Please describe your family background and hometown.
I was born the first grandson of Michael Debner, the father of my dad Gregory Debner, who himself was the youngest of four brothers. My grandpa Mike went to be with the Lord on July 1st, 1983, over a full year before I was born on July 24th, 1984. He never met his first grandson. My three older sisters were like three additional mothers to me and my younger brother, and all five of us graduated from the same high school in Sylvania Ohio. I was baptized at Olivet Lutheran Church in Sylvania where my dad was an elder. After the congregation’s merger into the ELCA my parents left Olivet for King of Glory LCMS in Sylvania where I was confirmed. Sylvania as a community offered a panorama of different ethnicities, economic strata and faith backgrounds, all of which were present in the public school system I was educated through.
Who inspired you most as a child and your formative years. How?
The term “inspiration” carries a heavy connotation. I could look to a number of people who were influential toward my development in my early years such as authors, educators, professional athletes, pastors, doctors, coaches, etc. I would be dishonest if I was to look toward such persons as the greatest inspiration of my growing years. Regardless of how trite it might seem, I was influenced the most by my Savior Jesus Christ. It was a very difficult experience to stare death in the face during the ordeal with advanced Hodgkin’s disease at age 13-14. I don’t think a single person beyond the one who carried our sins to the cross at Golgotha outside Jerusalem impacted me more than anyone else. Reading about the endurance He showed in His passion was a terrific motivation and inspiration to stay mentally tough during such a testing time. I owe my mental toughness to the example of He who demonstrated true mental strength in the face of the most extreme adversity imaginable.
How did you meet your wife, Emily?
Emily and I met when I transferred to Concordia Ann Arbor and joined the wind ensemble playing trumpet. She was the music librarian for the ensemble and after a rehearsal in the fall of 2011 I helped her stack chairs in the band room. She called my assistance “precious” and we all know how the story ended (married on May 24th, 2015).
Where did you attend school and church?
As mentioned, I attended public school in Sylvania, Ohio. I was a 2003 graduate of Sylvania Southview and went on to study at four different Universities before completing my B.A. in Religious Studies at Concordia Ann Arbor in 2014. Prior to CUAA I was a student at Ohio Northern University from the fall of 2003 to the spring of 2005 studying chemistry, a student at the University of Toledo studying biology from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2007, and student at Lourdes University in Sylvania from the fall of 2009 to the spring of 2011 studying theology.
All the while I maintained a membership at King of Glory LCMS in Sylvania, a congregation that had become my family and support during the wanderings of my 11 year undergraduate endeavors.
What were some of the activities you were involved in?
Prior to cancer I was an active Cub, then Boy Scout, reaching the rank of first class before diagnosis. I participated in youth soccer leagues from age 6 to 12, flag football from age 9 to 11, and tackle football from age 12-20 (I played a year of football at Ohio Northern). I was also a track athlete in the events of 300m and 110m hurdles, 4x100m and 4x400m relays, and the sprint medley team for my high school alma mater. At age 11 the task of learning to play the trumpet was undertaken, and apart from the year I was treated for cancer and 8 years of hiatus after graduating high school I have been playing ever since. I did some public speaking at fundraisers for the Make-a-wish foundation and spoke on the radio about my recovery from cancer through the autologous stem cell transplant I received at the Cleveland Clinic. During high school I also attended several Group Workcamps® where I had the opportunity to engage non-Lutheran “Christians” with my confessional beliefs.
What jobs did you have before entering the seminary?
The first job I had was working at a local Arby’s restaurant during my senior year of high school. After that I worked for a landscaping company owned by my sister’s husband’s mother for two seasons. Between those two seasons I was a truck loader for Fed-Ex Ground. I also had a stint as a seasonal worker at a local green house. I was a prep-cook at an Italian restaurant in Sylvania for 15 months, an employee at Chipotle Mexican Grill, and a member of the maintenance crew at Concordia Ann Arbor before I entered Seminary.
What led to your decision to become a pastor? How did you feel that you were called?
I decided to pursue the ministry after two years of studying “theology” at Lourdes University where their theological department was pushing Roman Catholic ecumenicalism and OT historical critical method of higher criticism. For me, I never had a problem while growing up believing that men of the OT like Jonah, Job, and others are real people who really lived in historical reality. After finding out that chemistry and biology were not going to provide avenues for celebrating the faith I was blessed with in Jesus Christ our Lord, and after confronting ecumenical Catholicism and higher criticism at Lourdes, I knew that my life had been impacted by the truth of God’s Word to the effect that I had no other calling in life than to serve the Lord in His holy Church.
What experiences have affirmed your calling?
I have had numerous opportunities to speak of Christ with non-believers throughout my adult life, all of which have left me with the impression that there in nothing in this world worth knowing if not for Christ and Him crucified. The passion and conviction I carry in the true faith given from Christ has left people who were total strangers to me with a sense of peaceful assurance that God has given the forgiveness of our sins as a free gift through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ.
What do you look forward to in the next year as a vicar?
I look forward to growing in my capacity to be a faithful servant of Christ in my responsibilities as a called and (to-be) ordained pastor. I hope to gain confidence in my preaching ability and continue growing more and more comfortable interacting with people who have not yet discovered the glorious hope of the crucified and risen Jesus. Most of all I look forward to learning more about the various dynamics that come with being a pastor and developing a rich understanding of the ministry in the context of our current age.