Jeff Topinka, right, leads worship with his internship supervisor, Pastor John Mouritsen.
Image credit: Morning Star, Matthews
Many and varied are the paths that bring candidates to the rostered ministry of this church. Newly ordained Pastor Jeff Topinka can attest to that! At age 50, Jeff and his wife, Melissa, have been married for over 20 years and are the parents of two teenagers. Originally from the Pittsburgh area, Jeff was raised in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. His work experience goes from manual labor to human resources in the corporate world. He worked his way up to a six-figure income but, as he says, “I was not a happy person. The key to happiness was somewhere else.” A friend pointed out to Jeff, “You’re focusing on the wrong things. What about your relationship with God?”
Jeff prayed that God would show him the way. He joined a support group, began reading the Bible and other spiritual books, started playing the guitar, and experienced God’s grace in fellowship and community.
Then a friend invited Jeff to Christ Lutheran Church in Charlotte. “That was it!” explained Jeff. “It felt good, it felt right.” There he connected with contemporary worship and experienced a tremendous turnaround. “God is doing something in your life,” a pastor told him. “Don’t dismiss it. Pay attention to it.”
So Jeff went to United Lutheran Seminary, Gettysburg, PA, where one-third of the classes were onsite and two-thirds online; this worked out well during the pandemic years. Thanks to the partnership of the NC Synod, Christ Church, Charlotte, and the seminary, Jeff’s theological education was made financially possible. In all these places, along with his internship site at Morning Star Lutheran Church in Matthews, NC, Jeff received the affirmation he needed to hear. He found grace along with a whole new emerging understanding of the dynamics of people. “I came to terms with who I am and who God called me to be. God works everywhere and in everyone, especially outside the walls of the church.”
Pastor John Mouritsen of Morning Star said that Jeff was the first intern he had supervised even though the congregation has had several interns over the years. Pastor John feels that the experience was “great for all involved” and he is excited to see Jeff grow in his ministerial skills as he begins his first call.
All of this was made possible by the Candidacy process of the NC Synod under the leadership of the Rev. Sara Ilderton, assistant to the bishop. “Confessionsally,” says Sara, “we believe that the work of the Spirit is best discerned with others and a person’s call into ministry is both an internal call—I feel God is calling me into a particular ministry—as well as an external call—We feel that God is calling you into a particular ministry. When it works well, the entire process is one of intentional prayer and discernment of call.” She concluded, “In my opinion, Jeff’s process is a wonderful illustration of partnered discernment. Not everything worked the way Jeff imagined it would, but I think he’d tell you that the work of the Spirit was evident through it all.” Of Sara’s influence on him, Jeff recalls,“ She saw something in there (in me) that I didn’t.” She said, “Don’t you know how special you are?”
Pastor Jeff is excited as he begins his first call, serving at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in China Grove, NC. His advice to others? “Believe in God’s plan for your life.” His vision is that “the future of the church is wide open.” Whether you’ve been in the church for five years or for fifty, that advice and that vision hold true!
Thanks be to God for the gifts that you give—as individuals and congregations—to Mission Support of the NC Synod! These gifts support Jeff and so many others like him as they explore God’s call to ministry in the candidacy process. Jeff was ordained on Sunday, January 15, 2023, at Morning Star, Matthews; pictures are shared below.