarora Inn—the Lutheran Brethren Conference Center in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania—and it was there that I came to faith and began to learn what it was to serve others in Jesus’ name. While working at Tuscarora, I built some friendships with co-workers who were attending Hillcrest Lutheran Academy and they suggested that I would benefit from attending the school. In the fall of 1983, I began my senior year at Hillcrest. At Hillcrest I was challenged and discipled in my faith; it was there that I first sensed a call to vocational ministry.
Early in my presidency of Hillcrest, some friends asked how Hillcrest is connected to the Church of the Lutheran Brethren. I thought they might be joking because it had been my experience that the CLB was the common thread of my faith journey and for so many others I knew! Hillcrest would not exist and would be difficult to sustain without the Lord’s hand guiding the Lutheran Brethren to continue Hillcrest as a ministry arm.
There are a number of official channels that organizationally and theologically keep Hillcrest closely and securely connected to the Lutheran Brethren. We like it that way. We love that Hillcrest continues to be a part of the mission and vision of the Lutheran Brethren. We are an active agent in the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, carrying out God’s given plan and purpose for the CLB. Hillcrest passionately engages our grand mission as a denomination in making disciples of Jesus Christ.
I want to share three simple stories as small glimpses of how Hillcrest’s ministry fulfills the vision and mission of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.
On August 4, 2018, Pastor Evan Langlois texted a Hillcrest staff member in astonishment. He wondered if Logan had applied to Hillcrest. Logan was one of the kids who attended youth group at Bethany Lutheran Brethren Church in East Hartland, Connecticut. Logan had heard of Hillcrest through a friend who decided to attend Hillcrest after hearing a presentation at Tuscarora. Logan didn’t have a strong connection to the church, but was part of a family the church was reaching out to. After Principal Isaac connected with his mother and conducted the family interview, Pastor Langlois was notified that the student would likely attend. There was clear rejoicing (in emojis) for a student who was just beginning to plug in at the church and would now find more opportunities for faith formation at Hillcrest.
Every time I see Logan on campus there is a huge smile on his face. His name was announced frequently over the loud speakers at football games, and I can see that he is very well liked in the student body. Three weeks into his senior year experience at Hillcrest, he met with our guidance counselor. He had a significant request. His favorite class was Bible. He’d never studied God’s Word in depth before. He was asking the guidance counselor to change his schedule, giving up his study hall period for an additional Bible class. His hungry soul was enjoying a spiritual feast in our classrooms. Along with active Bible study, Logan is purposefully being discipled by staff and faculty. I know this because we survey our students to understand which adults, if any, they feel they’re connecting with. Logan easily listed five people he feels are mentoring him in his first three months at “the Castle.” Hillcrest is an honored partner in the disciple-making movement of the Lutheran Brethren.
This movement extends far beyond the reach of our CLB churches. I returned from a trip to Norway the second week of December. Almost 30 years ago the Lord formed a divinely-inspired relationship with the Danielsen School in Bergen, Norway. If you visit Norway and stop in one of the missional or home churches, it is likely that one of the teachers, leaders, or pastors is a Hillcrest alumnus. Jens Doskeland is an alumnus who is active in church planting in the Bergen area. He told a Hillcrest staff member that the community his church is replicating is what he experienced in Hillcrest’s dormitory. Jens says that he learned how to live in Christian community in the dorms at Hillcrest, where conflict arose periodically and the young men were discipled to handle the conflicts in a God-honoring way. He proudly talks to his church members about his Hillcrest experience. The disciple-making at Hillcrest extends beyond our country and the roster of our churches.
The missional movement of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren is alive in the Castle at Hillcrest.
This was poignantly communicated during a gathering of donors in Minneapolis last year. We sat in the home of a Hillcrest board member. We enjoyed coffee and finger foods on plates placed on end tables as a graduate from 2018 shared her Hillcrest experience.
This student explained that she came to Hillcrest on a whim. A Google search led her family to visit during the first week of school. After the tour, the girl ventured home to northern Minneapolis to pack her belongings so she could attend Hillcrest—two weeks after school started in the Castle.
The girl had a bumpy experience in her first two years. Purposeful mentorship by a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Brethren Church in Fergus Falls led the student to a deeper relationship with the Lord. God used the mentor conversations to slowly change the student’s heart. She went home after her junior year a different person. Her parents noticed. Slowly the student’s faith took hold in the lives of her parents. The couple sought Bible training. They started volunteering in Christian ministry. The student shared that her faith-formation at Hillcrest is blossoming in her parents’ lives.
The student continued her story, outlining how her training called her to be active in Good Shepherd Church. She invited friends from the dormitory to attend church with her. God used the gospel-centered preaching of Good Shepherd to call these two friends to baptism in the student’s senior year.
Not only are students being discipled to follow Christ at Hillcrest, they are being used to immediately communicate the gospel, building “spiritual muscles” that reflect the disciple-making mission of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.
To God be the glory.
Rev. Brad Hoganson is President of Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
Visit HLA online at: www.ffhillcrest.org