Ask (Augustana) Alumni Anything: Craig Wentland, CLC '86

Augustana Chaplain and alumnus, Craig Wentland, CLC '86, answers questions about community, his hobbies and different ways to view and enjoy the world around us.

21 September 2021

Banner image of Craig Wentland next to the text "Ask (Augustana) Alumni Anything with Craig Wentland, CLC '86, Augustana Campus Chaplain"

Craig Wentland graduated from Camrose Lutheran College (now Augustana Campus) in 1986 as part of the campus’ second convocation class. He went on to study abroad in Mexico before settling into a graduate program at McGill University, and then on to Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. Following a merger between Augustana University College and the University of Alberta, Craig was called to the newly formed position of Augustana Chaplain in 2005. Pastor Craig, as students know him, teaches in Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Studies, contributes to Student Services and also serves as the Lutheran Chaplain on campus.  

In addition to his professional work, Craig has a fondness for gardening, cooking in his wood-fired earth oven and making gelato.  

Q: What is one way of seeing the world that makes your life more beautiful?

A: There are many days that I am totally oblivious to the mystery of life that is all around. I get a little too absorbed in my projects and my to-do lists. I walk along 46 Avenue to campus and barely notice the changing hue of the fall leaves or the crispness of autumn morning sunlight. 

But on good days, often in spite of myself, I catch amazing glimpses of beauty. In part this comes from my faith tradition which teaches all of life, every particular moment, every particular person that I encounter with all their quirks, every moment in creation is the address of a gracious God calling me to creatively respond in gratitude, love and service. In these moments I am deeply humbled and never bored.


Q: Best way to make friends or meet new people?

A: I refer to this as the Comedy of the Commons: a common time, a common place and a common project. Rich human community is not all that complex. Invite people to get together and do something: cook, dance, eat, sing, tell stories, play games, get outside, work on a project. It doesn't have to be fancy. This fall Chaplaincy hosted a campfire in the quad and a group of first-year students sat on the grass and played Duck-Duck-Goose. They were just so happy to be together.

I try to expose students to Comedy of the Commons and empower them to be the ones to initiate community building activities. Some alumni report that it was easy to make friends while at Augustana but harder in their post-Augustana life. Augustana is meant to be a laboratory where we learn the Comedy of the Commons formula and take that secret with us wherever we go.  


Q: You happen to be an extraordinary cook. Where did you learn how to cook?

A: To describe my cooking as extraordinary is a bit of a stretch. I like to eat good food. Conveniently, I need to eat every day and therefore I get lots of practice cooking. I have learnt mostly through trial and error (often spectacular errors). I challenge myself to try new things, pick up tips from cookbooks, online recipes, videos and other skilled chefs. 

Good food also begins with good ingredients, which is why I grow my own produce and source grass-fed protein from local farmers. Once at a fancy local food restaurant in Edmonton, the waitperson asked me how our meal was. I replied honestly and without thinking that it tasted like eating at home. She mistakenly thought I was complimenting my spouse's cooking. I was just noting the similar quality of ingredients.  


Q: Hi Craig! Are you working on new DIYs? We’d love to hear about it!

A:  I am just about to teach a course entitled The Spirituality of DIY. A component of this course will be having the class (of 45 students, oh my!) make things like pierogies, bagels in my backyard wood-fired earth oven, 3-D printing, pine needle baskets and more. Through these making projects and our readings from a variety of thinkers, we will explore the question "What does the contemporary maker movement reveal about the nature of being human?" Hopefully, through the course the students will have the opportunity to reflect more on what's important to them and how they want to live in the world.

When I'm done with the course, I'll consider picking up the cable knit sweater I started last winter. The sizing is off and I'm afraid it may involve a lot of unravelling.  


Q: How do you not get overwhelmed by your work, hobbies and everything else you're involved in with the community, even if you do enjoy each one? 

A: I've noticed over the years that many of the people who are active in the community, give generously of themselves, and have a variety of interests, tend not to take themselves too seriously. They also tend to be pretty content. I admire those folks and in a faltering way try to follow their example.  


Q: If you could give your younger self one piece of advice before jumping into ministry, what would it be?

A: If that's what you are called to do, go for it! There are few vocations that are so varied, allow you to use such a wide range of skills and call upon you to interact creatively with such a wide range of people. 


Q: What's one memory you cherish that sums up the Student Chaplain experience?

A: For those who are familiar with the biblical story of Mary and Martha, there is a Mary moment (reflective and contemplative) and a Martha moment (frenetic activity). The Mary moment is when we take a good chunk of time on an overnight retreat for each Student Chaplain to share their stories of what makes them tick and how they understand faith. It's wonderful that each Student Chaplain has the opportunity to be known. The Martha moment comes on Tuesday nights when one hundred people show up for Soup Supper and you are madly trying to serve soup, cut cheese, and you end up chanting Dish Pit! Dish Pit! Dish Pit! as you roll a trolley laden with dirty dishes down to the washing area at the end of the night.  


Q: Is there anything you wish would change about Augustana?

A: I wish that students and faculty had the opportunity at some point in every class to sit back and reflect on questions like "So what?" How does this particular fascinating way of understanding the world which we have explored together contribute to the big picture? What does it mean? Or, as a former faculty member put it, "How does this way of knowing help us to love ourselves, love others and love a place?" These questions do get asked, but sometimes amidst the busyness they fall off the edge of the academic plate. 


Q: How and when did you know ministry was your calling?

A: From adolescence, ministry always existed as a possibility in my imagination. I took a bit of a circuitous route to get there. The circuitous route included doing a master's degree at McGill with no apparent career goal in mind. Fifteen years later, that degree became the credential I needed to become Augustana's chaplain and teach. Go figure. The source of my calling became apparent only after I was ordained. My father shared with me for the first time that he had always felt a calling to ministry but a few things got in the way like poverty, a grade eight education, the Depression, the second World War and so on. In a way, I took over my father's calling.


Q: What do you do when you hit a creative block in your work and hobbies? Tips on finding inspiration?

A: Taking some sort of continuing education course always helps with work. I rarely do what any given course or instructor recommends but it does spark my imagination. 

With hobbies it is often seeing what other makers are doing either in person or via the YouTube machine. Speaking of YouTube, I hope that everyone has checked out my DIY YouTube channel. There are minutes of quality entertainment there.


Q: What is the most unique flavour of gelato that you have ever produced (or top 5)?

A: I would rate my top five gelato in the following order: 1. Apricot Amaretto, 2. Chocolate Orange with Grand Marnier, 3. Crème Brûlée, 4. Tiramisu,  5. Pumpkin Pie.


Q: Pastor Craig, what is your favourite soup supper soup?

A: I have a real fondness for luscious lentil soup. I think it is DALicious.  


Q: If you had to create a new class to teach on campus what would it be about?

A:  I would take a group of students to Herschel, Saskatchewan (population of 30) for a three-week September course. We would use Herschel as a case study into exploring how every home community for students is deeply interesting. Herschel has a retreat centre built out of reclaimed wood from prairie grain elevators, an incredibly rich petroglyph site, a paleontology excavation site, a museum including the only known specimen of Dolichorhynchops Herschelensis, and an amazing art exhibit by Métis artist Jo Cooper entitled The Disappearance and Resurgence of the Buffalo. And yes, Herschel backpacks were named after this community. The founders of the Herschel company had great grandparents who settled in Herschel.