Martin Luther College Welcomes New President

Martin Luther College is pleased to announce the arrival of its new president, Rev. Richard Gurgel.

President Gurgel replaces President Mark Zarling, who retired this June after serving the college from 2007 to 2020.

President Gurgel brings decades of experience in both ministerial education and parish ministry, as well as 18 years of experience as an MLC parent. Rich and his wife, Sue, have five boys, all graduates of the college he is now leading.

 

Pastor, Professor, Parent: From 1999 to 2020, Gurgel served as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS) in Mequon, Wisconsin, where future pastors complete their ministerial training. There he taught Christian education, homiletics (preaching), and Christian doctrine.

In 2010, he was appointed WLS’s first director of the Grow in Grace Institute, the continuing education arm of the seminary. There he partnered with people on and off campus to begin retreats for pastors and wives, establish a mentoring program for new pastors, and make formal continuing education courses more accessible to pastors.

Prior to his tenure as a seminary professor, Gurgel served as the pastor of two WELS parishes: Gethsemane in Oklahoma City (1986-1992) and David’s Star in Jackson, Wisconsin (1992-1998). He also served as an emergency instructor for one year while still a seminary student, teaching religion and language arts, and coaching basketball at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School in Jackson, Wisconsin (1982-1983).

“God wastes nothing,” he says. “At each place, God had so much for me to learn in order to be a blessing to those he called me to serve. That encourages me that he can help me through another (steep) learning curve as I serve with my new partners in ministry at MLC.”

He brings another perspective to this call as well. For almost two decades, Rich and Sue were MLC parents, “making tuition and room and board payments to MLC and watching how our sons were blessed as they grew in Christian maturity on this campus.”

It is through these three lenses—pastor, professor, and parent—that Gurgel sees the college’s blessings as well as its challenges.

 

Blessings: “Without claiming that we have the perfect worker training system in the WELS,” he says, “we have many reasons to give thanks for the careful and thorough training we expect that the next generation of our pastors, teachers, and staff ministers will receive. Since almost every future called worker in our synod is part of the MLC family at some point, MLC is a pivotal part of maintaining that careful and thorough training. A rich heritage has been handed down to us, and now is our time to pass that on to others.”

That rich heritage is founded on another blessing: the gospel itself. “As president, I also hope to guard our Lutheran understanding of the centrality of the gospel as it comes to us in the means of grace. If we lose our focus on the comfort and the power of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, then we lose the beating heart of our Christian faith and the power and strength to serve in the public ministry.

“We are not all about creating Bible trivia experts on this campus,” he continues, “but about raising up witnesses for Christ who have tasted and seen for themselves how good and gracious is their saving God. That love of Christ empowers faith and ministry.”

 

Challenges: Also looming large in Gurgel’s thinking and praying are three challenges the college faces: reducing student debt, enhancing campus facilities, and offering students the best education possible, one that simultaneously holds firm to the unchanging gospel and rises to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world.

  • Student Debt: Regarding that first challenge, Gurgel wants to explore how the college can better collaborate with students, parents, donors, and the synod to reduce significantly the debt many students carry as they leave MLC.“As a synod, we have a huge stake in raising up a new generation of well-trained and faithful called workers. We must do all we can to avoid sending students out with educational debt that will burden them for years in public ministry and hinder their ability to raise a family. We are in this together as a synod. There is much more that we can do.”
  • Facilities: The second challenge focuses on the campus itself. Gurgel would like to expand and update the aging buildings and infrastructure here on the hill. He sees this not only as an issue of good stewardship but also as an important factor in recruiting new candidates for the public ministry.He says, “We need to remain an attractive option in an increasingly competitive market as high school students make decisions about the college they will attend. While it is only the gospel that can shape and form the next generation of servant-hearted leaders for our schools and churches, we do not want our campus and its facilities to become a deterrent to our ability to welcome them to our school.”
  • Educational Excellence: The third challenge is ongoing for every faculty member. “We must make sure we are equipping our students with an outstanding education that prepares them well to be ministers of the gospel in the 21st-century world. We have much to give thanks for, but we cannot close our eyes to where we can grow.”

A President’s Prayers: As President Gurgel takes the mantle, he does so in humility and prayer.

“I pray that God keeps me ever learning what it means to shepherd this campus with a humble gospel heart, in a way that proves a blessing to all who call this campus their home (students, faculty, staff, and administration). For our students, I pray that God will continue to use our campus to grow within them humble servant hearts, like their Savior’s, so that they stand out as lights in the darkness of a me-first world. For our faculty, staff, and administration, I pray that everyone who serves on this campus finds joy—under the cross—in that service.

“I have slowly learned,” he continues, “that I will be of little use to anyone I’ve been called to serve if my own soul is not feeding daily on the width, height, length, and depth of the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord. I have learned not to apologize for spending a considerable time each morning in Word and prayer so that God’s grace may bless me and enable me, in whatever way he might please that day, to be a blessing to others.”

 

Quick Facts: President Richard Gurgel Family

Rich’s wife, Sue, taught kindergarten for the past 17 years at Christ Alone Lutheran School in Mequon, Wisconsin. They enjoy supporting their five boys with their God-given callings and families:

  • Philip MLC ’06 is the Hispanic outreach pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Christa, have two sons, Theophilus and Amadeus.
  • Brad MLC ’08 is the principal and upper grade teacher at St. Peter Lutheran School in St. Peter, Minnesota. He and his wife, Bethany (Warnecke) MLC ’08, have four children: Kayla, Mason, Elianna, and Aiden.
  • Stephen MLC ’11 is the principal and grade 7-8 teacher at St. Paul Lutheran School in Rapid City, South Dakota. He and his wife, Megan (Ziel) MLC ’11, have two children: Warren and Whitney.
  • Nathan MLC ’14 teaches physical education, business, accounting, and economics at Manitowoc Lutheran High School in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
  • Ryan ’20 will be continuing his pursuit of the pastoral ministry this fall at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

Education
B.A. Northwestern College 1981
M.Div. Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary 1986
D.Min. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School 2010


Ministry
Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School 1982-1983
Gethsemane-Oklahoma City 1986-1992
David’s Star-Jackson, Wisconsin 1992-1998
Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary 1999-2020


Hobbies
Hiking, biking (“I did the New Ulm circle tour twice in my first week here!”), theater performances, baseball (“I especially enjoyed coaching Little League and high school ball for about 25 years.”)


Music
Classical, sacred choral (“My favorite musical events by far each year have been the MLC and WLS Christmas concerts.”)


Books
Books on the art and science of preaching the gospel and on leadership in the public ministry, John Grisham novels, biographies, historical fiction


Did you know? Achieving a longtime dream, President Gurgel became a certified Gallup Strengths Coach. He hopes to use that training at MLC—and later, in his retirement—to help people grow in all their God-given callings.

 

Volley Wins Team Academic Award

Knights Return – 2020 Planning Document

 

 

We offer this Knight’s Return plan trusting in God’s gracious care for us in our Lord Jesus.  At the same time, we also recognize that such trust does not diminish the responsibility God himself entrusts to us to be wise stewards of our health  for the sake of our whole campus family as well as for the entire community of New Ulm.
We will update these plans as more information develops or conditions change.
MLC President Rich Gurel

MLC’s Philosophy of Financial Assistance and Student Indebtedness

WE ARE GRATEFUL. Martin Luther College (MLC) is deeply grateful for the continued support of WELS. The WELS operating subsidy, which comes from WELS Congregational Mission Offerings (CMO), funds about 17% of MLC’s budget. We are also grateful for the gifts that come directly to MLC from foundations and individuals within WELS.

The blessing of this subsidy and these gifts, coupled with careful stewardship by the MLC Governing Board and administration, allows MLC to keep costs relatively low without sacrificing quality in our educational offerings or the student-life experience on campus. MLC regularly ranks at or near the top of “Best Value” college lists, and the average debt for MLC graduates is several thousand dollars below the national average for graduates of other four-year private colleges.

WE ARE CONCERNED. Though our student debt figure runs lower than average, it is still a considerable cause for concern and prayer. About 75 percent of MLC students graduate with debt. The debt for that 75 percent averages $27,000. If two of our graduates marry, the debt can double. Many of our graduates, therefore, enter their public ministries with a challenging burden—a burden exacerbated by the lower lifetime earning potential of called workers compared to college graduates in other fields.

This financial burden has a negative effect on recruitment. In a competitive college marketplace, we are at a disadvantage in rankings that use a return-on-investment framework. According to a 2019 Sallie Mae report, most high school students and their parents list college cost, often including consideration of return on investment, as the most important factor in their college choice.

While we remain convinced that the value of ministerial training—and the blessings of a life dedicated to gospel ministry—far outweigh financial considerations, we still must admit that the debt load carried by many MLC graduates likely has a significant negative impact on student recruitment.

WE ARE RESPONDING. To reduce the debt load of our graduates and to assure that nothing hampers the recruiting of future gospel ministers, the MLC Governing Board and administration invite all our partners throughout the synod to join us in addressing this challenge as wisely and aggressively as possible.  Under God’s blessing, we seek to:

  • Increase gifts to financial aid.

We will cultivate even more generous foundation grants, individual gifts, and special congregational contributions, such as those facilitated by the Congregational Partner Grant Program (CPGP). Such grants and gifts will significantly increase our ability to award merit-based and especially need-based financial aid, allowing us to offer more competitive financial aid packages to prospective students.

  • Enhance student financial literacy.

We will expand the current excellent program that teaches students wise stewardship of their financial resources. The MLC program, established before it was common practice at other college campuses, offers students guidance about summer employment, limiting working hours during the academic semesters, and sensible budgeting in a consumer-mentality culture. Recent research by the Trellis Company confirms the positive impact of financial counseling, and all such growth provides a blessing long after graduation.

  • Encourage family financial support.

We will encourage parents to help fund their children’s college education in ways consistent with their resources. In a growing trend, more parents are asking their children to bear an increasing percentage of college costs. While having students contribute to their college education does foster maturity, parents might not realize that student employment comes nowhere close to covering the full cost of college, and that government support has shifted almost entirely from grants to loans. When parents help pay for college, they provide a double blessing: reducing their children’s debt load and assisting their children to make a stronger beginning in public ministry.

  • Urge students to utilize government loans judiciously.

We will help students evaluate the long-term ramifications of student loans so that they don’t borrow too quickly or carelessly. We will also assist them with loan repayment options. When we combine greater financial literacy with increased financial aid and additional parental support, we will be well on our way toward fewer and smaller student loans.

OUR GOAL: Under God’s blessing, we would like to cut student indebtedness in half in ten years. The current ratio of debt to starting salary is 92 percent.[1] The goal is to reduce that ratio to 46 percent in ten years.[2]

In 2020 dollars, a $1,500 per year increase in each of three areas—student contribution, family contribution, and financial aid—would result in an $18,000 decrease in the average debt over four years. That would more than meet this goal! The challenge is not as significant as it may first appear.

OUR PRAYER: In this, as in all things, we ask God to help us. May our efforts ease the financial burden our graduates carry, remove hindrances to ministry recruitment, and raise an ever larger corps of Christian witnesses who are qualified to meet WELS ministry needs.


[1] This ratio lists the average indebtedness of the 2019 MLC graduate ($27,196) as a percentage of the 2019-2020 WELS salary matrix column C with 0 years of experience ($29,511).

A Prayer From President Zarling

2020 Thalassa Winner

Congratulations to the 2020 Thalassa Prize winner, Micah Otto ’19. Micah served in Southeast Asia for one semester. He explains: “We did mostly friendship evangelism – fostering meaningful relationships in an effort to let our light shine, with the end goal of building self-sustaining churches.” The pandemic cut his ministry short, and he does not think he will be able to return. MLC’s International Services Office awarded Micah $1,000, half of which he designated to a Southeast Asia mission. This is the 14th annual Thalassa Prize.


The God She Thought She Knew

This is Bella—Bella the Buddhist.

Bella was dressed up as the Devil for our Halloween party at my apartment in Southeast Asia.

“ . . . and that’s why God’s love is so amazing!” I said amid our formerly secular conversation between sips of punch.

We were hosting this party just to make friends; but of course, it’s pretty much inevitable that He will get brought up in conversation if you talk to one of us Christians long enough.

Bella looked at me puzzled, her red fabric horns bobbing as she cocked her head.

“But . . . doesn’t your god send people to hell? That doesn’t seem very loving.”

She continued to describe the god she thought she knew—a god who was hateful, distant, and quick to hold a grudge—a god she didn’t want to believe in. Bella the Buddhist had been deceived by the very one she was dressed up as that evening.

“I don’t want to believe in that god either, Bella. Now let me tell you about the God I do believe in . . .

. . . about the God who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love,

. . . about the God who gave me everything and refuses to turn His back on me even when I fail to love Him in return,

. . . about Jesus, who died so that freedom from sin, death, and the Devil wouldn’t have to be earned, but freely given right into our hands.

Tell me about the gods you don’t believe in, and I’ll tell you about mine—I’ll tell you about grace.”

Later, Bella opened up a Bible on our coffee table. We turned to John.

“For God so loved the world . . .”

Rev. Mark Zarling’s Retirement from MLC as President

Rev. Mark Zarling, president of Martin Luther College from 2007 to 2020, is retiring this summer.

During President Zarling’s tenure, God has blessed the college in countless ways.

The campus saw the construction of beautiful new facilities funded by God’s people: Chapel of the Christ, the Early Childhood Learning Center, a baseball field, and a soccer pitch.

The academic catalog expanded to include majors in early childhood education and special education, many four-year secondary education majors, and minors in urban ministry and Chinese. The graduate program added two new degrees: Master of Science in Educational Administration and Master of Arts in Theological Studies. And continuing education offerings expanded tremendously, including New Teacher Induction, new certifications, and a full catalog of on-campus, online, and on-location professional development options.

President Zarling’s keen sense of vision led the campus family through two strategic plans, two accreditations, a Master Site Plan, and a Master Staffing Plan. He put the spotlight on lowering student debt, broadening international services, expanding experiential learning, and recruiting new students not merely to fill current vacancies but to prepare for new ministries still in development. He also traveled extensively, serving as a warm and sincere ambassador all over the synod.

Through all these changes, he kept the campus focused on the mission statement: “To train a corps of Christian witnesses who are qualified to meet the ministry needs of the WELS and who are competent to proclaim the Word of God faithfully and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord.”

Faculty, staff, and synod leaders have called President Zarling a man of faith, a pastor-administrator, a humble visionary, a Christ-like leader, and MLC’s spiritual compass. He spoke God’s promises in the hallways, prayed with colleagues in their offices, and uplifted the college family with his “Letters from Home” chapel messages.

“President Zarling has left an impression on Martin Luther College,” said WELS President Mark Schroeder. “He has worked tirelessly to ensure that our WELS College of Ministry faithfully carries out its purpose. He has personally guided and shaped hundreds if not thousands of students. And through his leadership he has instilled in our synod’s members a love for and a confidence in Martin Luther College.”

To MLC students past, present, and future, President Emeritus Zarling offers this encouragement: “The apostle tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Live daily with eyes on Jesus—and the only way to keep eyes on him is to stay with the Scriptures that reveal him. Make time daily to prayerfully read the Spirit’s inspired words that you may build up your faith. As Jude 20-21 tells us, But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Mark and his wife, Colette, are moving to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, this summer and are planning road trips to the East and West Coasts to see their children and grandchildren.

Communications of congratulations may be mailed to 2631 College Street, Manitowoc WI 54220.

Showcasing International Students