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Bethel Seminary Recognizes Three Omark Preaching Competition Finalists

Bethel Seminary Recognizes Three Omark Preaching Competition Finalists

Stephanie Fedor, Caitlyn Stenerson, and Ali Tonnesen were chosen as the 2018 Omark Preaching Competition finalists.

They’re passionate preachers. They’re both students and teachers. And for the first time in its 51-year history, Bethel Seminary’s Omark Preaching Competition finalists are all women.

Announced on April 11, the three finalists were selected for preparing and delivering outstanding sermons that addressed the question “Why Jesus?” The competition is open to all Bethel Seminary students currently enrolled in a master’s-level program, but this year’s finalists—Stephanie Fedor, Caitlyn Stenerson, and Ali Tonnesen—are all pursuing a Master of Divinity.

The competition has two stages. Participants submit a 20-minute video recording of their sermon, which is reviewed by a panel of seminary faculty and experienced preachers. The panel provides feedback to all participants and then selects the three finalists who will submit an updated sermon based on the judges’ comments.

First, second, and third place are determined through a weighted voting process—50 percent based on the judges’ review and 50 percent based on the votes of online viewers. All finalists receive a scholarship award, and the top participant is also given the opportunity to preach at the undergraduate chapel service on May 4 in St. Paul.

The final results were announced on April 24. Stenerson, who was also selected for the Omark Preaching Award in 2017, received first prize, Fedor received second prize, and Tonnesen received third prize.

Get to know the finalists and listen to their sermons online.

Caitlyn Stenerson

First prize—recipient of the $1000 Edwin J. Omark Preaching Scholarship and the opportunity to preach in the College of Arts and Sciences Chapel on May 4

Caitlyn Stenerson believes in the power of storytelling—and telling God’s story in a way that leads His people to be more like Jesus is one of her greatest passions.

After learning the topic for the competition was “Why Jesus?”, Stenerson, who won the Omark Preaching Award in 2017, reflected on the ways that she has had to answer that question in her own life. In different seasons, the answer has taken on different forms.

This season, Stenerson has found Paul’s message in Acts 17 to be particularly impactful. Stenerson entered the competition again because she wanted the opportunity to dive deeper into the topic, hear from her classmates, and continue to refine her preaching.

Stenerson’s path to seminary began when she was first called to ministry as a middle school student in youth group at North Heights Lutheran Church. “I was blessed to have an excellent female youth pastor, and I remember watching her preach one night and having a sudden realization that that's what I was called to do with my life,” she says.

What followed, though, wasn’t necessarily a direct path to ministry. First, she pursued a political science degree at Bethel. After graduation, she worked in political communication and fundraising. One day, she received a call from Jen Niska—then the director of admissions for Bethel Seminary—encouraging her to apply as a Kern Scholar. With her community surrounding her in prayer, she began her seminary journey.

Reflecting on her second time participating in the Omark competition, Stenerson acknowledges the significance of this year’s finalists being three women. “Having our voices supported in vocational ministry and preaching is personally and communally important,” she says. “I'm so grateful for the seminary and its support of both men and women living out their calling and using their gifts to impact the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Stephanie Fedor

Second prize—recipient of the $800 Robert A. Featherstone Memorial Scholarship

For most of Stephanie Fedor’s life, seminary wasn’t part of her plan. She graduated from Bethel University with a degree in biology and then taught middle school science as a Teach for America corps member in Indianapolis. During her time teaching, Fedor discovered the systematic injustices present in our world and found her passion for bringing about change through God’s provision.

The pastoral staff at Fedor’s Indianapolis church recognized her passions and God-given gifts and encouraged her to attend seminary. With the support of the spiritual leaders around her, Fedor began considering vocational ministry. 

Fedor is now in the fourth year of her Master of Divinity program. She decided to participate in the Omark Preaching Competition because she she saw it as a unique opportunity to learn and grow as a young preacher.

She developed her sermon around John 15, a passage of personal significance for her. “I found myself in a season of pruning and was met with the story of Jesus declaring himself the true vine as I stood in a real vineyard in Washington State,” she says. “In that moment, God reminded me that I was being pruned and refined because of his love for me—not because he hated me or I didn't hear him correctly.”

While Fedor considers it an incredible honor to be selected as a finalist in the competition, the biggest takeaway for her is a greater understanding of the importance of community.

“Our journeys of faith are not individualistic, but communal,” she says. “I would not be who I am without the many others who came before me and empowered me along the way.”

Ali Tonnesen

Third prize—recipient of the $600 Emily A. VanAntwerp Memorial Preaching Scholarship

“I don’t have any preaching experience, so if God hadn’t prompted me—multiple times—to participate, I definitely would not be here,” Ali Tonnesen says about the Omark competition. But Tonnesen is no stranger to the flexibility and trust God often asks of those who follow Him.

Having earned an undergraduate degree in cognitive science, Tonnesen initially intended to pursue a career in neuroscience research. Later, she became convinced of her calling to become hospital chaplain and eventually a professor of theology. Tonnesen enrolled in seminary classes and is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity with a dual-language concentration.

For her entry in the competition, Tonnesen preaches on the ways that Jesus meets us and transforms us in our suffering. Drawing on a collection of narratives from the gospels, Tonnesen supports her argument that Jesus is able to empathize with us in a way that no one else can. “Jesus’s identification with our brokenness is a timeless truth, and it’s one example of how Jesus will always be relevant to us,” Tonnesen says.

In the process of developing her sermon, Tonnesen found herself personally challenged by the topics, feeling prompted to heal more deeply from her own past trauma and pain. “It's been amazing to see what I've been preaching at work in my own life,” Tonnesen says. “And I've been delighted to be able to continue witnessing the healing touch of Christ personally.”