True Calling: CLHS lays foundation for alum to enter church work

From the Fall 2022 Cadets Magazine
By Ashley Wiehe

For many Concordia alumni, serving the church after graduation is a natural transition. Many serve as pastors, deaconesses, music leaders, or Lutheran school teachers (many even back at CLHS). It’s truly a calling, and they see Concordia as laying that foundation for their future career. 

For Blythe (Harkenrider) Barreto, Class of 2009, she found her path at CLHS. It’s led her into education at Lutheran schools across the country, teaching at a Concordia university, and serving overseas in Slovakia for three and a half years. 

“I can honestly say my time at CLHS made me the teacher I am today,” she said. “I loved my time in high school and am forever thankful for the foundation of faith and preparedness for my vocation that was gifted to me by caring teachers and administrators.” 

For Barreto, she saw the impact that the teachers at CLHS had on her life and she wanted to do the same for other students. She currently teaches theology online for Orange Lutheran in California and is an adjunct professor for the Department of Theology and Ministry at Concordia University St. Paul. 

“The theology faculty really shaped my career path moving forward. Mr. Reinking made lessons interesting, Mrs. Friedrich demonstrated servant leadership, and Dr. Gudel introduced me to World Religions (one of the classes I teach now),” she said. “The teachers also looked like they just genuinely enjoyed their calling, like Mr. Murphy living life on purpose and exuding joy; or Ms. Nash coming to our soccer games to cheer us on. They made me want to find my purpose and passions, which is definitely serving in Christian education, as well.”

Barreto sought out her calling after graduating from CLHS by receiving her bachelor’s degree from Concordia University Chicago as a Director of Christian Education and a master’s degree in religion from Concordia University Chicago. 

“When I was at CLHS I was scared to pursue church work because I knew the LCMS Call process might take me elsewhere, and I only ever wanted to move back to Fort Wayne,” said Barreto, reflecting on her career. “My vocation has since taken me to call many places home (Chicago, LA, UK, Slovakia, Texas, Florida, and even a summer in Israel), and I have been blessed to travel to 39 countries in the process.” 

Notably, Barreto joined many CLHS students and alumni at the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas this summer, but not as an attendee, but as a speaker. She was asked to be a Bible Study leader, presenting to 4,000 kids every day of the Gathering.

“This was my first Gathering experience. I had never been before,” she said. 

Barreto encourages others who may be thinking about going into church work to take the leap because you never know where God will lead you. 

“If you feel the call, then go for it. It’s a challenging vocation, but incredibly rewarding and an exciting adventure,” she said. “I look back, and it’s amazing to see how God has provided for our family and has been at work in my life, even when I didn’t recognize it. … I’m so grateful that CLHS taught me to keep Christ at the center and find joy in my vocation.” 

Many of our alumni have made the decision to go into Church Work after graduating from CLHS. They are working as pastors, teachers, administrators, and so much more. They are using their talents through leadership, music, art, and working with children. Here are a few of their stories.

Sarah (Sample) Smith, 1997
Second grade teacher at Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne, Ind. 

What led you to your current occupation?

“I always loved working with children and wanted to pursue a career that would support my commitment to love, marriage, and family. After graduating from college, I accepted a first grade teaching position in the public school system. After 15 years, God nudged me to accept an opportunity to teach at Holy Cross, which also happened to be the same school my children attended. It was the best decision of my career! There is no greater reward than sharing your faith with children and teaching about the love of Christ. I love being a teacher and I love the Lutheran Ministry.”

What was your education after Concordia?

“I attended Indiana University, Bloomington and the Fort Wayne Campus to pursue a Bachelor in Science of Education. I was a first-generation college student.”

What did you love most about CLHS?

“What I loved most about CLHS was the friendships, both new and old, that I made along the way of my school career. … It was more than an education. It was being immersed in a culture that nurtured my soul for a lifetime. I am very grateful, but even more so after experiencing education without faith in a public school system.”


Ethan Spira, 2010
Senior Pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Westfield, Ind. 

What led you to your current occupation?

“The summer before my junior year of high school, God made it clear through several people and circumstances that my future was serving His Church.”

What was your education after Concordia?

“I ended up at Concordia University Wisconsin. I tried Elementary Education for a semester and quickly knew that, while it was a good route, my focus needed to be in congregation ministry. The Dean of Students signed off on a Bachelor of Arts program I crafted for Applied Theology and Servant Leadership. After graduation I attended Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne for my Master of Divinity and received my Ordination.”

What did you love most about CLHS?

“There's no shortage of stories from my time at CLHS! The groups I was part of and the skills I learned still help me today, but it really was and is the relationships that laid the foundation of who I am. Rev. Joe Gudel and Mrs. Sandy Friedrich were great supporters as I considered church work. Mr. Will Neumeyer and Mr. Aaron Spencer gave me the freedom and tools in the video lab to grow in my creativity and responsibility. Mr. Chris Murphy and Mrs. Dianne Moellering taught me more than I could appreciate at the time as a member of the theater and drumline, not just about performance but about faith and attitude. I do a disservice to not name more, because every teacher did have an impact in some way. And this doesn't even touch on the friends made! I'll say a special shout out to Will Baker, Eric Dewell and Zach Reynolds who are still my brothers a dozen plus years since graduation.”


Jakob Berger, 2005
Pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Thompson Falls, Mont.

What led you to your current occupation?

“Some of my colleagues knew right away that they wanted to be a pastor. I had no idea, and I kept vacillating about it, even in the seminary. But what led me there were various experiences and influential people: being selected to serve on the inaugural Koinonia project, being chosen to be the chaplain of the JROTC battalion, interacting with classmates at the Anthis Career Center, the principal there at Anthis, the principal at CLHS, and my pastor.”

What was your education after Concordia?

“I went to Ivy Tech to study business and accounting, then transferred (via their agreement) to IPFW. Eventually, I switched majors and graduated with a Bachelor of General Studies with a Religious Studies minor. I then got an M.Div degree at the Fort Wayne seminary (CTSFW), serving vicarage at Imperial, NE. Currently, I am slowly working my way through a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies with an online program.

What did you love most about CLHS?

“I loved the people there: students, faculty, and staff. The teachers especially challenged me to think about my faith, its importance, its meaning, and how to apply it to everyday life.”


Jennifer Porath, 2012
Director of Bands at Concordia Lutheran High School, Fort Wayne, Ind. 

What led you to your current occupation?

“I believe it was my sophomore year in high school that I decided I wanted to audition for Drum Major for the marching band. Before that, I was honestly terrified of being in the spotlight like that, but eventually I came around to the idea. That year, I was not selected, but I quickly learned how much I love to conduct. Then for my junior and senior year, I was selected to be one of the Drum Majors. My confidence grew and became more comfortable with the teaching/leading aspect. And through that role, my passion for music and praising God really blossomed. My band director, Mrs. Dianne Moellering, also played a tremendous role in developing those skills and passion. She encouraged everyone to not only be the best musician possible, but also the best person and representative of Christ as possible. She demonstrated and modeled firsthand what it's like to be Christ's hands and feet, but also how crucial it is to keep Christ at the center, which is exactly what Concordia is all about. … It was something I loved being a part of, and I couldn't wait to share the same emotions with my future students.”

What was your education after Concordia?

“After graduating from CLHS, I attended Concordia University, Nebraska to receive my Bachelor's Degree in Music Education with the Lutheran Teacher's Degree.”

What did you love most about CLHS?

“I loved the community that CLHS provided and fostered. I was mostly involved with the Fine Arts — band, choir, and drama, so that's where most of my friends came from. Many of those friends, I am still in contact with today because of all the time we spent together in high school. The teachers were (and still are!) wonderful. They would go out of their way to help and would answer every question that was asked.”