This is the first draft of the first half of the While We Work, While We Wait document
While We Wait: Recommendations
This section will contain recommendations for all the expressions of the church regarding helping/managing people waiting first call.
We recommend that Candidacy Committees remember to be upfront about the costs of Ordination. Tell people right up front, from the time they consider candidacy that the landscape of the church has changed. Let them know that they may have to wait for an extended time for a call; let them know they ought to have a plan B in the wings; let them know the extent of debt they will incur at seminary. After all “which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)
Encourage First Call Pastors to join candidacy committees—pastors who have more recently gone through the candidacy process might be more up to date on the particular struggles of candidacy.
Covering the ins and outs of the call process at seminary has been invaluable. However, the call process described tends to be an idealized process—which has not been most candidate’s experience. The messiness of the process ought to be disclosed more fully.
Encourage Seminarians to do mock first call interviews.
Congregations considering a first call pastor ought to read Lily Foundation studies and Alban Institue materials on what makes a lively, healthy, faithful, first call situation.
If a congregation is debating whether they are open to a first call pastor, they ought to recognize a first call pastor’s inexperience can be a gift to help them discern new ways of doing ministry. They ought to also see calling a first call pastor as a ministry to the wider church.
Welcome your new candidates—If you have a Renewal of Vows liturgy invite them to participate in that service. Make them aware of Synod events—for example Synod Assemblies and Cluster Bible Studies.
Your First Call Candidates are a gift to the Synod, even before you ordain them—Look at your Candidates waiting call as leaven to enliven your synod. Endeavor to use their gifts in volunteer, if not paid, positions until they are called to a church.
Let them administer the sacraments as well as preach the word—We recommend that a Regionally Marked Call be issued at either approval or assignment. A Regionally Marked Call would give permission to waiting candidates to not only supply preach, but conduct the whole service, Holy Communion included. This would increase the candidate waiting call’s likelihood of landing Sunday supply jobs (because she would be able to conduct a “real” worship service), thus earning some money while keeping their pastoral skills sharp.
Prepare candidates for interviews—We recommend helping candidates edit their RLP as appropriate and hold interview training sessions shortly after candidates are assigned to your synod.
Don’t take more candidates than you have spots for—if possible do not request a first call candidate in the churchwide assignment until a congregation is practically at the point to start interviewing a candidate.
Help Congregations think through calling a first call pastor—if appropriate develop an all-day workship for call committees and councils to help them better understand what it means to call a first-call pastor, framing it as a calling also for the congegation to serve as a pastor’s first call.
Do be afraid to let go of a candidate—We encourage synods to have an informal trigger date at which point they will recommend a candidate is released from the synod to find a call elsewhere.
Remove the three year waiting period for specialized ministry—In some synods this has already become the norm. Sending candidates to a congregation who do not intend to continue on in congregational ministry fills churches with pastors who do not want to be where they are. This in turn lengthens the wait time for 1st call people who want to be parish pastors, because they are “competing” with specialized ministry folk for these churches.
Make it easier to be ordained—Currently a candidate is rostered and can be ordained only if they minister for 15 hours a week—if this was lowered to 10 more candidates could be officially ordained and thus no longer be waiting for ordination. Another solution some synods have done is to call candidates for 1 year term calls or interim work in order to ordain them.
Make folk waiting for call LVC summer chaplains—ministering to Lutheran Volunteer Corp members while waiting for call would provide housing and valuable group dynamic experience for people waiting for call. This lessens the economic burden of waiting for call and also strengthens the candidate’s ministry gifts.
Expect the best out of our Regional Coordinators—We have found Regional Coordinators have made a great difference in the positive, or negative, experience of candidates waiting for call. Therefore, we recommend Regional Coordinators share their best practices with one another and reflect upon their role in the first call process.
Communicate—This can not be stressed enough, churches calling candidates, synod staff, Regional Coordinators, candidates themselves, should all keep in touch with one another with more regularity than is the current norm. An email saying “Hey, you still exist” does wonder for a Waiting Candidate.
Things to remember about candidates:
1. We are people—act pastorally, don’t lose us in the process—please.
2. We are in relationship with other people—especially partners and children. Considering multiple careers and kids in college, all play a part in the process. Please show understanding of this fact.
3. We have to eat—most candidates, after seminary, are out of money and in debt, so waiting around for a call is a financial hardship.
4. We need health insurance—We recommend a way to cover candidates waiting for call be established. Either an out of pocket system like rostered leaders between calls or make either the Synod of Call or the Synod of Assignment into the non-paying sponsoring employer.
A few Red Flags:
Extended waiting for call dampens enthusiasm for ministry—folk come out of seminary with a fire in their belly—they are hungry for ministry. After sitting on their parent’s couch, or working a minimum wage job to pay the rent, for a few months, apathy sets in.
Extended waiting for call lessens candidate’s identity with the synod and/or national church—in other words waiting for call endangers clergy loyalty to the ELCA. When candidates perceive that they are not being taken seriously by those in authority, when the efficacy of the system is called into question by personal experience, the process and those in charge of the process become suspect.
While We Wait: Advice
This section will contain the distilled collective wisdom of previous pastors who have waited for call. This is directed toward those who currently wait.
Things to think through before assignment:
Housing—where are you going to live? Is moving in with the parents an option? Can you live in your new Synod? Can you live somewhere rent free?
Income—How are you going to feed yourself? Your best bet is to act like any other student about to graduate from college or grad school - start looking for a job early in your last semester (February or March). Take whatever legal work you can get.
Family—How will waiting effect your relationships with family members? How will your call and your partner’s vocation be balanced?
Stuff to do while you wait:
As good Lutherans we know it isn’t what we do that saves us, but not doing anything can drive a person nuts. You are encouraged to do something rather than nothing. Keep yourself busy enough so that you don’t fall into despair.
Stuff to do for call:
Network in your synod—This is not always possible, some people are waiting for call in a different synod than they are assigned to, but if you can, get in there and get to know your new colleagues. Let folk know you are available for pulpit supply or sabbatical coverage. Go to cluster meetings and Bishop Leadership Days—ask folk there “what was one thing they did in their first call that they most regretted?” Ask them “What they know now that they didn’t know then but wish they had?”
Prepare for ministry—I know, we’ve been doing that since we began seminary, if not before, but now is a great time to begin a file of sermon illustrations, images, stories, and book/movie/web-based preaching resources that can be brought into your ministry and expanded.
Do ministry—Supply preach; see if your Synod would allow you to become a bridge interim.
Be actively involved in your call—Be available for interviews. Keep in contact with your synod staff contact person about how things are, or aren’t, progressing. Remember the congregation might be in more contact with you than with Synod.
If it is taking forever do something about it:
Review your RLP, is it written in a way that might turn off call committees?
How have you been doing at interviews? If you have doubts about this skill find a trusted colleague to practice with.
If you’ve waited until it is time for assignment again, consider asking for re-assignment, the more open you can be geographically.
Volunteer to be on candidacy committees—I know, you’re going to be busy discovering who you are as a minister soon, but if you wait until you are in your third call before you do something like this you might not remember quite as poignantly the particular struggles of waiting for call.
Do not assume anything—Until you get that letter of call, any potential call, no matter how sure it might seem, could fall through. So don’t count your eggs until they hatch.
Stuff to do for Yourself:
Be with a support network if at all possible—you’ve been living with a seminary community for at least a couple years now, leaving it will be tough, so don’t go it alone. Live near people you love who love you back.
Worship fully—This may be the last time you will be able to regularly worship in the assembly. Don’t waste it. Find a worshipping community nearby and throw yourself into the life of that people. Alternatively, worship with a community you wouldn’t normally worship with.
Find an income—You don’t know how long it will be before you will be called, for that matter student loans will be coming due sooner than you think, so keep your coffer full.
Take time to rest and reflect—you’ve been being formed and reformed by the seminary setting for a while now, take a breather and process the experience. reconnect with family and friends.
Share the gospel in non-churchy ways—We cannot afford to delay our ministry. Pick a kind of ministry you would like to do and start doing it. Don't wait to be asked, “Just do it.” Share the gospel by all means necessary. Volunteer, befriend, blog, listen.
Learn a new skill—learn web design, learn how to make those little fru-fru French desserts—you have been blessed with a lot of free time, use it well!
You Might Experience:
Limbo fatigue—waiting, and not knowing what’s next, and not having a whole lot of control over what’s next, can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Its like burn-out in reverse.
Economic uncertainty—The M.Div. is not the most versatile degree in the world and you are likely a few years away from your last degree and your last vocation. That is a strike against you when you try to get a job. For that matter, you are not looking for a permanent job, you want to leave once you get called. Few people are going to want to hire you in that situation.
Familial concerns—The candidacy process was set up, like it or not, to cater to a male/housewife team. That is definitely not the norm these days. Therefore the call process will involve tension about whose vocation comes first, how both spouses will find a job “in synod.” For that matter, your child/ren may have to transfer schools mid-year depending on when you receive a call. Also, having a child might have to be put on hold until you get a call. All this can bring about tense times.
Lack of Control—You might feel like a pawn in a game of chess. Or like you are not in control of your own fate… that’s because you aren’t.
That’s kind of heavy isn’t it? Well, despite all the potential turmoil of call, try to remember that the time you wait is not “about you.” That is, the length of time you wait is not a reflection of your value to God, to the church, or to your future calling congregation.
Also, trust that this time awaiting call is part of your baptismal vocation and, thus, the context in which God is now drawing you to serve the world for Christ’s sake.