raising a mommy

raising a mommy

Thursday, March 19, 2015

the call process: 101

Today's blessing
Knowing something. When your whole future is up in the air for so long, it's nice, for a change, to see glimpses of what the puzzle of your future might look like.

Anyone who has been through it can tell you that the whole first call/assignment process is pretty crazy. We're in the midst of it right now, and I wanted to share a few thoughts from the perspective of the spouse. Let me start with a few disclaimers:

  1. These are my opinions and mine alone. I cannot speak for any other clergy spouse. Only myself.
  2. I'm referring to the ELCA here.
  3. This is going to be at least two parts. This post is only about the nuts and bolts of the process. I'll share some insider thoughts later.
I'm going to start with the very basics, because I'm guessing many of my readers aren't familiar with the education and call process for an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) pastor. After you complete a four year bachelor's degree, you can enter Seminary. There is a whole crazy application process including a several hour psychological exam and extensive interviews you must complete before you will even be allowed to say you want to become a pastor. Anyone can start taking the classes, but until you're "entranced," you're just taking classes for fun. You're not actually working towards anything.

Once you're in, you're looking at a four year program, though there is some restructuring going on that could change this sometime in the near future. For us, it was two years of school, a year of internship, and now the last year of school. I won't go into too much detail about any of this, because it's fairly straightforward.

On to assignment.

Once you complete internship and return for your last year of school, you begin the assignment process. Some candidates may begin this early if they only have one semester of school left or if the did a terminal internship, which is an internship in their last year, and not as scary as the word "terminal" can make it sound. For us, it meant all paperwork turned in at the beginning of December.

The ELCA has divided the country into nine regions.

Each region is then further divided into synods. We have been called to region three:
This isn't a great map, but I didn't feel like spending the time to find a better one. You get the idea.

One of the most common questions we've gotten is "Do you get to choose where you go?" To a certain extent, yes. To a greater extent, no. You can choose to restrict to a certain synod of number of synods, but you have to get special permission to do this, and it does not guarantee you a call in that synod. Some candidates who restrict have to wait two or three years for a call. Yikes. You can choose to be completely open and go wherever the bishops decide to send you. As much as I would love to say we were completely open, that would be a lie. We know ourselves well enough to know that there are certain places we just would not want to live long term. So we went with option #3: preferences.

Even the term "Preferences" should be considered very loosely. Yes, we ranked them. We had our "preferred" synods, one through nine, and we assigned a number to each. However, because of the way things are set up, number four or five could actually be preferred over number two or three, but isn't able to be ranked as such. If it sounds confusing, that's because it is. Thankfully, the bishops understand this and work hard to get to know each potential candidate and what their preferences really mean.

Finally, in mid-February, a full two and a half months after the paperwork has been submitted, a group of bishops convened in Chicago to begin the process of deciding the fate of the candidates and their families. Though there isn't really anything else to compare it to, in my understanding, this process is kind of a cross between the NFL draft and the papal conclave. For anyone interested in learning more about it, read this article. By the time this two-day process has come to its end, a candidate is assigned to a region. They are then notified of their region assignment via e-mail.

Next comes synod assignment. Things were tense before region assignments, and they just kept getting worse. The anticipation just keeps building. The more you know, the more you want to know, right? It was great for about two days to know that our future home had been narrowed down to within three states. Once that novelty wore off, I wanted more. I wanted a synod. Unfortunately for us, we had to wait another two weeks for this information. After the candidates are assigned to regions, the bishops from that region then get together to divide them up. There are so many factors that go into this process that I wouldn't possibly be able to list them all even if I knew them. For the sake of keeping things simple-ish, let's just say that the bishops work to match the needs of their congregations with the gifts of their candidates.

Once that's done and you receive the fateful phone call, you start to look at churches. Typically, the bishop or a member of his or her staff will provide you with the paperwork from several congregations, and you can decide to interview at some or all or none of them. This is where we are now. We have looked at a number of churches in our assigned synod, have shared our thoughts with the synod staff. They have sent N's paperwork along to the call committees at those churches we "liked" (for lack of a better term), and now those call committees are choosing to call or not call him to set up an interview. After the preliminary interview, a call committee will typically call back their top three or so choices for a second interview. After the second interview, they will choose a preferred candidate. This candidate is presented to the congregation, there is discussion and the opportunity for the congregation to ask questions, and then they vote. It is rare for the church to vote against the call committee, but it can happen. Meaning the call committee can have a preferred candidate in mind, and the congregation as a whole can vote against the candidate and tell the committee to keep looking.

After that is ordination and installation and getting on with life!

What questions do you have on the call and assignment process? I know I can't possibly have been that thorough, so I'd love to know what other questions are out there!


  1. How often do you have to do this process? Do you have to move in x amount of years?

    1. I thought I replied to this already!

      This process only happens once. After you're in your first call, there is no set amount of time you stay. As long as everything is going well, the pastor can stay in first call as long as he or she is happy and the congregatation is happy with them. I'm really looking forward to burning our boxes after this move!