An Interview with Pastor Matthew Vatalare

An Interview with Pastor Matthew Vatalare

When the Holy Spirit Puts a Little Question There

Rebecka V. Andrӕ Frontz

Administrative Coordinator
North American Lutheran Seminary

Rebecka Frontz

Pastor Matthew Vatalare, M.Div. ’17 (NALS Seminary Center)  is called to Resurrection Lutheran Cooperative Ministry (RLCM), a ministry of five NALC congregations located in the Mid-Northeast Mission District, where he serves as associate pastor and has thought a lot about discerning one‘s vocation. I sat down with him one Friday morning where we spent time talking about vocation.

“At times, the devil comes a-knockin’,” says Vatalare, thinking back to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vatalare expressed how during that time he kept wondering if he was doing the right things. He asked himself: “Am I shepherding people properly? Am I proclaiming the Gospel correctly? Am I providing the words of comfort at someone’s death bed?” Vatalare is acutely aware of the devil’s prowess in prompting him to question himself and how what can follow is a string of events and doubts. However, he has seen that external affirmations of God’s calling help to combat those doubts. In particular, he remembers while at a funeral the daughter of the deceased expressed to him that “God is using you to help guide us.”  It wasn’t just what she said but how she said it that has left a mark on Vatalare’s discernment of his vocation.

The support of colleagues, the partnership with his wife, and consistent prayer have been essential as he has navigated the first few years of Word and Sacrament ministry. He shares that his sense of vocation in Christ has kept him centered.

Vocation has been, in some ways, a process for Vatalare. He grew up in the church, he was baptized as an infant, and his parents brought him to church regularly throughout his childhood. As a typical kid, he sometimes fell asleep in Sunday school class, participated in children’s choir and activities, and attended summer camp. All these ventures were woven into his childhood, creating a springboard for his subsequent call to the pastoral office.

Vatalare as a guest panelist at the NALS in spring of 2023 speaking to NALS seminarians.
Vatalare as a guest panelist at the NALS in spring of 2023 speaking to NALS seminarians.

There were two pivotal points in time to his growing faith and spiritual formation. He shared that when he began to serve as an acolyte, “I knew I wanted more from that point.” He was inspired by the work at God’s altar: donning the acolyte robe, lighting the candles, helping to ensure things in the chancel were as they should be. His time as an acolyte, dovetailed with his summers at the synod’s church camp, were where he saw his faith in Christ grow exponentially. The intense part of faith formation he experienced at summer camp began to manifest itself as thinking “being a pastor would be kind of cool.” He also recounts an inspiring pastoral intern at church while he was in high school who ignited a fire in him. This led to him discovering how the “Holy Spirit puts a little question there,” making him think more and more about the call to ministry.

He graduated from Capital University (Science major, Religion minor) and after resisting tempting job offers in the sciences, he made the move Ambridge, PA, to attend the Seminary Center of the North American Lutheran Seminary in pursuit of the M.Div. degree. The devil came a-knockin’ during the first week of class as Vatalare found himself in crisis mode, wondering if God was really calling him. There were ups and downs that first year; yet, external affirmations of the call came from various areas: professors, other seminarians, and the Candidacy committee, which he credits with helping him to continue to discern the call. “I came into seminary with a Sunday school faith and I left prepared to be called as pastor,” reflected Vatalare, who believes that the NALS, specifically the Seminary Center, is the absolute best seminary to form pastors for the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

“Community. It’s all about community,” he explained. “In that residential community in Ambridge, we lived into our vocation as baptized disciples and continued to discern God’s call to the vocation of word and sacrament ministry. As classmates in that community, we were formed in the faith, for the faith—faith in Christ.”

Vatalare experienced pastoral formation on campus, framed by the daily offices and weekly Eucharist, through the liturgies of the historic tradition. Residential life at the NALS offered him the opportunity to serve as Head Sacristan (often reminding him of his serving as an acolyte in his childhood church); to participate in a Leadership Formation Group (LFG) with the other Lutheran seminarians on Wednesdays; to engage rigorous theological instruction and discussion; and to interact with both currently serving and retired pastors.

Vatalare at the baptismal font of Christ Rupp Lutheran Church, one of five NALC congregations that form RLCM.
Vatalare at the baptismal font of Christ Rupp Lutheran Church, one of five NALC congregations that form RLCM.

As Head Sacristan for chapel services at the Seminary Center, he prepared the altar and communion vessels, and learned about the scriptural basis for “why we do the things we do. It reminded me of when I was an acolyte. My love for the liturgy increased and I had the opportunity to practice chanting,” recalled Pastor Vatalare, who was honored to be entrusted with the position as Head Sacristan.

Vatalare’s message is clear: “I got the best education possible, with the best professors possible, in the best residential community possible, at the NALS,” said Vatalare. “There, I was able to live into my vocation as a baptized child of God and answer the Holy Spirit’s call to serve Christ and His Church through Word and Sacrament ministry.”

When asked about the various vocations we might experience in life and how these interact with each other, Vatalare observed that, as Christians, we are first and foremost, His; we are each a child of God and he expressed how we have other vocations such as husband, father, citizen through which God the Father can use us to shine in the darkness.

“Christ’s light shines brighter than anything else and that includes us,” he said. “But God uses us for His purposes and we are called to share the Gospel of Christ and to care for others as Christ would have us do,” he explained. “I want Christ to shine through me; if I focus on myself as only an individual, then I’d be stepping outside the bounds of the office.”

In his vocation as husband to wife, Morgan, Vatalare revealed that it was important to them as a ministry team to be married first, prior to his ordination, so that she could step into ministry with him, from placing the stole around his neck to entering his first call together. Morgan feels called to support his call to Word and Sacrament ministry. As a couple who welcomed their first child earlier this year, they are cognizant of the importance of family time together and intentionally make time to spend together as a family. For them, the vocation they have in marriage flows from their baptismal vocation. The sacrament of Baptism, of new birth, is the act of adoption as children of God. By water and the Word, we are set apart for His purpose; He has claimed us. He has claimed Matthew and Morgan. And He has claimed all who are baptized so that, as Vatalare reminds us, we can shine Christ’s light in the world and make His Gospel known.

That is our Christian vocation.