So you want to be a Pastor…
I’ve made several references to what I’ve called the ELCA Candidacy process. There is in fact a process to becoming a Pastor, you can’t just wake up and start preaching. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran church body of which I’m a member has a pretty specific process that you have to go through. A couple weeks ago, I met with Reverend Sandy Kessinger, one of the Bishop’s Assistants for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod (region) of the ELCA. She’s in charge of candidacy for SWPA, so we sat down and walked through the process, and I’ll try my best to explain it here.
Basically, there are three major “decision points” as far becoming a Lutheran pastor: entrance, endorsement, and approval. I’ll talk about entrance here, because that’s the stage I’m in; endorsement and approval take place while you’re a seminarian, so I’m not going into detail about them.
For all intents and purposes, it’s important to know that the ELCA puts a decent amount of work into developing and forming its pastors. Let’s say you want to be a lawyer, you go to law school, and once you graduate and pass the bar, you apply for jobs or start your own firm; you wouldn’t apply for jobs before you even entered law school.
Becoming an ELCA pastor is completely different.
Basically, BEFORE you start seminary, they want to have a decent idea that you might be a good Pastor and that you’re ready to begin theological education/training, and THEN, they check up on you WHILE you’re at seminary (that’s those endorsement and approval steps I mentioned earlier) to ensure that you’re progressing towards readiness to be ordained.
At this point in the game though, really they want to know more about me. The very first step (other than meeting with someone at the synod office) is writing an autobiographical essay introducing yourself, and submitting an application. Between now and next spring, I will undergo background checks, a psychological evaluation, do an initial interview with an individual member of the candidacy committee, and then finally next spring meet with the entire candidacy committee who will talk with me, look at the big picture and then give me an entrance decision, either positive, negative, or a deferral.
The interesting thing about this process is that it is entirely unrelated to applying to seminary. I still have to apply to the individual seminary that I decide to go to, but without the decision of the candidacy committee, I can only get provisionally accepted into seminary. Basically, they are two parallel process that occasionally meet up every once and a while, for example, most seminaries require a personal statement with your application, a lot of people end up using the same (or very similar) essay they turned into their candidacy committee.
Right now, I’m very early in the game still. I have the initial application filled out, and have the vast majority of my essay written, but am working on doing some polishing of it. When I’m done with it, I’ll probably give it to a few folks to read over and give suggestions, and then, of course, a link will get posted here. And when it’s completely done, I’ll turn it into the synod and really get the ball rolling.