Five area assistants to the bishop have been appointed by NALC Bishop Dan Selbo. The primary role of these new assistants to the bishop is to provide discipling and pastoral care for the deans, pastors and mission districts in five geographic areas of the North American Lutheran Church.
The new assistants to the bishop are the Rev. Dr. Jesse Abbott of Loveland, Ohio; the Rev. Mark Braaten of Bullard, Texas; the Rev. Marvin Combs of Huntington Beach, California, the Rev. Kevin Ree of Bentley, Alberta; and the Rev. William “Bill” White of Lexington, South Carolina.
The positions were created in response to an action of the 2021 NALC Mission Convocation. These part-time positions (10 hours per week) begin in May and will be responsible and accountable to the bishop.
The convocation’s decision came after several years of study and planning by the NALC Executive Council and in response to one of the commitments made in the NALC’s 2020 Vision.
The new positions are designed to be an extension and evidence of our denominational commitment to discipleship and a model of the kind of discipling relationships the NALC seeks to have among our pastors and congregational members throughout the NALC.
The five area assistants were chosen by Bishop Selbo from a list of nominees provided by mission districts. The selections were confirmed by the Executive Council at its January meeting. The pastors were installed in their new positions on Feb. 16 during a worship service at the NALC Pastors’ Conference in Orlando, Florida.
Two of the five assistants will serve two-year terms, with the other three serving for three years. After the initial staggered terms, which are renewable, all future appointments will be for three years.
The original intent was to divide the NALC into four geographic areas, with one assistant per area. The areas were created based upon the number of mission districts in each geographic area, with no more than 12 mission districts assigned to each area assistant.
However, with the majority of NALC congregations and mission districts in the midwestern, southern and eastern areas of the United States, the original western area — which included the western half of the United States as well as all of Canada — was so vast and diverse that it was decided to divide that geographic area into two areas. Thus, the NALC begins with five areas and area assistants instead of the originally suggested four.
A map and listing of the five areas — Eastern, Midwestern, Northern, Southern and Western — with their respective mission districts, can be found on the NALC website.
“As the NALC continues to grow numerically, it is essential that we stay connected and continue to grow in the support and discipling relationships we provide,” said Bishop Selbo. “The connections offered through the area assistants will enhance the communication and support we offer to our pastors and deans, and strengthen our commitment to the Great Commission we have been given by our Lord Jesus” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Rev. Marv Combs — Western
The Rev. Marv and Linda Combs have been married 37 years and have two adult sons. He is a native Southern Californian and serves as associate pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Huntington Beach, California.
The Rev. Marv holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Leadership from Biola University and Master of Arts in Theology from Concordia University, Irvine, California. For many years he served the Pacifica Synod of the ELCA and then as dean of the Southwest Pacific Mission District of the NALC, as well as pastor for various local congregations. The Rev. Marv now serves at Grace as the pastor for congregational care.
His passion is disciple-making through mentoring, educating and sending God’s people into the world. When his busy schedule allows, The Rev. Marv can be found fishing in the local waters searching for the catch of a lifetime.
The Rev. Jesse Abbott — Midwestern
The Rev. Abbott lives in Loveland, Ohio, near Cincinnati, with his wife Cindy. They have three adult sons and two granddaughters. He and Cindy were born in Coldwater, Michigan, and have been joyfully married for more than 39 years. His interests and hobbies include stained glass, mosaic work and he considers himself an amateur archaeologist with a focus on the Holy Land.
The Rev. Abbott serves as interim pastor at First Lutheran Church in Troy, Ohio, and served as interim at St. John Lutheran Church in Greenville, Ohio, 2020-2021. He served as pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, from 1999 to 2015. He was the director of parish operations responsible for all finance and facilities as well as discipleship, adult education and men’s ministries.
He has served as an ordained pastor in seven congregations over 33 years while concurrently serving in the U.S. Army Reserve — retiring from the Reserve in 2020.
The Rev. Jess received his Bachelors of Business Administration degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan; his Masters of Divinity degree from Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota; and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College where he earned his Master of Strategic Studies degree.
The Rev. Abbott served as an Army Chaplain and was deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004 serving as the Installation Chaplain for Army Central Command responsible for land forces in the nations of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He was also deployed to Iraq in 2011. He functioned as the Division-level Command Chaplain responsible for overseeing Garrison Religious Support at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, and the withdrawal of religious supplies and equipment from Iraq. He finished his military career by serving on active duty as the Deputy Command Chaplain of U.S. Central Command from 2015-2020, serving as religious affairs special staff for three four-star commanders and their staffs. His awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal and the Korea Defense Service Medal.
The Rev. Bill White — Eastern
The Rev. Bill is passionate about discipleship! His ministry has evolved around striving to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment and Great Commission.
He has been an ordained parish pastor for more than 36 years, having served five congregations in Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina.
His undergraduate degree was earned in Business Administration from Mississippi State University. He attended Christ Seminary-Seminex for two years, transferring to Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary where he received his Master of Divinity degree in 1985. He earned his Doctor of Ministry degree in 2003 from Memphis Theological Seminary.
The Rev. Bill was approved for the roster of the NALC by Bishop Paull Spring in March of 2011. He has served the NALC as a dean and presently serves on the NALC Life-to-Life Discipleship Team.
Family is of utmost importance to the Rev Bill. He has been married to Cheryl Denley White since 1979. They have a son and a daughter, both of whom are happily married and have gifted them with four grandsons, ages four and under. He and Cheryl are enjoying intentional Christian grandparenting and are looking forward to enthusiastically devoting even more time to this calling.
The Rev. Bill is excited and eager to serve our Lord Jesus Christ through this new position in the NALC.
The Rev. Kevin Ree — Northern
Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and greetings from Green Glen Farm. My name is Kevin Ree and I have been appointed as the area assistant to the bishop for the northern area of the NALC. Shelly and I have recently moved to the farm where I grew up, following my father’s passing in 2019. Shelly is a teacher, and we are busy renovating the farmhouse and raising cattle. I run a small herd of 65 purebred Murray Grey cattle on 400 acres. I currently serve as the chair of the Canada Section of the NALC as well as the president of the Canadian Murray Grey Association.
Prior to our move to central Alberta, I served St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Barrhead, Alberta, where I served for 12 wonderful years. We raised our three children there as well — at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Millet, Alberta, where I also served for 12 years.
Our oldest daughter, Anna, is a veterinarian who has recently accepted a new position in Penticton, British Columbia. Marta, our second daughter, lives with her husband, Brian, in Burnaby, British Columbia, where she is working on her Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University in fisheries. Brian is completing his doctorate through the University of Alaska. Our son Jacob, our youngest, has just completed his Masters in Occupational Therapy and lives with his wife, Raeliene, in Edmonton, Alberta. Raeliene is a music teacher and also grew up in Barrhead.
I was ordained in 1991 and have thoroughly enjoyed rural ministry over the past 30 years of serving in the Lutheran Church. I look forward to relating to, encouraging and supporting deans and congregations from Minnesota (where my father was born) throughout the Dakotas, Wyoming and Montana, and, of course, all of Canada. It is an exciting time to be a part of such a vibrant and growing Lutheran body.
Over the years Shelly and I have been very involved in youth ministry. We organised the first two youth gatherings for the Canadian Mission District and participated in many national gatherings over the years. We have been quite involved in outdoor ministry. I served on the Board of Mulhurst Lutheran Camp for several years and our children have all spent several years on staff at both Wilderness Ranch and Mulhurst. If you ever get an opportunity to spend a week at Wilderness during the summer, riding or packing, it is an iconic “northern” ranchlands experience! One of my goals is to get Bishop Selbo on a horse up in the Porcupine Hills. (We succeeded with Bishop John!)
If you are ever up for the Canadian Rockies Theological Conference in Canmore (an awesome NALC study event), we would love to have you join us at the farm. The coffee is always on, and we would love to show you around. More importantly, I hope to hear about your joys as well as your struggles in ministry as together we are called to partnership in the Gospel, being and making disciples in the gracious presence of Christ Jesus.
The Rev. Mark Braaten — Southern
The Rev. Mark Braaten is a retired pastor in Bullard, Texas. He has served in parish ministry for 40 years, with calls in Kentucky, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota and the last 17 years at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Tyler, Texas.
He is a graduate of Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, with both his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry coming from Luther. One of Mark’s favorite areas of study is the book of Revelation, which was the topic of his D.Min. work. He is the author of a number of books and articles.
Mark is married to Karen, and they have three children — Amber, with fiancé Luke, Christopher and spouse, Rachel, and Cassaundra. Mark is also dean of the North Texas Mission District and has served on the NALC Executive Council. He is using retirement to focus on his swimming and fishing abilities, and he is looking forward to this new service in the NALC.