Meet the Board

Rev. George Borghardt

George Borghardt graduated from Louisiana State University with a Bachelor’s degree in classics and then received a Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Pastor Borghardt serves at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bossier City, Louisiana. He took his first youth group to a Higher Things conference in 2002 and has served the organization in many capacities since 2004: Internet Services Executive, Conference Executive, and Deputy Executive. He is not only a regular contributor to Higher Things events as a plenary speaker, breakaway teacher, preacher and celebrant but also a sought after speaker and writer in the church at large. He is the most prolific content contributor within Higher Things with Video Shorts, Reflections, articles, Bible studies, and sermons and has also served as the president of the HT Board of Directors since 2012. He is a dynamic fundraiser and advocate for daring youth to be Lutheran.

Rev. Duane Bamsch

Vice President
Rev. Duane Bamsch is a born-and-bred Texan who enjoys living in the Sierra Nevada mountains and serving the people of God at Grace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley, California, where he has been pastor since 2018. Pastor Bamsch earned a Bachelor’s Degree from Concordia University—Texas in 1994, and a Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1998. He has served parishes in Texas and California, from suburban areas to rural congregations. His experience with Higher Things stretches back to 2005 as a participant, and he has served the organization in various roles—primarily in worship and catechesis—since 2008. His experience as a breakaway teacher, plenary speaker, writer of Reflections, and teacher at retreats translates well into his work with high school youth in his community. Pastor Bamsch has served on the Board of Higher Things since 2015, and as vice-president since 2016. He is married to Stephanie, and has two children, who help focus him on getting Jesus into the ears of youth and daring them to be Lutheran.

Rev. Joel Fritsche

Rev. Joel Fritsche was born and raised in Houston, Texas. He graduated from Concordia University Nebraska in 1996 with a Bachelor’s Degree in music. He graduated from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in 2000. He has served parishes in Wyoming, Texas, and Illinois and was on staff at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. As a missionary in the Dominican Republic since 2015, Pastor Fritsche serves as a church planter and Director of Concordia Seminary the Reformer, teaching courses in Greek and Hebrew. He is married to Clarion and has three boys adopted from Russia (Viktor, Sergei, and Andrei). Pastor Fritsche has served on the board of directors for Higher Things since 2007.

Kurt Winrich

Kurt Winrich, a CFA® charterholder, is co-CEO and CFO at WCM Investment Management in Laguna Beach, California. Kurt’s education includes a BA from Westmont College, and a BS and MS in electrical engineering from Stanford University. His long experience and diverse background—leadership, management, financial analysis, and the physical sciences—bring multiple, varied, and valuable elements to his service on the Higher Things Board. When coupled with his passion for Gospel proclamation, apologetics, and passing on the “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” to today’s youth and young adults, Kurt is excited to be a resource for HT executives and staff, and to join with all HT board members in guiding this organization into its third decade and beyond.

Kurt and his wife, Debi, are founding board members of 1517. Today 1517 is a publishing house, a podcast network, an on-line academy, and a collection of online resources including speakers, conferences, and blogs, all aimed at declaring and defending the Good News that we are forgiven and free on account of Christ alone.

Rev. John Pless

John T. Pless was born in Hickory, North Carolina, to John A. and Betty Pless. He is a graduate of Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, Texas (B.A in Theology and Philosophy), and Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio (Master of Divinity). He entered the ministry of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod by colloquy in 1983. From 1979-1983 he was on the pastoral staff at the Chapel of the Resurrection at Valparaiso University. He served as campus pastor at University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis from 1983-2000 when he was called to the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana where he serves as assistant professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions and the director of field education. He was awarded an honorary doctorate (D.Lit.) by Concordia University—Chicago in 2018.

Rev. Randy Sturzenbecher

Pastor Randy Sturzenbecher graduated with a Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 2001. He loves to preach and catechize the youth with our Gospel hope, and baptismal identity. Pastor Sturzenbecher has supported the youth of the South Dakota District as chair of the District Youth Board and as pastoral advisor for Black Hills Lutheran School. He has been a Higher Things conference catechist, chaplain, and plenary speaker. He is currently first vice president of the South Dakota District and the district's Higher Things confirmation and youth retreat coordinator. Pastor Sturzenbecher serves the saints of Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church and School, Black Hawk, South Dakota. Pastor Sturzenbecher is married to Vonda. They have 2 children.

Becky Clausen

As a life-long Lutheran, Becky accepted the Higher Things Dare to be Lutheran challenge by pushing her chips “all in” and driving to Vegas in 2011 to attend Coram Deo with her youth and best friend. Four days of worship, education, relationship, and fun brought together with the clarity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ was not going to stay in Vegas! She brought home the many resources Higher Things offers and integrated them into her everyday life. As a group leader, Becky attended yearly conferences until 2018 when HT invited her to use her event coordinator background to serve as a conference entertainment coordinator. In 2019, Becky was elected to serve as a lay member of the Higher Things Board of Directors. Becky fills her seat as a catechized Lutheran. She has no formal theological education, but listens and contributes with the heart of a “parent.” Considering fellow Higher Things parents like her, Becky seeks to further develop opportunities for youth to hear and ask questions about Jesus.

Deac. Ellie Corrow

Ellie lives in Ballwin, Missouri with her son, Andrew, three dogs, and one cat. She serves as the missionary care coordinator for the LCMS Office of International Mission, providing support to 100 missionary families worldwide. Ellie holds two MA’s from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in church history and theology, and an MA in deaconess studies from Concordia Theological Seminary. In her spare time Ellie enjoys her patio, single malt scotch, and laughing with friends—sometimes all at the same time.

Anthony Pellegrini

Anthony Pellegrini resides in Marysville, Washington, where he and his wife, Kim, run a growing small business. In 2016, Anthony left a career at Boeing to focus on his business. He has spent more than 20 years in Manufacturing Management and Operations. His education background is in Manufacturing Technology (AA and ATA), planning and design. Anthony and his wife have eight children and two grandchildren. In his free time he likes to travel, ski, hike, ride dirt bikes, play the drums, and might even pick up a book now and then. Anthony is a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Marysville, Washington. He is his congregation’s president, youth leader, and a Sunday school teacher.

Meet the Executive Team

erica jacoby

Executive Director

Erica, as the executive director of Higher Things, oversees our RSO’s operations and programs. As a life-long Lutheran with a diverse work background in business administration, secondary education, and fundraising, she is passionate about creating opportunities that engage youth and their adult leaders in worship, fellowship, and learning. She believes that youth and young adults should never be pandered to or patronized but can and should be taught the Christian faith so rigorously that they are enlivened to share that faith in love with others.

Crysten Sanchez

Events Executive

Crysten has served as the event executive for Higher Things since 2019, but has been blessed to work for HT in one way or another since 2010. While also working as a Youth Coordinator through those years, Crysten solidified her opinion on youth: they aren't given as much credit as they deserve, and we "grown ups" can learn just as much from them as they can learn from us. That really forms her mindset while planning, refining, and nit-picking Higher Things events into perfection in order to serve those youth through life-giving worship, mind-growing teaching, and relationship-building fun.

Patrick Sturdivant

Development & Marketing Executive
Patrick is the marketing and development executive for Higher Things. Involved with the organization since he was a youth attendee in the early 2000s, Patrick understands the important role that Higher Things can play in instilling love for the Gospel in a young person. Because of this Patrick is committed to furthering the organization’s reach through inbound marketing and the creation of a brand that reflects the mission of Higher Things®. As the development executive, Patrick’s goal is to cultivate the organization's communication network to continue this mission into the future.

Sandra Madden

Content Executive

Sandra serves as the new content executive for Higher Things, making her responsible for well…pretty much all the resources you’re enjoying on HT’s new website, app, and media platforms. She loves taking on new challenges and creatively bringing order to chaos. Her lengthy experience with Higher Things (since 2001!) means she understands youth, families, and congregations, and she's thrilled to keep bringing you the content you need.

connie Brammeier

Finance Executive

Connie brought her first youth group to the Higher Things Making Waves conference in 2002 and continued bringing groups of adults-in-training for a number of years until passing on that blessing to others. She continues to encourage the youth group to attend conferences and does everything she can to help make the annual conference trip a reality for her church. She has used her business knowledge to keep HT’s finances and “stuff” straight since 2008. She and her husband, Tim, often assist with transportation at conferences.

Pr. Aaron Fenker

Dean of Theology

As the dean of theology, Aaron oversees all the ways that Christ crucified is delivered throughout all operations and programs of Higher Things, making sure that its teaching, preaching, and worship deliver Christ and His forgiveness to those we have been blessed to serve. As a Lutheran pastor, he believes that all people, even youth and young adults, need not just pure doctrine but the pure Gospel: Christ crucified for the forgiveness of their sins. He passionately strives to make sure that Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ preaching, Jesus’ Word, Jesus’ Sacraments, Jesus’ forgiveness are all delivered FOR YOU.

Meet the Staff


Executive Assistant & Registrar
Cyndy attended her first Higher Things conference in 2017 at Valparaiso University, for Here I Stand as a parent and chaperone for her church’s youth group. It was “love at first conference” and ever since then she’s worked hard to get her children, her church’s youth, and as many people as she can to HT events. She was excited to help even more by joining the team as the Registrar of Conferences in October of 2018 and in 2019 became conference assistant. Cyndy is usually the first person someone who contacts HT speaks with and she loves doing whatever she can to get you to fall in love with Higher Things, just like she did. She is also a Lutheran preschool teacher, instructing little ones about Jesus for more than 17 years.

Jennifer Ceyanes

Deaf Liaison
Jennifer wants the Deaf to hear about Jesus, too. Since she is deaf as well, she is able to help Higher Things connect to the Deaf community by ensuring that the Gospel is accessible and clearly taught. Jennifer is the Coordinator of Deaf Ministry at Jesus Deaf Lutheran Church, a dual-parish with St. Paul Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas. She has worked in Deaf Ministry for many years and has made several trips to Macau, China, as a missionary to the Deaf. She loves playing board games and going geocaching!

Emily Goodroad

Finance Assistant
As finance assistant, Emily lends back office support to Higher Things so other dedicated team members can focus on delivering our mission—to you! She helps the business executive with anything that needs to be recorded and accounted for. Although some may find it boring, she has a passion for fulfilling her vocation so you can fulfill yours—daring to Be Lutheran!

Pr. Rich Heinz

Worship Coordinator
Pastor (and Hufflepuff) Rich Heinz serves as worship coordinator, overseeing the corporate liturgical life of Higher Things. He patiently selects Scripture and hymns for conferences, and assembles chapel staff. Whether in the parish, at Concordia University Chicago, in his house, or with friends from HT, Pastor Heinz teaches a fierce loyalty to God’s Gifts, and the liturgy through which He gives them. And he knows all of this hard work is worth it, since the Giver and His Gifts are true.

Katie Hill

Managing Editor

When she’s not silently correcting everyone’s grammar, Katie enjoys fostering and fine-tuning the writing of authors who deliver the sweetness of the Gospel to Higher Things readers and beyond. A Lutheran convert for 15 years now, Katie has been working for HT in some capacity for nearly that same amount of time. She relishes life in a small town in northern Arizona with her husband, Jeff, and five children, two and a half of whom have left the nest.

Chris Loemker


Since 2008, Chris has been involved with music at Higher Things conferences in various capacities. No matter which task is at hand, his passion is to help highlight the invaluable treasure trove of Christ-centered hymn texts we have as Lutherans. He values the opportunity each year to work with young organists-in-training during the Organist Boot Camp sessions to encourage them to look for clear and creative ways to unlock and present these texts to their congregations back home.

Kay Maiwald

Reflections Editor

Kay first encountered Higher Things in 2008 and has since refused to leave. She currently works as the editor of Reflections, the daily devotions that Higher Things provides free of charge. Kay has also served as housing coordinator for at least one conference every summer since 2012, enjoying the contact with the youth who are so eager for the Gospel. She is organist and choir director at her church in Maryland, and shares with her husband, Eric, two grown sons, two daughters-in-law, three grandchildren, and an assortment of farm animals, most notably goats.

Tana McKenna

Retreat & Logistics Coordinator
Tana has been privileged to serve as the logistics assistant and retreat coordinator for Higher Things since 2018. She was introduced to HT as a parent and youth leader at the Te Deum 2015 conference in Seward, Nebraska, and has been encouraging and assisting youth, adult leaders, and pastors across the state of North Dakota (and beyond) to participate in conferences and retreats ever since. As HT’s logistics assistant, she makes the arrangements that bring the HT team together from all over the U.S. to deliver great Gospelly content to you at our summer conferences. As retreat coordinator she works behind the scenes with regional retreat hosts, making it possible for youth to be immersed in the Gospel and gain a new appreciation and understanding of their baptismal faith, all from the familiarity of their local parish.

Pr. Brett Simek

Catechesis Coordinator

Pastor Simek serves as the catechesis coordinator for Higher Things, organizing and scheduling breakaway sessions for conferences. After being convinced to be a Lutheran pastor by his Jesuit (Catholic) high school, he has been involved with HT in a number of ways including CCV, housing coordinator, and assistant chaplain before being ordained in 2015. He now serves Hope Lutheran Church, Jerseyville, Illinois, and is the husband of Nicole and father of Joel, Elijah, and Jude. As a husband, father, pastor, and student, he has seen and felt the great influence of distinctively Lutheran teaching and the comfort and confidence it gives.