Jan 17, 2024 Print This Article

Getting to Know Katie Nafzger

Women's Ministry for Every Season

by Sarah Maney

The decision to enroll at a seminary is an exciting one for married couples, but there also can be a lot of questions and unknowns. While the next four years are mapped out for husbands as they pursue a Master of Divinity (M.Div.), the experience isn’t so clear for their wives. How can they grow and develop alongside their spouses once the decision has been made to come to Concordia Seminary?

That’s a need that Katie Nafzger seeks to address in her role as the Seminary’s women’s coordinator for residential and Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) programs. “It’s really important that these women know who they are and have people to go to for help and guidance,” said Nafzger, who was once a Sem wife herself.

“The Seminary Women’s Association (SWA) planning team — all student wives — do the planning and work for our social gatherings. I strive to be more of a resource and support person,” she said.

Seminary women’s ministry has two goals: One is to provide fellowship and social connections, and the other is to offer curriculum, or the women’s official programming. In the fall, the women on campus focus on transitions and connections.

“We know that a lot of the women are going to have many transitions in life,” Nafzger said. “For some, transitions aren’t difficult right now. It’s a fun adventure, coming to the Seminary. It might be 12 years from now that a transition is really hard. We hope that thinking through transitions now will help them later in life.”

Nafzger tries to help the wives of seminarians connect with other women on campus so they have a community.

Women’s classes help on this front. As an example, this fall, the first-year wives went through a class called “After the Boxes are Unpacked” with several faculty wives. The second-year wives completed the DiSC assessment, a tool that measures personality traits, with Associate Professor of Practical Theology Dr. Mark Rockenbach, and read Faith to Follow: The Journey to Becoming a Pastor’s Wife (WestBow Press) by Kate Meadows, whose husband is a Concordia Seminary graduate. Third-year wives were on vicarage with their husbands, and fourth-year women worked through Waiting: A Bible Study on Patience, Hope and Trust (Concordia Publishing House) by Sharla Fritz.

Nafzger, with the help of SWA, works to create other opportunities for community, such as the annual retreat weekends. She’s also excited when the team plans community around creativity. A couple of examples include a Saturday morning craft session, occasional painting events and an idea she has for a writing project. She encourages connections for women beyond classes and scheduled programs.

Many of the wives wonder about the expectations that their future congregation may have for them. The women’s classes and Seminary community help them navigate that concern and help them understand that they don’t have to be a certain type of person to be a pastor’s wife.

When it’s time for the couple to serve in ministry, Nafzger hopes each wife can say, “‘I’m a pastor’s wife. And so now I bring to that role the best me I can be, which means sometimes making mistakes, but leading with my strengths.’

“I really want to encourage them to be involved just like any other church member,” she said.

A recent addition to Nafzger’s role includes reaching out to the wives of men enrolled in the SMP Program. Since the SMP Program is a distance program, the wives are already serving alongside their husbands and already have their own social circles, including their congregation’s programs for women. Reaching out to them looks very different than working with residential students, Nafzger said.

She hopes to add a monthly event and is looking for ways to encourage the SMP wives to connect with each other. “I’m trying to help them create that community so they can be there for each other,” she said.

In 2020, right in the middle of the COVID pandemic, Nafzger earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a focus on STEAM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. “It’s STEM with an added focus on art,” she explained.

Her degree has helped her focus on her other job — supporting teachers.

“One of the things I have learned is that you don’t ever just — and I would say this for pastors or pastors’ wives — you don’t ever just get a diploma and you’re there,” she said. “You should have two to five years of learning and growing with intentional onboarding and time for feedback about how you are doing. I ask myself: How can I incorporate that here, as the women’s coordinator?”

In addition to her Seminary job, Nafzger works remotely for a company called Soaring Education Services. “We’re under the umbrella of Open Sky Education, which has schools in Milwaukee and Phoenix,” she said. “Soaring started in January 2021 with an emphasis on creating seats in Christian schools through this micro-school movement.”

Balancing both jobs can be challenging, she said, but both are rewarding.

The Nafzger family enjoys living on the Seminary’s campus, in one of the 12 recently updated faculty houses, and cultivating community. “It’s the way we ‘do life,’ to be right there in the community and to be part of it,” she said. It’s important for students to have the opportunity to connect with professors and pastors in everyday life, she said. Her husband, Professor of Associate Professor of Practical Theology Dr. Peter Nafzger, a 2004 Seminary graduate, often says that students catch being a pastor as much as they learn it.

The Nafzgers often open their home to students to demonstrate authentic hospitality. “The imperfect, real kind of hospitality — not ‘Pottery Barn hospitality,’” she said.

“The heart of hospitality is about making time in your day and giving up your conveniences and preferences for other people. People need community. Sometimes it happens well, and other times it doesn’t,” she said. “In my experience, many women leave here and later report that they miss this community, even though there may have been struggles when they were here. It’s not perfect. But when they take their first call, many of them say ‘I’d like to bring Sem community to my new home or to my new neighborhood.’”

Sarah Maney is a communications specialist at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.