By Cheryl Magness
The Rev. Phillip Baerwolf, associate pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church and School in East Dundee, Ill., has been named the recipient of the 2018 National Lutheran School Accreditation (NLSA) School Shepherd Award.
The award honors a pastor who provides outstanding encouragement, support and service to his school and who articulates a clear philosophy of Lutheran education.
Baerwolf was nominated by an NLSA validation team and endorsed by the LCMS Northern Illinois District (NID) before being chosen by the NLSA selection committee from among those nominated.
When asked why he loves his school, Baerwolf replied:
“Jesus has rescued me from sin, death and the devil, and I get the awesome privilege of sharing Jesus with the children. From leading preschool chapel times to walking through the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism with our seventh-graders, every day is an opportunity to remind them of Jesus and His love.
“I get to pray with volleyball teams and basketball teams before they compete in state and national tournaments and … let them know that, win or lose, Jesus is holding them in His precious arms of care.
“I get to listen and marvel at children just beginning to play a clarinet and making beautiful music. I get to pray with a girl whose grandpa just died and assure her that Easter is real — that Jesus lives! How could you not love a place where you get to do that every day?”
Baerwolf is well known in the Immanuel community for preaching, teaching, visiting the homebound and doing all the other things a pastor is called to do, while also consistently championing the school.
Baerwolf’s nickname, given to him by the Rev. Bill Yonker, senior pastor at Immanuel, is “Pastor of Fun and Frivolity.”
The nickname was inspired in part by Baerwolf’s fondness for dressing up as characters from the Bible or creating life-size props, such as a giant glue stick or ruler, to teach lessons to students.
Baerwolf created a superhero alter ego named “Captain Put-It-On” to emphasize the importance of always “putting on” God’s love.
Julia Heinz, Immanuel’s director of admission, said Baerwolf even had a congregation member design a “Captain Put-It-On” cape and mask, “which he donned at the opening school service, bringing down the house with laughter.”
Baerwolf and his wife, Ramona, regularly show up at school events decked out in the school colors of blue and gold, waving pennants and signs and sporting spirit beads or blue hair.
Baerwolf worked closely with Immanuel Principal Sue Domeier to create a new tradition called the Eagle Fledge.
When a member of the school community is honored with an award or is preparing for an event, the school comes together in support.
Students and staff line the hallways to cheer, clap and offer a high five or fist bump to the honoree(s).
The ceremony culminates in the school gym, where a (faux) eagle feather is bestowed and a prayer spoken.
Beyond school spirit
Domeier said Baerwolf’s interactions with students and families show that his commitment goes beyond school spirit.
“There is this joy that comes across … in the twinkle of his eye or his … belly laugh, but especially when he is comforting a sad child or reassuring middle-schoolers. It’s not just the props or the capes. … Pastor’s joy doesn’t come from himself, or from earthly things. His exuberance comes from faith.”
Former NID Mission Facilitator Michael Zimmer affirmed Baerwolf’s nomination, saying that Baerwolf “shows his support of the church and school in ways that many pastors of Lutheran schools also display … [including] a high visibility at school functions; leading chapel; teaching confirmation; connecting with parents, both members and non-members; leading Bible study and prayer with staff; and countless other ways in which a pastor can show support.
“However, Pastor Baerwolf carries himself with such robust and genuine enthusiasm … that he demonstrates ‘above and beyond’ support for their Lutheran school. Pastor Baerwolf is not only an advocate for the school but champions it in the congregation as well.”
A graduate of Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Baerwolf served at St. John’s Lutheran Church and School in Grand Haven, Mich., from 1995 to 2006 and at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School from 2007 to the present.
He will be presented with the NLSA School Shepherd Award at the NID North and West Region Pastors’ Conference in Delavan, Wis., on Oct. 9.
Posted Oct. 9, 2018