Our Pastors

Reverend Dr. Michelle Carlson

I grew up in several parts of Virginia as a pastor’s kid. I am the oldest of two daughters. Women just started to be ordained in 1970 in the Lutheran Church, so I did not really see women as pastors growing up. I pursued a degree in English, Linguistics and Speech with a certificate in secondary education. I taught high school English for two years in Baltimore, MD, and one year in Hagerstown, MD. After discerning that I would rather teach people about Jesus than Shakespeare, I moved to Gettysburg for my Master of Divinity. My internship was in a town of 35 people in northern North Dakota. I fell in love with the Midwest and ended up completing the requirements for my degree at Wartburg Theological Seminary. I had a wonderful mentor who encouraged me to get my PhD in Religious Education. I went on to Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary on the campus of Northwestern University for my PhD in Congregational Studies with an Emphasis in Religious Education. I served my first call at Mt. Zion Haugh’s Lutheran Church in Keymar, MD, for nine years. During that time, I was also an adjunct professor at Lancaster Seminary, Wesley Seminary and Gettysburg Seminary. I was the Director of Lifelong Learning and Certificate programs at Gettysburg for a time.

I am a certified Healthy Congregations Facilitator. I enjoy combining my ethnographic studies and listening skills with family systems theory. I like to read and play Scrabble with my mom. Someday my craft room will get finished at home, and I will be able to get back to doing some artistic endeavors. I also enjoy domestic and international travel. I always have our backgammon board with us when my husband and I travel to play while waiting for our food in a restaurant or in the evenings with a glass of wine. We enjoy living in Kearney with our nine-year-old Maltese/Bichon mix, Natasha.

Reverend Dr. Rick Carlson

I grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, as the youngest of four children. After joining the Covenant Players, a Christian drama company, and serving as a counselor at a Lutheran Bible camp, I felt called to be a Lutheran pastor. I graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, MN and then went on to Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA. Once I finished my studies for my Master of Divinity, I went straight to Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA, for my PhD in Biblical Studies. My first call was in the ALC at a three-point parish in Roseau, MN. My second call was to the staff at Trinity Lutheran in Moorhead, MN. In 1990, I took a call to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg where I had many hats including Professor of New Testament, Director of Internship, Candidacy Coordinator, and Director of Theological Studies. I served in that call for 27 years.

I have three children, two live in Virginia and the other in Oregon. I enjoy playing Fantasy Football in our church league and a league in Las Cruces, NM. I love international travel, especially to the Middle East, Italy and Greece. My wife, Michelle, and I were married in a historical home with 13 people present on the Gettysburg Seminary campus in June of 2004.

Office Staff

Kathy Benne

Director of Communications and Events

I grew up in Platte Center, NE. My husband, Jon, and I attended Kearney State College, fell in love with Kearney, and have lived here since. We’ve been married 39 years and have three children, three grandchildren, and three grand dogs. Previously I worked at UNK for twelve years as an office associate and event organizer. Prior to UNK I worked at the Ramada Sales Office planning meetings, large conventions and weddings. I’m very excited to join the First Lutheran Church team to utilize my talents in a way that serves others. In my free time, I enjoy gardening, planting flowers, camping, and doing crafts.

Jen Puls

Database Assistant

I have been a member at First Lutheran Church since February 1997, along with my two sons, Nathan and Christian. I have taught Sunday School and Wednesday night youth activities, which is now called FROG. I have served on Church Council, Endowment Committee, and Feeding the Flock on Wednesday nights during the school year. I work part-time at First Lutheran Church on the Church Database called CCIS. Typically, I do behind the scenes assistance and try to help with organizing events such as the pictorial directory. I send out reminders to various individuals, families, and groups for different events. It is a joy to help out the church however I am needed.

Kandy Bacon

Administrative Assistant

I began working as an Administrative Assistant at First Lutheran Church in February of 2017. A partial list of my duties includes answering the phone and door, assisting all guests/members, tracking attendance, and coordinating volunteers. Tracking shut-in visitations and pastoral care or congregational visits, overseeing the Odds & Ends payments, Preschool administrative duties, coordinating and creating bulletins, and creating the weekly newsletter and weekly communion schedules. I have been married for 23 years. My husband, Scott, is an insurance agent for AAA. We have two children, Scottie, age 21, and Ben, age 17, and two fur babies, a Cocker Spaniel named Milo and a Pekingese, named Carebear.

Stacy Seim


I have been a member of First Lutheran Church since 2000. I’m married to Ben and we have two daughters, Kyleigh and Danielle. Over the years I’ve been involved in many different areas of the church including Christian Education as a FROG teacher for 10 years, and as a confirmation small group leader for a 6-year stretch. I’m filling the bookkeeper position in a part-time capacity while also maintaining my role with Education Quest where I have worked for 26 years.

Natalie Radcliffe

Music Coordinator

I have been on staff with First Lutheran since 2012 and a member of the church since 2004. Prior to coming to First Lutheran I spent 20 years as an Air Force wife, teaching elementary and K-12 music. I then worked at the Kearney Housing Agency managing low-income housing.

I enjoy sharing my passion for music in a variety of ways. I have a Bachelor of Music in Flute Performance from the University of Southern California. I play flute, alto flute and piccolo in the UNK Flute Choir, piccolo in the Kearney Symphony Orchestra, flute in the annual Messiah Orchestra and also perform as a soloist locally and nationally.

Additionally, as the director of the Chancel Bell Choir at First Lutheran, I have been involved with handbells since 1980. I have two sons and two grandsons.

Ashlea Denton

Faith in Action C oordinator & First Lutheran Youth – Interim Coordinator

Hello! I grew up in Nebraska, moving to Kearney and joining First Lutheran in the mid-90s. I graduated from Northwestern College (Orange City, IA) in 2009, with a degree in Religion and Cultural Studies. I have been blessed with opportunities to serve alongside Christian community development ministries in Lupeni, Romania; Jackson, MS; and New Orleans, LA. During my time in New Orleans, I felt called to Seminary. I graduated from Luther Seminary in 2012, with a Master’s Degree in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry.

I married my husband, Chris, at First Lutheran in 2010. We have three young children and a Sheepadoodle named Potter. I have been a stay-home mom for the past 10 years. We are in a very active stage of life and enjoy being outside, playing games and traveling!

First Lutheran Church has been instrumental in my own faith development and supportive as I pursued my call and education. I am excited and grateful to serve this congregation in a new way.

Pre-School Staff

Amanda Lewis

Lead Pre-K Teacher

I love my job!  I graduated from Wayne State College, taught one year in a two-room country schoolhouse near Valentine, Nebraska. I then moved to Kearney and taught kindergarten at Emerson Elementary. After that, I was a stay-at-home mom of three little children and finished my online Master’s Degree in Reading at UNK in 2016. Shortly after that, I started teaching here at First Lutheran Preschool. I taught 5 years in the 3-4 year classroom at First Lutheran Church Preschool and now I am beginning a new adventure in the Pre-K room as the lead teacher.  

I love movies, playing volleyball, dancing, music, flowers, Husker football, and reading!

My favorite quote is, “Character is how you behave when no one is looking.”  I am blessed to work and be around many people with good character.

Lora Messbarger

Lead 3-4 year old Teacher

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be the assistant 3/4-year-old preschool teacher here at First Lutheran Church for the past eight years and am excited to jump into the role of lead teacher this year.

I grew up on a dairy farm near Lawrence, NE, attended college at Kearney State College and UNMC, and have Bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Medical Technology as well as a Master’s degree in Medical Science. 

I was a medical technologist at UNMC for many years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. My husband, Rob, and I enjoy spending time with our children, Nathan, Pete, and his wife Caitlin, Kelly, Robert, and his wife Julia, Nicole, as well as our two grandsons, Jaxson and Michael.

I have always enjoyed children and I am very passionate about education. I feel very blessed to get to be involved with forming these youngster’s hearts and minds at First Lutheran Preschool.

Sonya Vetick

Sonya Vetick

Assistant Pre-K Teacher

I grew up in Grand Island and attended Hastings Community College. I received my Associate’s Degree in Dental Assisting. I married my husband, Michael, in 1988 and have lived in Kearney ever since. We have two wonderful daughters, two sons-in-law and one granddaughter. 

When our daughters were growing up I decided to become a daycare provider. I operated “Sonya’s Day Care” for 22 years. I enjoy being around children and love the energy they bring. I’m very excited to be the Pre-K assistant teacher working with Mrs. Amanda Lewis. 

My hobbies are going to water aerobics, watching Husker football, cruising in our convertible, walking and reading.

Mindy Ackermann

Assistant 3-4 year old Teacher

I have been a Teacher Assistant going on 9 years. I started by journey at Sunrise Middle School and then moved to Head Start. I’ve always had a passion for working with children and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with the staff at First Lutheran Preschool.

I grew up in McCook. After my middle son was born we moved to Kearney. I have a fiancé, John, and 3 kids: Briauna, Bryndan, and Bryson. We also have a dog named Zoehanna. 

During my free time you will find me outside. Our family enjoys camping and spending time at our cabin in McCook.