Holy chaos: An exploration of the new first call process

An open book on a wooden table

For the first time in years, the “first call” process in the ELCA has changed. Thanks in part to changes within the church caused by the pandemic. communication about the new system has emerged in video format, not just saving trees (paper), but offering user-friendly explanations.

It was during an ELCA Conference of Bishops gathering in 2016 when bishops first approved of redesigning the first call process by naming it, “Called Forward Together in Christ.” This process took almost five years to launch, with the new first-call changes taking effect Jan. 31, 2021.

Using resources from candidacy information at elca.org, let’s unpack some of the changes.

How are vacancies filled with first call candidates?

The method of filling vacancies within the ELCA is complex and multifaceted. There are a multitude of practical matters that bishops and regional Candidacy And Leadership Managers (CALMs) must take into consideration when beginning the process with candidates. To begin, they must look at the gifts and situations of each candidate while looking at the needs and mission of the church, all the while inviting the Holy Spirit and God into the process.

The candidacy process for both Word and Service and Word and Sacrament ministers is normally: Entrance, Endorsement, Approval, Call to Ministry Site, Ordination.

Typically, a graduating senior entering the call process for Word and Sacrament (pastors) or Word and Service (deacons) would enter the assignment process their senior year following approval. This “old” process included receiving regional assignments at one of two yearly assignment gatherings, with synodical assignments following almost immediately. Once candidates received a synodical assignment, the candidate would be under the care and authority of their newly assigned bishop, who would approach the candidate with any potential calls and interviews.

Though they submitted a Rostered Ministers Profile (RMP), along with roster preferences that included geographical interests (synods in which they would like to serve), candidates could expect to be assigned to any region or synod. This was often known as “the draft,” since candidates often felt they were at the mercy of the church and needs of the bishops.

How does this new process differ?

Striking the word “assignment” from the first call practice, bishops have now created a process that “acknowledges the changing needs of candidates, congregations and the church at large,” as it says in the new first call handouts on the ELCA website. Following approval, ministry candidates entering the new first call process will now enter the process under the care of their home synod bishop until they accept a first call.

More specifically, the new call process is broken into three phases:

Phase One: Preapproval – conversation with candidate

Phase Two: Preapproval – regional consultation

Phase Three: Post-approval

At first glance, this new call process should foster better communication and relationships between first call candidates and their bishop prior to the placement process. Since candidates will begin conversations preapproval, bishops and candidacy committees should have better awareness of where their candidates are feeling called geographically, and how that call might align with their gifts for ministry.

Creating a workable assignment process is the first step in the church acknowledging the changing dynamics within the denomination. The shift of how information is distributed is a testament to the bishops acknowledging the changing landscape of candidates and church. The candidacy website, previously filled with outdated handouts, is now filled with accessible and updated PDFs and videos that the bishops created.

What do students think of the new process?

Kelsey Fauser, 2021 MDiv graduate of LSTC who is now in the care of her home Rocky Mountain Synod (2E), said, “Going through the call process currently, I would say it’s a good mixture of holy chaos as well as holy wonder. I have a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for what is to come.

“However, there’s also chaos with learning a new system and what it will look like moving forward as they make changes and adjustments. I’m eager to see how the process develops for future calls and future colleagues who will be going through the new system.”

First-year dual degree MDiv and master of social work student Emily Moentmann is grateful she still has several years left of her degree before she will have to enter into this new call process. She says she’s excited to see “how the new call process will improve communication between the bishops and their candidates, and how the process will improve year after year as I advance closer to first call.”

Though church leaders expect the process to be modified over time, the overall consensus among students at LSTC is one of hope. Many look forward to the new process and it adapting to the current realities many students find themselves and their families in.

As an ELCA news release from the bishops stated, “For the sake of our shared mission, it is time to try something new, test it, and discover learning that may provide for further improvements.”

As of now, the new first-call process is under review through Spring 2023.


Original article published in the Summer 2021 Epistle Magazine; written by Stephani Shumaker

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