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My Christian life: An unexpected call to ministry later in life

A man discovers an opportunity later in life to serve God and his community in the full-time public ministry.

“Sometimes God just says no—this is where I want you to be right now.”

Those are the words of Damion Glisper, member at Atonement, Milwaukee, Wis. Although Glisper has had many different jobs, he’s always had a heart for ministry—and God called him to serve in a way he wasn’t expecting.

Wanting to serve

My Christian Life Feb 2024 Glisper
Besides his work at Atonement, Damion Glisper also serves as the director of the Garden Homes campus for Lighthouse Youth Center, a WELS-affiliated ministry that provides Christ-centered after-school programming for children.

Glisper attended Northwestern Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis. (the predecessor of Luther Preparatory School), then went on to Northwestern College. “But after a year there, I left. At that point, I didn’t think being a pastor was for me,” he says.

Glisper chose a different career path and ended up working for the city of Milwaukee as a police officer. Eventually the stress of that position took its toll and he started a different job—this time working with government-subsidized housing. “And after that, I ended up working as an exterminator, of all things!” he says.

As Glisper’s jobs changed, the urge to serve in ministry did not. “In my mind and in my heart, I had the desire to do ministry of some sort,” Glisper says. He held many roles at Atonement, the congregation where he’s been a member for most of his life. From elder to strategic planner to property board member, he has done it all. “I’ve always served in one way or another,” he says. Glisper and his wife, Amy, were planning to retire early, travel, and possibly volunteer through Kingdom Workers. But then God presented Glisper with a different opportunity.

Changing course

Four years ago, one of Atonement’s pastors, Jon Hartmann, accepted a new call. Before he left, Hartmann encouraged Glisper to consider serving in a more formal role. “Being involved in the different layers of church leadership over the years opened my eyes and made me think, Maybe I can do this,” says Glisper.

Atonement began calling for a new pastor, but its calls were returned; like many other congregations in WELS, it was feeling the effects of the synod’s shortage of called workers. The congregation needed help, so it asked Glisper to serve full time as a congregational assistant for outreach. After prayerful deliberation and encouragement from his pastor, family, and friends, Glisper agreed. Soon after, he decided he wanted to become a fully trained pastor and began studying through Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Joshua Urban Ministry Program, which focuses on equipping African-American men for ministry (read more below in “Equipping men for the ministry”).

“It was just a God thing; we needed pastoral service, and Damion was at a point in his life where he thought he’d like to do that,” says Thomas Kock, pastor at Atonement. “He’s my right-hand man and helps me in so many ways. It’s a great partnership.” Kock teaches some of Glisper’s seminary classes and also provides on-the-job training and mentoring. “It’s almost like he is a vicar, except he’s been doing this for years,” says Kock.

My christian life Damion Glisper
1) Damion Glisper with Thomas Kock (left), pastor at Atonement, and Phillip Valdez, Atonement’s vicar. 2) Damion and his family: wife, Amy, and children, Isaiah and Ana. 3 & 4) Damion administering the sacrament of Baptism to several youth

Reaching the community

Glisper teaches Bible information class and confirmation classes, visits shut-ins, conducts evangelism calls, and presides in worship. Since Atonement has never had someone specifically focused on outreach before, Glisper also has been gathering information from the community about its needs and looking for gaps that Atonement might be able to fill.

Glisper says he is always looking for outreach opportunities—and there are plenty of them at Atonement Lutheran School. “There are over four hundred kids coming through our school every day, and most are not members of Atonement,” he explains. “My main goal is to work with school kids and their families and try to connect them to the church.”

Glisper says it’s been a blessing getting to know—and help—the families. “Some of the people in our community, they come from tough backgrounds,” he says. Because of the relationships he’s formed, Glisper has been able to provide support and help to people who are hurting and dealing with serious problems like mental health issues and homelessness.

“Damion is really good with one-on-one ministry,” says Kock. “People trust him—particularly the kids in school. When they’re struggling, they want to talk to Mr. Glisper. He’s considerate, kind, compassionate and has a wonderful pastoral approach—and that’s more than a learned skill. A pastoral heart is a gift from God.”

Glisper says outreach work has its share of challenges, but there are also many blessings. One of them is seeing new faces in church. “When you get those occasions where a school family becomes members or the kids get baptized, it’s really cool to see how the Lord blesses your work,” he says.

Damion Glisper wearing a coffee costume
Damion at one of Atonement’s get-to-know-you events, which offered neighbors free coffee and sweets plus friendly conversation.

Glisper says he’s thankful that God has allowed him to serve in this way. “It’s a blessing that I get to start my day with prayer and to serve God and serve others with his love.” He hopes his story will encourage other laypeople to look for opportunities to serve.

“It’s never too late,” Glisper says. “When you feel that urge to share the gospel with other people—and if it’s something you want to do in the public ministry, as a pastor, teacher or staff minister—pray on it. And honestly, how can you go wrong? Serving is a blessing. It’s a really cool thing that an old guy like me has an opportunity to serve the Lord in a full-time manner. It’s been nothing but a blessing to me and my family.”

Equipping men for the ministry

Damion Glisper has been studying for the ministry through the Joshua Urban Ministry Program (JUMP), part of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute, which provides seminary training to students from a variety of countries and cultures.

The program is tailored for each student and takes approximately four to five years to complete. JUMP offers classroom training alongside one-on-one mentoring and instruction from the students’ home pastors.

Aaron Robinson, cultural diversity coordinator at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., helped start the program. “We are raising up black men to be pastors in WELS,” he says. “We want to provide proper training but acknowledge that it’s not easy for an adult male to take his family and move a state away and do seven years of courses. So if we can find a way to get people exposed and experienced and educated where they are at, that might be a greater possibility.”

Members of the Joshua Urban Ministry Program men sitting at table
Members of the Joshua Urban Ministry Program discuss ministry with synodical leaders.

Robinson encouraged Glisper and others in Milwaukee to join the program; there are now seven men studying.

“It’s been great,” says Glisper. “We need more called workers in the pipeline. We pray that this program will continue and that other people in Milwaukee will see it as an option for pursuing the ministry.”

Learn more> about the program at Learn more about Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Pastoral Studies Institute in the February 2024 edition of WELS Connection.

Encouraging the next generation to serve

One of the reasons Damion Glisper decided to get into the ministry is because of the encouragement he received from other pastors. Now he’s encouraging students at Atonement and showing them what ministry looks like.

Man showing a boy how to tie a tie“When the kids in our school see me up in the front of the church on Sunday or during chapel, they start thinking that maybe in 10 or 15 years, they can do this as well,” says Glisper. “And I think it’s true for all kids, from all walks of life. Look at the percentage of pastors’ kids who become pastors. Why is that? It’s because growing up, they saw their dad up there every Sunday and thought, Maybe I can do this too.”

Atonement has also been hosting events to connect its students with teachers and students at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis. Glisper says all of these efforts are starting to produce fruit. “For the first time in years, we have three kids attending Luther Prep,” he says. “It warms my heart, and it’s such a blessing to see that.”

Author: Alicia Neumann
Volume 111, Number 02
Issue: February 2024

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