The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Great expectations

When congregations & pastors find each other: 'This is not speed dating, this is a serious courtship'

There is something stark and strange about a recently vacated office. The empty walls and shelves, the cleared desk, and the absence of memorabilia and ubiquitous coffee mug all make it undeniably clear that the erstwhile occupant is gone. And if that room was the pastor's office, it's also abundantly clear that the congregation is entering the call process.

The call process: these words can strike fear in the hearts of the hardiest congregation. Where will we find a new pastor (or associate in ministry or deaconess or diaconal minister)? What will the next pastor be like? What should the next pastor be like? How long will it take? What will happen to us? Is there anyone out there?

And out there are pastors, associates in ministry, deaconesses, diaconal ministers, even newly graduated seminarians all wondering about their next (or first) call. Where will I find a call? What will, or should, it be like? How long will it take? What will happen to me? Is anyone out there?

This space between the ending of one call and the beginning of the next is charged with possibility, anxiety, hope, uncertainty, renewal and grief — sometimes all swirling around at once.

chris ocken

And out of this mix (though not from any of our congregations, of course) can come difficult-to-fulfill expectations: if we just get the right pastor our 20-year slide in (choose one: membership, attendance, giving, youth participation — OK, you can choose more than one) will be reversed. We will again become the leviathan of our golden age (pick a decade) when the Sunday school was full, all the youth belonged to the Luther League, everyone was in church, the hymnal was red, stores were closed on Sunday, no one played soccer, T-shirts were underwear not fashion statements, acolytes wore hard-soled shoes, and there were so many women's circles that after they went through all the good girls of the Bible they had to go back and start naming circles after Jezebel and Tamar and Gomer.

Yeah, that's when church was church!

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