Friday, November 5, 2010
Who Owns the Roster?
Let it be said that the call process has always been different in the ELCA than in Missouri. In the AELC and ALC, the process was similar to Missouri's practice. A calling congregation suggested candidates for the call list to the district office and the district office prepared a list of candidates --drawn from both the suggestions of the parish and the knowledge of the district staff of both parish and pastors. Often a self-study was completed to aid in this knowledge of the parish and the history, needs, potential, and desires of the people in that congregation. Generally this call list had between six and a dozen names -- all people whom the district believed to be a good "fit" for the parish's needs and its potential. The congregation's own call committee reviewed the names and generally narrowed the focus to a few names from whom an election would produce a Pastor.
In the ELCA (and somewhat from the LCA background) the Bishop presents generally one name to the calling congregation. The Pastor presented to the parish by the Bishop had already agreed to accept the call if the congregation agreed and the only people in the "dark" were the people in the calling congregation and the folks in the congregation of the Pastor whom the Bishop recommended. If the congregation agrees, the Pastor's move happens relatively quickly -- as quickly as it may take to inform the current parish and pack up and go. With a few names or one name presented to the calling congregation, the role of the Bishop is enhanced in this process and he or she wields great influence over who will be the Pastor of that congregation.
If I have this substantially wrong, then I encourage my readers to correct these characterizations. But I believe this to be accurate. Now I am not advocating for either process. I personally see benefits to both and I also see that the key to this all is ultimately the DP or Bishop and how they exercise the pivotal role of presenting candidate or candidates to the calling congregation. What I question is the role of the national church office in overseeing the roster of clergy and the seemingly natural tendency for centralization to control what it is responsible to administer.
That said, I will admit that things have changed a great deal over the years. I have personally never served as a Pastor to a congregation that interviewed me prior to the call. In fact, both parishes I have served called me completely unknown to me and I was a pretty unknown quantity to them as well. In the first parish, they trusted the DP/Bishop, Ron Fink, who obviously knew what he was doing since I stayed there 13 years. In my current parish, they trusted whoever it was who put my name on that list (still have not found that one out) since it is 18 years and I am still here. So I am not so sure that the move to interviewing and phone surveys and written questionnaires has helped this process and I am fearful that it has hindered the expectations of the people and the Pastor and tainted the process enough to make it more difficult and not less for people to accept their new Pastor and for the new Pastor to accept the new parish.
I also am fully aware that the call process has been used by Bishops and DPs to make sure that the "right" kind of Pastor is placed in a congregation. Sometimes that means that these leaders want to move a congregation toward a goal and will place on the call list names of those who will move the parish toward this goal. In my own District there is talk of two call lists -- one of those Pastors who are agreeable to the church growth agenda and one made up of those who do not. I know that the Transforming Congregations process has the potential to create a two tiered call list of folks who agree with the methodology and the goals of that process and those who do not. I know that there are confessional groups out there who offer confessional congregations aid and assistance in getting a confessional Pastor. There are individuals and groups, aided by the Internet, who work to promote their own agendas throughout the call process. I am suspicious of these efforts even where I may be sympathetic to the outcome.
In the end it revolves around the question of "who owns the roster?" Does it belong to the congregations, does it belong to the regional church (Synod or District, depending upon your affiliation) or does it belong to the national church office? It seems to me that we are moving in a direction in which centralization is the great temptation and it threatens to gobble up things in the causes of efficiency and effectiveness. Neither of these is particularly a high priority for me when it comes to call lists and calls. I would rather see this process return to the an era when Pastors were not courted like businesses go after executives, when agendas were not the primary pursuits of those who have a stake in it all, and when the prayerful work of the parish and their DP or Bishop, led by the Spirit, resulted in the "it seems good to us and to the Holy Spirit" outcome. It is flawed because we as people are flawed but its flaws are less dangerous to the Church as a whole than agendas, centralization, and manipulation.