After nearly four decades of faithful service in various ministerial roles, the Rev. Dr. Mark Fitzsimmons recently stepped down as senior pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Nativity in Arden, North Carolina, and transitioned into the role of campus pastor at Lenoir-Rhyne's Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. In this capacity, Fitzsimmons provides pastoral conversation and counseling, as well as vocational discernment for graduate students.
Fitzsimmons credits the Lord for preparing him in various ways for this new role. "During my 32 years of parish ministry, I was able to serve in some capacity in synodical ministries," he said. "In looking back on those opportunities, a pattern emerged, which involved equipping leaders – both future and present – for ministry."
In Fitzsimmons' first decade, he gained experience in youth ministry that continued into his service as the chair of the Fall Convocation for Professional Leaders in the second decade, the Candidacy Committee during the third decade, and most recently as adjunct professor at LTSS.
"Senior students in the polity and leadership class have learned that there are four types of parishes, based on size dynamics: family, pastoral, program, and corporate," he said. "I have had the pleasure of serving in all four scenarios, which provides a good vantage point of the variety of ministry sites our graduates will be serving in the years to come. Moreover, in three of those parishes I was blessed to support members who entered into candidacy, seminary, and rostered ministry. In my last parish, I enjoyed supervising five interns from Southern."
Since 1982, Fitzsimmons' appointed positions have included youth ministry to pastor or associate pastor in churches with small to large congregations. He has served both the Carolinas and Virginia and gained experience in teaching, preaching, and stewardship development. Fitzsimmons said his new role at LTSS serves a purpose beyond just the ministry.
"Everyone in every workplace is facing an unprecedented rate of change and an ever-increasing level of anxiety," he said. "This includes parish ministry as well, the very place where people seek God's renewing grace to help them serve faithfully in their callings. As campus pastor, my role is to shepherd a community along healthy pathways, so that future parish leaders might find models for daily ministry during their time of professional preparation. However, I serve more than just the seminary community. On the Columbia campus of Lenoir-Rhyne University, we are also raising up agents of healing through our graduate programs of occupational therapy, mental health counseling, and human services. If you think about it, all of our Columbia campus graduate schools are in involved in the Trinitarian work of creation, redemption, and sanctification."
Over the years, Fitzsimmons has been a popular speaker at various leadership trainings, including the pre-assembly workshop for the North Carolina Synod and deacon training at the Lutheran Church of Haiti. He has also served in various synodical leadership roles, including chair of the North Carolina Synod Candidacy Committee and dean of the Smoky Mountain Conference. A 2008 graduate of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Fitzsimmons earned his doctorate in pastoral leadership. He has a master's degree in counseling, marriage, and family from Appalachian State University and a Master of Divinity degree from LTSS. His bachelor's degree is in religion and economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2012, Fitzsimmons was presented The John Benjamin Bedenbaugh Award for Distinguished Pastoral Leadership by the LTSS Alumni Association. He is also the 2003 recipient of the Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lily Endowment, Inc., and the 1997 recipient of the Bishop's Award for Visionary Ways to Serve Christ from the North Carolina Synod ELCA. Fitzsimmons and his wife, Dana, have two sons, Kyle and Evan. In his leisure time, Fitzsimmons enjoys reading, hiking, and traveling, as well as entertaining guests and playing bridge.