Princeton Seminary | MDiv Student Worker Jessi Labenski
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MDiv Student Worker Jessi Labenski

The Importance of Faith, Community and Social Justice Activism
Jessi Labenski News Image

As a Princeton Theological Seminary student worker, Jessi Labenski, MDiv, 2026, is involved in a variety of different jobs, which she says are a perfect match for her extroverted personality. She conducts tours at least once a week for the Office of Admissions and works for the phoneathon, calling alums and friends for donations to benefit student financial aid. She also serves as a note-taker for students who need access to class notes.

“I'm with prospective students at the start of the admissions tour, so we end up having coffee and I ask them about their journey and why they ended up here,” she says. “I like talking to them because everyone has an interesting story about how they decided to attend Seminary,” she says. Jessi’s story is no exception. A Midwest native and graduate of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, she first started thinking about seminary in her sophomore year, based on conversations with a mentor – a vicar and seminary student who was doing field education at Luther.

Jessi’s mother is Lutheran and her father is Catholic. She says faith has always been central in both of her parent’s lives, so much so that she was confirmed in both churches. Upon reflection of that conversation with her mentor, the biology major came to understand how much she enjoyed her religion classes, involvement in Luther campus ministries, and sitting with people to learn how faith is happening in their lives.

"I realized how much my faith has been a source of hope and joy in my life, and that I want share it with others no matter what journey they’re on, just holding space for that with people,” she says.

When the time came to choose a seminary, she always saw herself staying in the Midwest, but ultimately chose Princeton Seminary, largely because the residential program offers multiple opportunities for community-building.

“During college, the pandemic limited the connections we could make, as classes were mostly online or we had to wear masks and sit far apart, so I wasn’t interested in a program where most students don’t live at the seminary,” Labenski explains. “A lot of community-building happens in day-to-day interactions – you see someone in the hall or kitchen and connect, and I missed that.”

She is also drawn to environments where people feel free to share differing beliefs and world views. “I'm excited about being in an ecumenical space where not everyone has the same theological background,” she explains. “I enjoy learning what classmates are emphasizing in their faith practice. I love that kind of exchange.”

Living on campus, she notes, has been helpful in connecting with other students. "I’ve made good friends here; we cook meals together and study in common spaces,” Labenski adds. “We also have a group chat for Brown Hall and if you need anything, like an egg for a recipe, people respond fast and help care for you. As busy as everyone is, community could be a low priority, but I feel supported and there’s a good vibe on campus when you walk around."

After graduation, Jessi wants to be ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). “It’s too soon to say where I will be called to be a pastor, as there’s much learning yet to take place here that may sway where I end up, be it rural or urban,” she says. “I enjoy planning worship and being part of that process, so I want to learn more about that and gain skills in pastoral care.”

Labenski is also passionate about social justice causes and hopes to make this a cornerstone of her work after graduation. “The church is a great vehicle for change,” she says. “As people of God and Jesus, we’re called to uplift social justice causes and stand with marginalized groups. I want to be part of that work, which is not always easy because for a long time, church institutions upheld the status quo. The church won’t exist in the same form in the future, so how do we stay accessible and applicable to society, and provide hope and reassurance in a world full of hardship? Being a parish minister is my place in all that.”

Causes closest to her heart include racial justice, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration and, environmentalism – the latter she credits in part to attendance at outdoor ministry camps as a child, as well as previous work at backpacking and canoeing camps. She hopes to take classes at the Farminary at Princeton Seminary to gain more insight into how to blend environmentalism with her ministry.

“When young people are out in nature, it’s a different way of connecting, and if people can access those experiences, they’re more likely to care about limiting climate change as best they can as individuals,” she says. “As a church, we should encourage conversations about the impact of our actions and what we can do better.”

For Labenski, there is a strong connection between environmentalism and religion. “Caring for creation is central to my personal theology, so sharing with people that this is something we should do as people of faith is so important,” she adds. In the near term, she plans to participate in clinical pastoral education at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“I’ll be serving as a chaplain in training, meeting with people who need prayer during hard health struggles or just want someone to sit with them,” she adds. “It’s a great opportunity for growth.”

Educating faithful Christian leaders.

Author, Speaker, Ordained Minister

Danielle Shroyer, Class of 1999

“To be in a community where I got to hear so many different perspectives—that was profound for me. I’m grateful for the curiosity, for the practice of learning that was cultivated for me at Seminary.”