Get to know your host: Mason Van Essen

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“What’s up everybody and welcome back to Scripture First — the podcast that explores how the Lutheran lectionary is working in your life. I’m your host, Mason Van Essen.” 

Whether you’ve been a loyal listener for years (our first episode published in September 2019), or have just started listening, we can guarantee you’ve heard Mason’s voice welcoming you to Scripture First (and Sing to the Lord!). 

In the five years since it launched, there has been an episode every week (250, and counting!), even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. And while our roster of professors and co-hosts rotates each week, Mason has been there to open up the show every time. 

We figured it was time to get to know the man behind the mic, and hear a little more about how Scripture First got started and what it looks like to produce a Lutheran podcast every week. 

Keep reading to learn more about Mason, in his own words.

Kick us off with a little bit of background — who are you, where are you from, how did you get here?

I was born and raised in southwest Minnesota on Lake Shetek and moved to Sioux Falls in 2013 to attend Augustana University. That’s where I met my now-wife (during the first week of freshman year!), Andrea, and got my first intro to Lutheranism.

I was baptized Methodist, and then my family switched to a Baptist church during my most formative years. I was blessed to grow up with a strong foundation of going to church and youth group, but theology wasn’t a focus until I got to college. 

This is a group photo taken at Mason's son's baptism inside First Lutheran Church. It includes, from left to right, Mason's wife, Mason holding his son, and Allison and Adam Guthmiller, his son's godparents.
At Crosby’s baptism with his godparents, Allison and Adam Guthmiller.

At Augustana, I tried out a religion major for a while, worked on chapel staff and led an outreach team (like a small group). Andrea was raised Lutheran, and we had plenty of conversations about faith and church traditions, but it was during our junior year that we, along with our friends Adam Guthmiller and Kiri Haugen, discovered Luther House of Study, which was housed out of the South Dakota Synod office on Augustana’s campus at the time. 

Dr. Croghan and Sarah Stenson were hosting a weekly Lutheran Bible study, which we started attending regularly, and that’s where things truly began to click for me from a faith and theology perspective. By the time we graduated, Andrea and I were attending a Lutheran church together, and, a short time later, we got engaged and married in that church.

We celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary last June and welcomed our first child, Crosby, that same month!

How did the podcast come about?

After we graduated from college in 2017, Adam, Kiri and I missed the weekly enrichment of our Luther House Bible studies, and we knew that others could benefit from it, too. As a millennial, my head went straight to podcasts. 

For me especially, podcasts are a bit of an obsession (I listen to 3-5 episodes per day and subscribe to dozens of shows), and I definitely had a dream of hosting or producing my own. Looking at what podcasts were out there, Kiri, Adam and I realized there were plenty of Christian podcasts that talked about Bible verses, but there weren’t any Lutheran podcasts focused on the lectionary text. It was the perfect storm — an interest in podcasts, a curiosity to dive deeper into Lutheranism and relationships with world-class theologians. We pitched the idea to Chris and Sarah, they were on board and the snowball started rolling. 

The concept was — and is — simple. Three millennials (though we’re now down to two as Adam stepped away after he was ordained and began serving his congregation) sit down each week with one of the professors at Luther House to discuss the lectionary text for that upcoming Sunday. 

The episodes serve as a resource for pastors preparing for their sermons that week and for lay people who are looking to understand the text on a deeper level. 

We’re already on our second run-through of the lectionary (it restarts every three years), and the conversations never get old. I’m grateful for the relationships formed, my faith strengthened, and the ability to share the Gospel each week because of this podcast. 

What does hosting and producing the podcast involve? 

We meet to record a batch of episodes once or twice a month, typically recording three to four episodes at a time. Before recording, we review the lectionary reading, along with some high-level notes from the Luther House professors, and we usually come with a few questions or topics of discussion in mind. From there, we let the conversation flow. It’s a lot of fun. 

Once the episodes are recorded, everything’s in my boat. I’m responsible for editing the audio and recording the intro and outro each week. While we record the main portion of the episode in a studio at the seminary, the intro and outro are recorded in my home office every weekend.

Let’s just say the acoustic setup at home is a bit less professional… I cannot confirm or deny that these intros and outros are recorded under a blanket each week for sound damping purposes, with my wife, baby and dog under strict instruction to keep quiet. IF that’s the case, let’s hope you’d never be able to tell. Ha! 

Tell us about your work and involvement outside the podcast.

My 9-to-5 is as the business development manager for Prairie Family Business Association. In short, we help family businesses thrive through generations. My role is to establish partnerships with industry organizations who can connect us to their family business members who could level up from our programs. I also have a background in marketing, so I’ve taken on many of the tasks related to communicating with our members through email, social media, and—you guessed it—starting a podcast! 

Family photo of Mason including his wife and young son.

Outside of work, I recently joined my church’s executive board as its secretary, having previously served as the chair of the stewardship and giving board. I’ve also had the honor of serving on the church’s call committee for two pastors, which has been a fascinating and rewarding experience. I also serve on the board of Sad Isn’t Bad, a grief counseling organization, and Live on Stage, a local arts association. 

What else? What do you do for fun? 

Well, podcasting IS fun. I’m so grateful to have had such an enriching, creative and fun side gig as part of my life over the last five years. However, my favorite way to spend my time is with my family. Andrea and I love going for walks around our neighborhood with Crosby and our dog, Nessie. We also enjoy spending time with friends, going out to eat or for coffee in downtown Sioux Falls, and we also love movies! 

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Mason a bit better and hearing more about the history of Scripture First.

Stay tuned for more — we’ll be chatting with our other host, Kiri, soon! 

In the meantime, you can check out this post for a Q&A with the LHOS staff: Chris, Sarah, and Lars. 

More To Explore

Pastor’s Perspective: Andrea Taphorn

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Get to know your host: Mason Van Essen

“What’s up everybody and welcome back to Scripture First — the podcast that explores how the Lutheran lectionary is working in your life. I’m your host,