First things first. He doesn’t really look the part.
“I hope not,” Matthew Hauser, 34, says with a smile, sitting between two guitars that hang on the wall of his office at Peace Lutheran School. It’s mere weeks before his title changes officially from Lutheran “Vicar” to “Pastor,” and he sits down to talk about the road that’s led to this day, this office, this new title.
He laughs as he recounts his winding journey. He chokes up at times. But he’s not apologizing for his tattoos.
Why? They tell a story. The most important story. Not Matthew’s, the Lord’s.
Matthew stands up and slides his left arm out of his signature flannel shirt. It’s the Apostles’ Creed in pictures, etched shoulder to wrist.
“My tattoos have opened opportunities for me to witness to people that I’d never have otherwise,” he says, noting that he has more than a dozen — all religious — that started at age 18 with Philippians 4:13 and a cross on his back. (“I knew my parents could be only so mad with a cross and Bible verse,” he explains with a smirk.)
The tattoos have opened up conversations about Christ at gas stations and rest stops. Even getting the tattoos themselves is an opportunity.
“The lady who tattoos me is a 58-year-old Methodist grandmother,” he says. “I read my sermons to her while she is tattooing me.”
‘I wanted to be Carson Daly’
Despite in his teens hearing the actual voice of God telling him he was going to be a pastor — yes, really, we’ll get to that in a bit — Matthew set his sights elsewhere.
Upon graduation from Valley Lutheran High School in 2000, he started studying media broadcasting at Delta College.
“I wanted to be Carson Daly — you know, from MTV’s ‘Total Request Live,” he says.
His wife, Briana, was already in the picture at this point. He credits running out of lunches and her letting him borrow her lunch card at VLHS as the start of the relationship. He was 16, and she was 14.
Just like he’s always known he was going to be a pastor (but fought to bury the notion), he also knew Briana would be his wife.
When she was 16, he bought her an engagement ring with a credit card. When she graduated from VLHS in 2002 at age 17, he gave it to her — with a promise to her parents that they’d graduate college before a wedding.
Briana always wanted to be a Lutheran school teacher. Matthew suppressed his calling to become a pastor and instead held onto hopes of stardom.
After two semesters at Delta, he wanted to quit school, move to New York and become an actor.
“But it’s not like I ever put together an actual plan to do that,” he remembers with a laugh.
While he never made it into acting (unlike his brother, Paul Walter Hauser, who lives in Los Angeles and has appeared in movies and TV shows), he did make it to New York, taking Briana and his sister Julia along with him in the fall of 2002 (he also has a sister Elise). All three graduated from Concordia College-New York, a Lutheran college in Bronxville.
Matthew partied, played the New York bar scene in a rock band and skipped a lot of classes. But he also managed to earn a degree in behavioral science.
He was even asked by his graduating class to speak at commencement.
“Matthew defines ‘self-starter,’” says his mother, Deborah Hauser, Director of School Admissions and Early Childhood Education at Peace School. “He can procrastinate because he’s human, but Matthew’s ‘good enough’ is often exceptional. He goes all in with whatever he takes on.”
‘I could wear a suit and feel like an adult’
By 2006, Matthew and Briana had returned to Saginaw while he finished his degree requirements with an independent study class and she did her student teaching at Holy Cross and Peace. In July 2006, they married.
Briana sent out hundreds of resumes upon completing her student teaching and heard back from only one school — Zion Beaver. She taught there for two years and joined the staff at Peace in 2008, where she has remained.
Matthew’s career path? Not so clear-cut.
“I knew I wanted to help people and meet them where they were with their problems and give them Jesus, but it was hard to find a job with just a bachelor’s degree,” he says.
So he sold phones at a kiosk in the mall for nearly six months before landing a job with Thrivent Financial.
“I wasn’t really making any more money at first, but I could wear a suit and feel like an adult,” he says of the Thrivent job.
He quickly rose through the ranks at Thrivent from someone simply making phone calls to a financial adviser to eventually a recruiter.
Briana was at her dream job. Matthew was finally earning really good money.
And still, something was missing.
‘Matthew, you’re going to become a pastor’
Life was pretty good for the Hausers, but try as he might, Matthew couldn’t ignore what God had told him when he was 14 years old.
He was in his bedroom in the basement of his house on North Bond Street in Saginaw when God spoke to him.
“Matthew, you’re going to become a pastor,” God said.
Now, Matthew knows how crazy that sounds. He almost apologizes for recounting it, saying that maybe we should word it as “God’s ‘whisper’ on his heart.”
But he knows he heard it. And, to be honest, it wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone.
When he is ordained on Dec. 18, Matthew will be a sixth-generation pastor.
“My husband, Paul’s, great-, great-, great-grandfather was a rabbi,” Deborah Hauser explains. “These Hausers came from Czechoslovakia (at the time). This relative had nine sons. Five of them became physicians, and four of them went to rabbinical school to become rabbis.
“One of them moved to Hanover, Germany, back in the mid-1800s and boarded with a Lutheran family, to attend a nearby rabbinical school. He was converted to Christianity, and his entire family disowned him. He moved to St. Louis, Mo., and became an ordained pastor and scholar. He worked at the seminary translating Scripture for immigrants coming from Czechoslovakia to America.
“Matthew is the sixth generation of Hauser men to become ordained pastors or missionaries through the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). Our nephew, Aaron Hauser, will be ordained in May 2017 in St. Louis.
“So see, I always had a ‘strong hunch’ about my first-born son.”
And yet, it almost didn’t happen.
‘I just didn’t want to change
anything about myself’
Matthew had been lead singer in a rock band in New York in his college days, so he was no stranger to the spotlight. When Peace music leader Jan Eggers needed a Joseph in the children’s Christmas play in 2010, Deborah Hauser volunteered Matthew.
“As Matthew’s gift for music grew, there was no denying that God would use Matthew in ministry,” Deborah remembers. “I didn’t know when. I just knew it would happen at the time ordained by God for Matthew to enter through music into public ministry. And that’s exactly what took place.”
Matthew’s performance as Joseph left everyone in the audience speechless and teary-eyed, and led to a regular stint with the Peace contemporary Praise Band.
In 2012, Matthew was enjoying his success at Thrivent and singing regularly at Peace. But he was still not ready to fully devote himself to God the way he knew he was supposed to.
“My partying had simmered down some, but I was still partying,” he explains. “Just like other times throughout my life, I’d briefly come to my senses and tell everyone I knew that I needed to be a pastor.
“But then I’d go back to partying. I can be wildly compulsive.”
In August 2012, he was invited to Via de Cristo, a highly structured three-day weekend designed to strengthen and renew the faith of Christians.
“Briana was in her fourth or fifth year of teaching at Peace, and here I was still acting a fool,” he remembers. “The night before the retreat, I told my sponsor I wasn’t going. I was making excuses. I just didn’t want to change anything about myself.”
Then the sponsor said something that sparked the lasting change in Matthew’s life: “I’m praying for you.”
“It just hit me like a ton of bricks that someone was praying for me,” he recalls, shaking his head.
“Three-and-a-half days of staring God in the eyes, that does something to you,” Matthew says of the retreat. “The Holy Spirit finally broke me. Part of it was always knowing I was supposed to be a pastor, and part of it was being totally overwhelmed by the amount of love and grace shown to me by God from people I didn’t even know.”
By the second night, he took out a cellphone he wasn’t even supposed to have at the retreat and called Briana. He whispered so he wouldn’t get caught.
“Well, I’ve gotta change everything,” he quietly told his wife.
What happened next is probably what chokes him up the most.
“She immediately accepted it and asked, ‘Are we moving to (seminary in) St. Louis?’” he recalls with tears in his eyes. “I mean, how trusting and accepting and supportive could she be?
“Here she was working her dream job at Peace — she was born and raised a daughter of this congregation, mind you — and she was fully on board, no questions asked, even when she thought I was going to uproot her.
“I became convinced in that moment, once and for all, that I had to change my ways and my job.”
‘I’m gonna be a pastor and I love Jesus!’
Matthew knew what he had to do. He called and asked Peace Senior Pastor C. William Weis to meet him for lunch.
“Frankly, what I remember from that day is us sitting down to Mexican food, and I’m on fire and screaming into Pastor Weis’ face about how I’m gonna be a pastor and I love Jesus!” he recalls with an embarrassed smile. “I think Pastor Weis then said something like, ‘That’s awesome. Now settle down for a minute, continue doing praise team, and get more involved with the youth ministry.’”
Matthew’s recollection wasn’t far off.
“Actually, two things popped into my head,” Pastor Weis recalls about the meeting. “One, let’s wait and see. Often people are touched by something God does in their life and they receive an emotional calling. And then reality hits them later.
“Two, I knew that with Matthew, there had always been an underlying desire. So it immediately came into my heart that I wanted this kid — somehow, some way — on my staff.”
Though Matthew was still working at Thrivent, he quickly filled his nights and weekends by becoming more involved at Peace. He started working with the Peace discipleship program and small group Bible studies.
His son was also born during this time.
“I went through Via de Cristo two months before Ethan was born,” Matthew says. “Don’t think for a second that was an accident. It was all in God’s timing.”
Throughout the next year, it became clear to Matthew that it was time to make a more permanent leap.
“The Holy Spirit kept telling me that this couldn’t be just my nights and weekends,” he says. “It had to be my life.”
‘It was like winning the lottery’
In May 2013, he went back to Pastor Weis. This time, they both knew that either Matthew was going to St. Louis or starting at Peace. One way or another, he was putting the wheels in motion to become a pastor.
Concordia Seminary had introduced a program just a few years prior called the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program, a four-year distance education program that prepares men for pastoral ministry in the LCMS.
Students receive their academic training in the setting where they will continue to serve following ordination, in Matthew’s case at Peace Lutheran School.
“I think the SMP program is one of the best for forming a pastor,” Pastor Weis says. “It more closely follows the Biblical model of someone from the congregation being identified and called up as a leader by God. It allows for an organic growth of someone into a pastor.”
Pastor Weis and Matthew just had to make sure the congregation was on board with the plan.
Pastor Weis presented the SMP program to the Peace congregation and asked for their blessing in calling Matthew for the program. He believed it was what God was leading Peace to do, Matthew recalled.
The congregation overwhelmingly agreed, and it was when Matthew was leaving the parking lot that day that he heard the voice of God for the second time.
“It was like winning the lottery,” he recalls. “I’m sitting in my car, and I’m bawling. Because then it hit me — I won the lottery. Wait, that’s a lot of responsibility!
“At this point, I’m feeling like I’m about to have a heart attack, and I hear God’s voice say, ‘You’re not doing this, I am.’”
And it’s felt right ever since.
A ‘spiritual guidance counselor’
In fall 2013, Matthew started at Peace as Director of Discipleship at the School in what he fondly recalls as one of his favorite times of his life.
“It quickly became obvious we needed a school pastor,” he says. “The ministry here is a ministry of presence. You wouldn’t believe how amazingly God has been able to use me simply because I was here.”
He recalls parents stopping and talking to him within the first month of his new position. Students quickly began to regularly gather in his office to the point that it would be standing room only for prayer and even Bible study.
“I can’t describe the level of trust that was immediately given to me even though I hadn’t yet earned it,” he says, describing his role as a sort of “spiritual guidance counselor.” “I had had a public ministry through music, of course, but my being visible every day at the school was a catalyst for acceptance in my new role.”
Peace members’ and school families’ immediate acceptance of her son didn’t surprise Deborah Hauser.
“Matthew has charisma and energy and joy. He did from the time he was born,” she says. “He was always easy to love, and he reciprocates love in kind. He loves people ‘hard.’ The good, the naughty, the talented, the defeated — Matthew loves people effortlessly.”
‘She is going to need open heart surgery’
Matthew was working at Peace School, but because of a paperwork glitch, his March 2014 start in the SMP program was delayed.
But he’ll quickly tell you it wasn’t a glitch. It was God.
On March 4, 2014, daughter Miriam was born after a perfect pregnancy and uncomplicated C-section birth. For a few hours, Miriam seemed like a healthy 6-pound, 3-ounce newborn.
Matthew was holding his daughter in a room full of adoring family when he noticed a bluish tint to Miriam’s lips. Then the nurse noticed it, too, and quickly whisked their baby away.
“They came back and told us that her heart wasn’t getting oxygen to the rest of her body,” Matthew recalls. “A cardiologist came in, and it all just escalated so quickly. Miriam was now in NICU, and we’re told she is going to need open-heart surgery.”
Miriam had been born with a previously undetected Pulmonary Atresia with Intact Ventricular Septum, a rare congenital cardiac lesion.
“Basically, her pulmonary valve was closed off and depriving oxygen to the rest of her body,” Matthew explains.
A helicopter was on its way to take baby Miriam to the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor. And now Matthew would prepare to perform his first baptism in the hospital NICU in Saginaw.
Nurses handed him a shell and sterile water, and his father, the Rev. Paul Alan Hauser, stood at his side as he baptized tiny Miriam, who was hooked to wires and lying in an incubator.
“I can’t explain it, but God was working in us and through us to allow us not to collapse at that time,” Matthew recalls of his and Briana’s response. “I was confident the whole time. I just sort of sprang into action. Maybe it was a defense mechanism, but I was a rock. Briana, she was teary-eyed, but also really trusting. God gave us immediate opportunities to witness to the doctors and nurses taking care of Miriam.”
Two days later, Miriam’s open-heart surgery at UM was deemed a complete success. The family would stay at UM for three more weeks before bringing Miriam home.
“Maybe twice did I actually cry for Miriam,” Matthew recalls. “But let’s be clear, I was crying the entire time. The vast majority of it was because I was so grateful to the Peace congregation for the love and support they showed to us every single day throughout this.”
Matthew quickly realized that had his paperwork gone through for a March 2014 start in the SMP program, he would have had to drop out because of Miriam’s sickness.
Another blessing of God’s timing, he says.
In fall 2014, he and Pastor Weis traveled to St. Louis for initiation week at Concordia, and Matthew officially started the SMP program.
‘Peace is where I firmly believe God wants me to be’
Each SMP course includes a blend of Internet-based instruction, mentor interaction, practical ministry application and two hours each week of live instruction by the instructor and interaction with fellow students.
For Matthew, this has meant online courses streamed for two hours every Monday night, and weeklong stays at Concordia for intensive on-site training twice a year.
Combine his classes with his everyday job at the school, moving into a new house recently, and also managing to lose about 100 pounds, and well, you can say he’s been busy.
“Early on in the SMP program, they talk about your ‘formation’ in the seminary, as you become the shepherd God wants you to be,” Matthew explains. “I knew I needed to work on self-control in general because it has always been an issue for me. My losing the weight has been a significant part of how I believe God is making me into who he wants me to be.”
Both Pastor Weis and Matthew feel that “who God wants him to be” is directly tied to the school, and that Matthew’s ordination on Dec. 18 will be the answer to Peace’s longtime prayer for a school pastor.
“It’s no accident that an explosion of change happened for me when we were about to have our first child,” Matthew says. “This is a time in an adult’s life when you’re soft enough to be molded again. When you have a kid, your world flips upside down.”
He points to Peace’s Seeds to Branches school expansion plan to include infant and toddler care as a vital ministry opportunity.“We will now have the opportunity to reach families at the time they’re having a baby — when their soil is most fertile so we can plant seeds of faith,” he says. “The primary teacher of any child is a parent. I want to equip them by walking right alongside them.”
With his December ordination comes an end to Matthew’s vicarage, but he still has two years of classes to complete in the SMP program.
Still, it feels good knowing he will be Pastor Hauser when students return after Christmas break.
“Peace is where I firmly believe God wants me to be,” he says. “A beautiful part of life is knowing that I am doing what God wants me to do right where God wants me to do it.”
Story and Photos by Misty R. Gower