Breaking the mold
UI students find passion in religious leadership roles

March 7, 2018

There are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. Of these religions comes a wide variety of degrees offered at universities across the nation.

A college student at the University of Idaho can minor in general religious studies and complete courses encompassing western religious cultures, approaches to religious studies and other traditions.

Even with an opportunity for emphasis on religious studies, millennials are still much less likely to be religious when compared to their elders, according to the Pew Research Center.

However, not all millennials fit this trend.

UI students Steven Trantham, Ellen Yenne and Matthew Morrow may not share the same religion, but they each share the same passion — religious leadership.

‘Called to be a leader’

Matthew Morrow begins and ends each day at St. Augustine’s Catholic Center.

He wakes up around 7:30 a.m., unlocks the center in his pajamas and proceeds to get ready for class and that day’s Mass.

Morrow lives at St. Augustine’s.

Catholicism has always played a significant role in Morrow’s life.

Morrow’s parents are Catholic. He was raised Catholic, born Catholic and attended Catholic schools.

After receiving his first communion, Morrow said he began altar serving at his own parish.

An altar server assists the priest, brings him what he needs and helps Mass flow seamlessly, Morrow said.

“I did that every Sunday growing up,” Morrow said.

This leadership role began when Morrow was in the fourth grade and has continued throughout his life.

Now a fourth-year student at UI, Morrow continues to embrace the ritualistic nature of Catholicism through St. Augustine’s.

Although Morrow does not remember his own baptism, he credits this for his motivation to pursue a leadership role within the church.

“Everyone is called to be a leader in some sense,” Morrow said. “It’s not like a seeking out of it necessarily, but just being guided where it is you need to be.”

Morrow was first introduced to the St. Augustine’s during his freshman year. He took part in altar serving and participated in choir.

“I just took a very active role in getting involved as much as I could,” Morrow said.

Morrow now also leads a Bible study and mentors others.

“Leadership also is just in ‘am I doing my best to help other people to be the best that they can?’” Morrow said. “So, just through interaction and talking to people that come by and growing together — that is a form of leadership.”

One of the primary benefits of leading others, Morrow said, is assisting in personal growth.

“Often by giving yourself away to certain things, you come to understand yourself better,” Morrow said. “Through it (leadership) I’m able to grow as a person.”

Freshman Ellen Yenne

‘A woman can be a pastor’

Ellen Yenne’s transition into a leadership role is just as complex. She, however, began her life as a Catholic.

A lot has changed since then.

At seven years old, Yenne and her mother left behind their rosaries and outdated notions of gender and decided to pursue an alternate path — Lutheranism.

The need for this transition stemmed from Yenne and her mother’s desire to follow a congregation that supported women in leadership roles.

“It’s just so exciting that a woman can be a pastor in the Lutheran Church — I love that,” Yenne said. “In the Catholic Church, there is really no place for women to go.”

At 16 years old, Yenne said she found her purpose at the Lutheran Church in her hometown, Caldwell, Idaho.

“I just fell in love with the pastor and the community and the whole church family,” Yenne said.

Now a first-year student at UI, Yenne said she hopes to pursue a role in leadership within the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The process is not simple.

In order to do this, Yenne said she must complete the steps to become a Lutheran leader, an experience similar to a college graduate program.

“In the next three or four years, I’ll kind of decide whether or not I’ve been called or whether or not that is right for me,” Yenne said. “From there, I hopefully enter a seminary.”

Yenne said she hopes to obtain an education in Lutheran Church leadership.

If accepted, Yenne said she will complete three years of schooling and a year-long internship.

Upon seminary graduation, she will discover her calling at a church. This could mean becoming a pastor or joining another program.

However, Yenne will have to wait another three years to apply and determine her path within the Lutheran Church.

The future is not yet clear for Yenne, but she hopes to pursue a pastoral role.

“I just have to wait and see,” Yenne said. “I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.”


‘A shepherd of the people’

Life was not always easy for Steven Trantham.

Throughout childhood, he faced many hardships within his family. Religion helped him cope.

Trantham, a third-year student, aims to become a teacher — in more ways than one. At 20, Trantham is training to become a pastor.

“Knowing that I had a passion for teaching and kind of realizing that what I did with the church is where I found the most life and it was what I enjoyed the most, it’s like pairing the two together,” Trantham said.

It wasn’t until Trantham came to UI he decided Christianity was something he wanted to fully embrace.

As a first-year student, he joined a youth group on campus and studied the Bible often.

Trantham said he was then introduced to students involved in a local religious organization on campus, Resonate.

“It’s made known to me now how big of an impact it (Resonate) has had on me and how much it will impact the rest of my life,” Trantham said.

As his involvement at Resonate increased, Trantham said he became more interested in becoming a pastor.

“I’m very people-oriented,” Trantham said. “I just love to talk to people and get to know people, understand how they work and see what they are passionate about.”

He decided a pastoral role suited him best.

A pastor is what Trantham calls ‘the shepherd type’ — someone who walks side-by-side with others during their struggles and triumphs.

“I want to be a shepherd of the people,” he said.

Being a pastor means ensuring people of a congregation are healthy, happy and taken care of. It means being their “spiritual father,” Trantham said.

The pastoral role requires Trantham become a staff member and help oversee other pastors, while integrating innovative techniques to help lead.

The final step, which Trantham has yet to complete, requires the establishment of Resonate on another college campus and leading the plantation of a new church.

Trantham still has many steps to complete before he becomes a pastor but said he is excited for the journey ahead.

“For me, personally, I still have a long way to go in discovering what my pastoral role will look like,” Trantham said. “There’s a lot of things that are up in the air and life could change in any moment.”

In a time when the cultural view of religion is shifting, young students continue to actively pursue leadership roles within the church.

Despite what national statistics might suggest about millennial participation in religion, Trantham, Yenne and Morrow all find passion in each of their churches and continue to strive for leadership and break the religious mold.

Junior Martha Mendez holds her rosary and prays at St. Augustine Catholic Church.


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