Pastoring became her ‘midlife crisis’

The Rev. Ingrid Schalk, Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church pastor, reads the Bible at her desk.

Though she grew up in the Lutheran church, the Rev. Ingrid Schalk, Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church pastor, didn’t realize her call to preach until 50 years old.

In her youth, Schalk was active in the church and in high school groups. That dedication continued through her early adult years by working with children in Sunday school. During these “formational years,” she said music became an important part of her ministry.

In the 1980s, Schalk and her husband, Tim Schalk, lived near Buffalo, N.Y., where she worked at a camp as the cook. Food also became a large part of ministry for Schalk.

After moving to New Jersey, she quickly found a way to continue ministering.

“In New Jersey, I worked with emotionally disturbed young people who were in a JTPA program, Job Training Partnership Act,” Schalk said. “It was in food service. We were preparing meals for students in three separate locations. These kids were having good days, bad days. Some of them had criminal records. This was a rough bunch I was working with. … This wasn’t just a class where you learn how to cook, this was practical. For me, that was ministry, food ministry, as well as teaching these young people working maturity habits. That’s what the whole goal was. They could mouth off to me and get a second chance where in the real world they wouldn’t get that chance.”

Schalk received her undergraduate degree in education, specializing in industrial arts and mathematics. She had a passion to help students, especially those who were treated poorly by peers.

When she moved to Knoxville with her family, Schalk had little luck finding substitute teaching opportunities in industrial arts. She instead served as an assistant for Mary Kay sales directors, where she worked for 19 years.

She also participated in as many activities and volunteer positions that she could at Peace Lutheran Church in Knoxville.

“During that time period, whenever there was a caregiving opportunity, not just to care for someone but to learn more about it like workshop, classes or discussions, I just kind of kept layering all those things on top of the choir,” she said. “We had a Tender Loving Cooking team, which was cooking meals for church dinners and that kind of stuff, but the caregiving really attracted me and lay eucharistic ministry, taking food home to people.”

She even found ministry with her Mary Kay coworkers because the company put faith as a high priority.

“It was through those experiences then and those relationships that the Holy Spirit really became apparent to what was going on in my life,” she said. “... Just more and more things kept glaring.”

Schalk eventually began attending St. John’s Lutheran Church in Knoxville. She went to breakfast with a fellow church member who helped plant the seed that would lead to her attending seminary.

“I was talking about the various aspects of ministry that I was involved in that I was doing outside of work,” Schalk said. “She just listened intently and said, ‘You know, Ingrid, my husband told me I couldn’t tell you this.’ … She said, ‘Your name and seminary just keeps coming to my mind, to my head and I don’t know why.’ At that time, I had just called the seminary the day before. … That was one of those speechless moments.”

Two weeks later, she told her husband about attending seminary. He said she would make a great deaconess with how involved she is with the church.

“At 50 years old — it took about a year of discernment — my midlife crisis was to go back to school,” Schalk said. “I went through four years of full-time graduate work after 30 years of being out of school.”

Her husband stayed in Knoxville while she attended school in Columbia, S.C., and graduated in 2013.

After graduation, she began looking for positions within churches. She found a temporary position at Peace Lutheran Church where she had previously attended. After serving her two-year term call, she found Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church.

She took a one-year term call to help the previous pastor whose husband was ill. Six months into the term, the congregation voted to extend her call to a regular position. Shortly thereafter, Schalk and her husband moved to Tellico Village.

Schalk’s son, Aaron Schalk, was a large part of her support team through seminary, along with her husband.

Aaron said his mother’s determination was an inspiration.

“What stood out for me was she didn’t do it online,” he said. “She literally stopped her career of where she was at in her life, and she went down to South Carolina. She went down about four hours from home, from my dad, and set up shop, went back to school.”

Aaron, who was a recent college graduate when his mom entered seminary, said he enjoyed trading college stories with her and sharing experiences like tasks over summer break and finals week.

He also likes being a “pastor’s kid.”

“To be a pastor’s kid was always something I saw and kind of heard about growing up,” Aaron said. “My father was a pastor’s grandkid, and I’d always heard of my grandparents’, my grandmother, my father’s mother, she was a true pastor’s kid, and I remember the stories to sit and behave. To be much older in my life and inherit that role was a little entertaining to me.

“I worry about some Sundays what stories she’s telling of my childhood that I’m not there to defend in her sermons,” he added jokingly.