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GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Pastor Harry Schenkel

Pastor Harry Schenkel

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you feel called to the ministry?

It was a very long process feeling called to ministry and coming to where I am now. My church and my pastors played a large part. The church of my youth was Missouri Synod and I went to Long Island Lutheran High School with an ELCA pastor. Both places proved foundational. The church and my pastors were always there. I really came to understand the church as a mother and as a safe place during my teenage years. By the caring hand of my home church pastor and the wisdom and guidance of my school pastor, I gradually felt a call to be truthful to my faith. By college I felt a call to ministry. It was only because I was first ministered to, that I felt a call to ministry.


I was ordained in March 1995 and served for 11 years at St. John’s Lutheran Church (LC-MS) in Sayville, New York. After discernment, I began working with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. I came back to parish ministry by serving in Jamaica, NY until this past January when I began serving Transfiguration Lutheran Church in Harlem.


What differences do you see in the ELCA and LC-MS?

The defining marks of the two churches are the same. We are a church of word and sacrament; both of equal foundations. For me, that is inherent and foundational to being Lutheran and has always been pivotal for my ministry. It was always important that I didn’t lose that coming over to the ELCA; And I didn’t lose a thing. What I gained was a much clearer understanding and communication of the gospel in word and deed.


When I made the decision to pursue the ELCA, I was in a very vulnerable place, personally and professionally. Every aspect of every encounter I had with the ELCA, witnessed the gospel in action. There was an openness, understanding, acceptance and joy that I don’t see in every church body.


The process for me has been very healing. At the time I was making the move from LC-MS to ELCA, I was dealing with a broken marriage and my oldest son’s sexual identity and was not sure if there was a place in ministry for me. I needed a place where I was comfortable and where I was true to my integrity.


Tell us a little bit about what you do at Transfiguration and Thrivent.

Both jobs entail the same skills: listening to people and being compassionate. The main difference is at the end of a Thrivent visit, after getting to know them and caring for them, we do some financial planning. At the end of a church visit, after we do the same things we typically end with the Sacrament of the Altar. The privilege I have is that both jobs have the similar missions: being true to God, being honorable and helping people.


My job compliments my wife Lisa’s job. She is the House Manager at the AHRC Oakdale home. We work and live with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, helping them to their highest level of self-sufficiency. When not in Harlem, we live at the Oakdale home. Both of our vocations are family vocations. At the bottom what we do is really care for people. It’s the gospel in action.


What are some goals you have for this year?

For Transfiguration, I want to move them into a solid and secure foundation: both in a spiritual and business sense. I want to create for them certainty to move into the future with more permanent ministries.  At Thrivent, I want to continue the places in New York where we haven’t always been able to serve consistently. Personally, I want to continue to take care of my family, including our four children.


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