Approval? Was ist das?
“By the grace of God, I have been approved for ordination by the bi-synodical candidacy committee of the Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia-Western Maryland Synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”
…Words that sound impressive, but possibly leave you quoting Martin Luther’s small catechism and saying “Was ist das?” or “What does this mean?”
As candidates for ordained ministry in the ELCA, we are in part accountable to the candidacy committee of our home synod (synod being the the geographic governing body similar to a Catholic diocese.) Candidacy committees are made up of clergy and lay members and are tasked with the development and to a certain extent assessment of church leaders going through the process toward becoming a part of one of the ELCA’s rosters.
Candidates have three major meetings and decision points with their candidacy committees. Entrance typically occurs before a student begins seminary studies and is for the most part an assessment of readiness for theological study. Endorsement typically happens after the student’s first year, the intent of endorsement is to affirm the student’s gifts and further discern things that might be growth areas, you need to be positively endorsed before going on internship. And then, finally Approval takes place as a student is completing their seminary studies and internship; taking into account academic reports, internship evaluations, and the student’s own reflection, approval is the crucial decision point where the candidacy committee is approving the student for ordination (or consecration into one of the lay rosters).
And so, being in my senior year of seminary and rapidly approaching graduation, I met with the candidacy committee for about an hour long interview which resulted in them announcing their decision to approve me for ordination.
Which again leads you to ask, Was ist das? What does this mean? And more importantly, where do things go from here?
Well, I still have to finish this semester, and the spring semester too, after which I’ll graduate with a Master of Divinity degree from Gettysburg Seminary.
In February, my name will go into the ELCA Churchwide Assignment (which somewhat resembles a sports draft) where the bishops of the ELCA will work together to ensure all of the graduating seniors from all of the seminaries are assigned a region and synod. Once I’m assigned a synod, I’ll begin conversations with that specific synod’s bishop to figure out which congregation within the synod they serve might be a good fit for me and then I’ll go through a “call process” with an individual congregation, which then hopefully ends in them extending a call to me and then me being able to schedule my ordination. This is obviously an over-simplified explanation, but that is in part because I hope to give a better explanation as I move through each step of the process in the months to come.
The ELCA’s ecclesiology is very specific that an individual is not ordained until they have received and accepted a call from a congregation or other ministry. This is actually an important theological distinction because we see our sense of call as something that is private and public, from God and from the church. A congregation extending a call is seen as the ultimate recognition of God’s call to an individual through the church.
All that said, thank you to my family, friends, and church members who have been supportive through this process. I look forward to sharing more with you as things continue to move forward!